On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FN-09-0104-12.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 28, 2012 -
Before Judges Simonelli and Accurso.
Defendant N.S. appeals from the trial judge's determination that she abused or neglected her daughter pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21c(4)(b), and placement of her name in the Central Registry of substantiated child abusers maintained by plaintiff Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.11. We affirm.
Defendant is the biological mother, and T.S. is the biological father, of A.S. (Anna),*fn2 born in October 2009. At approximately 11:50 p.m. on June 30, 2011, defendant called T.S. and asked him to come home to their apartment located on Waldo Avenue in Jersey City because she wanted to go out and get something to eat. Defendant did not wait for T.S. to arrive. She left the apartment at approximately 12:00 a.m., leaving Anna, then twenty-one months old, in the apartment alone and unsupervised. Defendant walked to a nearby White Castle, but then changed her mind and boarded a train at Journal Square to go "downtown" to a "Fried Chicken Place" on Newark Avenue.
T.S. arrived at the apartment at approximately 12:30 a.m. and found Anna alone. Defendant did not contact T.S. to advise where she was or when she would return. When defendant returned at 2:00 a.m., she and T.S. argued loudly outside the apartment about defendant leaving Anna alone. Defendant initially told a Division caseworker that T.S. dragged her upstairs to the apartment, where they continued arguing, and T.S. hit her in the face in Anna's presence. The police responded to the apartment after a neighbor reported the arguing. The police arrested T.S. and charged him with simple assault, and arrested defendant and charged her with endangering the welfare of a child for leaving Anna alone and unattended.
The police reported the incident to the Division. A Division caseworker interviewed defendant and T.S. at police headquarters. The interview revealed that in addition to defendant leaving Anna alone, the parties had a history of domestic violence. The Division effected an emergency removal and placed Anna in a resource home. On July 5, 2011, the Division filed a verified complaint and order to show case (OTSC), seeking custody of Anna.
On that same date, the trial judge held a hearing. Defendant appeared with counsel and testified, as did the Division caseworker and T.S. The trial judge found the emergency removal was proper based on the imminent danger and risk of harm to Anna's safety or health resulting from being left alone and unattended, the arrest of her parents, and the parties' history of domestic violence. The judge granted the Division custody of Anna, finding it was in the child's best interests to do so under the circumstances. The judge ordered Anna's placement with a paternal relative, and ordered defendant to attend psychological and substance abuse evaluations and comply with their recommendations, submit to random drug and alcohol screens, and attend domestic violence counseling and parenting skills classes. The judge also ordered supervised visitation.
Thereafter, defendant attended a psychological evaluation, completed drug treatment, and engaged in domestic violence counseling and parenting skills classes. After a hearing on October 12, 2011 on the return of the OTSC, the judge granted the Division continued custody of Anna, ordered defendant to continue complying with services, and ordered supervised overnight visitation. Anna remained with paternal relatives.
After a fact-finding hearing on November 3, 2011, the judge concluded the Division proved that defendant abused or neglected Anna pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21c(4)(b). The judge found "it was not reasonable and it's grossly negligent" for defendant to have left Anna alone and unattended, and defendant's conduct placed Anna at substantial risk of harm. After a compliance review the same day, the judge ordered the transfer of physical custody of Anna to defendant and T.S., which occurred the next day. The judge also ordered the parties to continue engaging in services under the Division's supervision.
In a February 14, 2012 order, the judge transferred legal custody of Anna to defendant and T.S., thereby terminating the ...