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New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. A.M.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

July 3, 2013

A.M., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF S.S., a Minor.


Submitted June 11, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Warren County, Docket No. FN-21-53-07.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Susan P. Gifis, Designated Counsel, of counsel and on the brief).

Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel and on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor S.S. (Hector Ruiz, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Before Judges Parrillo and Messano.


Defendant A.M. appeals from the October 19, 2007 fact-finding of the Family Part concluding that she abandoned and neglected her daughter, S.S., within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c). Defendant argues this finding should be vacated as not supported by a preponderance of the evidence and that her name be removed from the Central Registry, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.11. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions raised on appeal, we affirm.

Defendant A.M. is the biological mother of S.S., born July 11, 1994. S.S.'s biological father is believed to be somewhere in Florida undergoing substance abuse treatment and has not been involved with S.S. for several years.

S.S., who was thirteen years old at the time of the fact-finding hearing, has a history of mental health issues and the Division of Youth & Family Services (Division)[1] has been involved with this family since April 1, 2003.[2] Between then and May 2007, the Division received numerous referrals regarding abuse and neglect of S.S., all of which were deemed unfounded.

The events surrounding the incident underlying the court's finding of neglect actually began on May 11, 2007, when the Division received a referral alleging that defendant had refused to pick up S.S. upon her impending discharge from Saint Claire's Hospital. S.S. had been admitted on April 19, 2007, to the hospital's Children's Crisis Intervention Service (CCIS), after overdosing on over-the-counter medications and spraying pepper spray in her mother's bedroom. S.S. was medically cleared for discharge on May 9, 2007, but defendant refused to retrieve her as she believed S.S. would decompensate at home. The hospital recommended intensive in-home therapy but defendant refused, instead requesting S.S. be placed in in-patient treatment. Defendant initially agreed to allow S.S. to return home that weekend on a trial period, but then later refused the weekend visit.

As of May 14, 2007, five days after S.S. was cleared for discharge, defendant still had not retrieved her daughter. At that time, defendant informed the Division caseworker that she was still unwilling to take S.S. home because S.S. suffered from mental health, as opposed to simply behavioral, problems and was not ready for discharge. Defendant disagreed with the hospital's recommendation of intensive in-home therapy, believing instead that S.S. would be better served at an in-patient facility. The Division caseworker informed defendant of the availability of other options in the event assistance was needed and, ultimately, defendant was persuaded to take S.S. home that same day.

Two days later, however, on May 16, 2007, the Division received another referral, this time from Family Intervention Services (FIS), alleging that defendant left S.S. at the hospital where she had taken her daughter for psychological testing. At 9:00 a.m. that morning, defendant brought S.S. to the Newton Memorial Hospital for a psychological screening, following an incident the previous evening wherein S.S. threatened to run away with her boyfriend to Mexico and to kill defendant if she had to return home with her. Based on the psychological assessment, S.S. did not meet hospital criteria for admission as it was determined that S.S. was not a harm to herself or others. The child was cleared to leave and the matter was referred to an outside resource for further follow-up. Once again, however, defendant refused to take S.S. home, insisting instead that she had done everything she could for S.S. and that she loved her daughter enough to let her go. At around noontime, defendant left the hospital without ...

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