On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FN-12-141-10.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Grall, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo, Grall and Alvarez.
The opinion of the court was delivered by GRALL, J.A.D.
On leave granted, we review an interlocutory order denying a parent's application to terminate placement of her children, who are in her custody, under the care and supervision of the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12. The court entered the order after determining that the parent had not abused or neglected the children within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21c. The court erred because it did not conduct a summary hearing, on adequate notice, to determine whether the Division's intervention was in the children's best interests or identify services the parent needed to maintain and educate them, ensure their health and safety or avoid endangering them. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12. Additionally, the court erred by extending the order beyond six months several times without holding hearings on the propriety of continuing intervention as required by N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12.
T.Sl. is the mother of eight-year-old I.St., and four-year-old V.Sl. She is twenty-five years old. Her husband, A.Sl., is the father of V.Sl., and A.St. is the father of I.St. T.Sl. appeals from the denial of her motion to terminate an order placing the children under the care and supervision of the Division pursuant to Title 30. Since December 2009, the children have been in T.Sl.'s custody but under the Division's care and supervision. Neither father has participated in this appeal.
In November 2009, the Division filed a complaint and order to show cause pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.28 and N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12 and obtained custody, care and supervision of I.St. and V.Sl. At that time, T.Sl. and A.Sl. had been arrested and were incarcerated on pending charges. When T.Sl. was arrested on October 24, the children were with A.Sl. Before A.Sl.'s arrest, he put V.Sl. in the care of the child's paternal grandfather and I.St. in the care of her father, A.St., and his fiancee. A.St. subsequently left his daughter in the care of her maternal grandmother, B.G. A.St.'s decision to leave I.St. in B.G.'s care put A.Sl. and T.Sl. in violation of a voluntary case plan they reached with the Division on October 8, 2009. The Division developed that plan after a doctor reported that V.Sl. had numerous bruises. Following an investigation, the Division concluded that V.Sl. was injured by I.St. while B.G. was baby-sitting the children and that the allegations of abuse or neglect by A.Sl. or T.Sl. were unfounded. Consequently, the Division opened a case file but did not file a complaint, and T.Sl. and A.Sl. signed a case plan agreeing not to have B.G. baby-sit and to have the Division arrange for a psychological evaluation of I.St.*fn1
See N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.27a (authorizing the Division to remove a child with the consent of a parent or guardian and impliedly authorizing less intrusive protective action with such consent). Because of that case plan, T.Sl. placed a phone call alerting the Division to the arrests and the children's circumstances.
The pending criminal charges against T.Sl. were resolved before December 8, 2009, when a hearing was held on the Division's complaint. By that date T.Sl. had been admitted to the Pretrial Intervention Program and the children had been returned to her custody, presumably on a finding that they could be safely returned, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.32. On December 8, the court entered an order providing for I.St. to receive counseling at home. The order does not address services for T.Sl.
A.Sl. was still incarcerated on December 8, 2009. He subsequently pled guilty to criminal restraint pursuant to an agreement with the State that called for a sentence of probation and 364 days in county jail.
Despite the return of the children to T.Sl., the Division pursued the charge of abuse and neglect against T.Sl. and A.Sl., alleging that as a consequence of their arrests I.St. was left in the care of B.G. in violation of the case plan. ...