NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY , Plaintiff-Respondent,
A.S., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF C.R., a minor.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted July 16, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County, Docket No. FN-08-0177-11.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Emily J. Daher, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lisa A. Puglisi, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Jaime Millard-Tindall, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor (Olivia Belfatto Crisp, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).
Before Judges Ashrafi and St. John.
Defendant A.S. appeals from the June 15, 2012 order of the Family Part finding that she had neglected her eleven-month-old infant in violation of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21. The court found that defendant-mother was intoxicated on May 3, 2011, while the child was in her care alone and that she drove with the child while in that intoxicated state. We affirm.
In June 2011, DYFS filed a verified complaint against defendant-mother accusing her of neglect of the child. The complaint alleged that the mother had a history of alcohol abuse, including at the time of the child's birth in May 2010, and that DYFS had prior involvement with the family in November 2010 because of the mother's abuse of alcohol. On May 3, 2011, at 7:00 p.m., DYFS received a hotline call that prompted the investigation leading to the filing of the Title Nine complaint. Two DYFS caseworkers arrived at the mother's apartment at 8:45 p.m. and observed her showing clear signs of intoxication. The child's father, C.D., was questioned at the home, and he told the caseworkers that he had arrived home from work to find that defendant-mother was intoxicated. She was caring for the infant alone after picking the child up from daycare.
The complaint alleged that the mother admitted to the DFYS caseworkers that she had been in treatment for alcoholism. She also acknowledged the family's prior involvement with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services because of allegations that the child was born prematurely with fetal alcohol syndrome. In response to a question from the caseworkers, she said her alcoholic beverage of choice was vodka. The complaint alleged that, at a follow-up interview with the father on May 4, 2011, he had shown a DYFS caseworker several empty bottles of vodka that he claimed he had found at the home and that had been surreptitiously obtained by defendant-mother.
After further questioning of the parents and investigation of the child's condition, DYFS and the parents agreed upon a custody and supervision plan by which the child would not be removed from the home but also would not be left alone with the mother. The plan also required the mother to undergo evaluation and treatment for her abuse of alcohol. The Family Part entered orders approving the custody and supervision plan. By the time that a factfinding hearing began in October 2011 on the complaint alleging neglect of the child, the mother had complied with the evaluation and treatment plan, and the requirement was lifted that she be supervised at all times while with the child.
The factfinding hearing was conducted on four dates from October 2011 to May 2012. A neighbor testified about her observations of the mother and the infant on the evening of May 3, 2011. She testified that she had heard information earlier in the day from another neighbor that alerted her to a potential risk to the child, and she undertook to observe the mother returning to the area in her car. When the mother returned that evening, she had difficulty parking the car and could not park it correctly. When she got out of the car:
she almost slipped, but she was grabbing onto the car and she went to the back and she got this baby out that was in [a car seat] and she almost dropped the baby, but she was walking, she was inebriated . . . and then . . . she set the baby — the carriage thing down, she got herself together and tried to walk, but she was just like very unsteady gait, got to the — her door and she put the ...