On appeal from the Department of Children and Families, Division of Youth and Family Services, Docket No. AHU 08-0075.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad and Sapp-Peterson.
E.P. appeals from the final agency determination of the Department of Children and Families finding she committed an act of neglect by providing inadequate supervision to her four children, thereby creating a substantial risk of harm to the children. The finding of neglect resulted in the inclusion of E.P.'s name in the Central Registry, under N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10a. We affirm.
E.P. is the mother of four children, who, in 2007, ranged in age from thirteen to two. In September 2007, the Cumberland County Health Department received notice that E.P.'s youngest child had elevated levels of lead in his blood. It sent Elaine Webster, Cumberland County's public health nurse, to interview E.P., who was staying at her parents' home in Leesburg. Webster found the home to be a "little cluttered." E.P. told Webster that she and her children were not living in the Leesburg home but were instead living with her boyfriend in Pennsville. A lead inspection conducted on the same day as Webster's visit confirmed the presence of lead in the Leesburg home, and Webster counseled E.P. on how to reduce the presence of lead dust in the home. She conducted a second visit the following month and reported no unusual or unacceptable conditions.
On November 30, 2007, two Cumberland County sheriff's officers served a levy upon the Leesburg home. While approaching the home, the officers detected a fecal odor. Upon entering the home, the officers observed trash, dog feces, and a kitchen floor covered in a brown film. In the master bedroom, located on the second floor, the officers saw several two-liter bottles containing yellow liquid. On the third floor, they observed a cat litter box filled with feces in the hallway. They further observed child-sized beds without sheets that were also covered in animal feces. In addition, the officers found a dog inside of a closed animal carrier.
C.S., E.P.'s mother, was the only person present on the premises at the time the officers were conducting their levy. She told the officers she resided in the home with her husband, C.K., her daughter, E.P., and her daughter's four children. Concerned about the welfare of the children in light of their observations, one of the officers, John Schweibinz, contacted the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division).
That same day, in response to the referral, Division case worker Idaly Rodriguez visited the Leesburg home. E.P. answered the door and allowed Rodriguez access. Rodriguez observed the same unsanitary conditions witnessed by the officers. E.P. told Rodriguez she had been homeless for some time and had been living in different locations on and off, including her parents' Leesburg home. She indicated she had been there approximately two and one-half weeks but the children, who at the time were visiting their respective fathers pursuant to court-ordered visitation, were not living there because of issues with lead paint. She explained they were living at the home of her exparamour. E.P. also told the caseworker she had been dealing with housing issues for three years because she was without sufficient income to pay rent, and she had applied for welfare services but was denied assistance.
Rodriguez then interviewed C.S., who acknowledged the presence of lead in the home. She explained she was disabled, which affected her ability to keep her home clean, but she also indicated she assumed most of the child care responsibilities for her daughter's children because of E.P.'s party habits. Her husband, C.K., was also present in the home at the time. He indicated the children had been at the Leesburg home for approximately one week but they were not there often because of the lead level in the home.
Rodriguez also interviewed the three oldest children. They all stated they occasionally stayed at their grandparents' home but were not living there permanently because of the presence of lead in the home. They explained that sometimes they stayed at their mother's boyfriend's apartment or slept in the camper next to the apartment because the apartment was small, with only two bedrooms.
The Division completed its investigation and substantiated the allegations of neglect against E.P., based upon its determination that E.P. knowingly subjected her children to known health and safety hazards, lead-based paint, and unsanitary conditions at her parents' home.
E.P. appealed the Division's finding, and the matter was transferred to the Office of Administrative Law as a contested case and assigned to an administrative law judge (ALJ) for a hearing. N.J.S.A. 52:14B-1 to -15. The witnesses who testified included Sheriff's Officer Schweibinz, Rodriguez, Webster, E.P., her parents, her current paramour and her ex-paramour. The parties jointly stipulated to the following facts:
1. Respondent, E.P., is the biological mother of B.H. (female, d.o.b. 10/27/94), J.H. (female, d.o.b. 5/3/96), J.S. (male, d.o.b. 11/26/02) and Z.S. (female, d.o.b. 8/22/05).
2. At some point in 2007, E.P. and her four children resided with E.P.'s mother, C.K., at 115 High Street, Leesburg, N.J.
3. During this period, E.P.'s children began showing symptoms of lead [poisoning].
4. The Cumberland County Department of Health conducted a lead paint investigation of 115 High Street, Leesburg, N.J. on [or] about September 24, 2007. The home was determined to contain lead[-]based paint and was deemed unfit for children to reside therein.
5. In addition to the lead[-]based paint, the home at 115 High Street, Leesburg, N.J. was unsanitary. On or about November 30, 2007[,] the Division's investigators observed the home to have "clutter of clothing, trash, food, feces, piles of dirty dishes and piles of dirt" throughout the home. The investigators observed "about a dozen cats" and numerous dogs living in ...