On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Salem County, Docket No. FN-17-50-11.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 19, 2012 -
Before Judges Fisher, Waugh and St. John.
The opinion of the court was delivered by FISHER, P.J.A.D.
Defendant S.N.W. appeals a determination that her twenty-month old and five-month old children were abused or neglected as a result of defendant appearing inebriated while the children were in her care. Because the trial judge's decision, as limited by his later supplemental opinion, failed to include findings regarding defendant's degree of culpability necessary to a determination that defendant failed to provide a minimum degree of care, we remand for further proceedings and findings.
I In considering the issues presented in this appeal, we are obligated to explain at some length not only the relatively simple circumstances that generated this action but also the proceedings that followed a temporary remand that we ordered.
At a fact-finding hearing on June 6, 2011, to determine whether defendant and her husband abused or neglected their children on October 13, 2010, plaintiff New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division)*fn1 called a police officer and a caseworker to testify.
The police officer testified that, during the morning of October 13, 2010, he responded to a domestic disturbance call and arrived at defendant's home, where he found defendant and her husband in "a heated verbal argument." The officer testified that defendant's husband "appeared to be under the influence of some type of CDS" and was "[j]ust lethargic, [with] slurred speech [and] fumbling actions," and that defendant "also appeared to be under the influence of a CDS, with lethargic actions and slurred speech." The officer then testified that defendant's husband said that he and defendant "had taken [certain medications] not prescribed to them."*fn2 Later, during the Division's redirect examination, the officer testified that both parents admitted taking Xanax not prescribed to them -- a fact the officer conceded was not contained in his police report. Both parents were arrested and custody arrangements were made for the two infant children.
The caseworker, who was the second and last witness, testified that she arrived at defendant's home later that day. Defendant's sister was then caring for the children, who appeared "fine, clean [and] healthy." While the caseworker was present in the home, defendant arrived in a car she was driving; she was not wearing shoes and "appeared shaky and unstable." Defendant also "left the car running" but soon realized her mistake and returned to turn off the ignition.
The caseworker acknowledged that defendant was "coherent" but also that she was "shaky, unstable." The caseworker testified that defendant admitted she had ingested Xanax that day but also that defendant said she had been prescribed Xanax, that the size of the pills prescribed were "the lowest," i.e., 0.25 mg, and that defendant had taken five pills. The caseworker could not provide the time frame over which the five pills were ingested and the Division made no attempt to elicit that ...