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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. B.D.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 9, 2013

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, [1] Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
B.D., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF R.N., JR., Minor.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 23, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FN-20-85-11.[1]

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Thomas G. Hand, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Elizabeth Erb Cashin, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor R.N., Jr. (Noel C. Devlin, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).

Before Judges Parrillo, Harris, and Guadagno.

PER CURIAM.

Defendant B.D. (Barbara)[2] appeals from the October 26, 2011 order of the Family Part entered after a fact-finding hearing, which determined she abused or neglected her grandnephew, R.N., Jr. (Rodney). The Family Part judge found that Barbara neglected Rodney by delaying medical treatment for three days after he had been accidentally burned. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(4)(a). The judge also found that Barbara failed to exercise a minimum degree of care by recklessly creating a risk to the child's health and safety in the home. The Division concedes that it did not allege environmental neglect in its complaint as to Barbara and does not seek affirmance on that finding. Because the record lacks substantial credible evidence that Barbara's conduct constituted gross negligence or recklessness, we reverse the finding of medical neglect.

I.

We derive the following facts from the record. Barbara's niece, V.N. (Veronica) and her husband R.N. (Ralph) first came to the attention of the Division in 2008 after a referral alleging Ralph was physically abusive to Veronica and had kicked her while she was pregnant with Rodney. The referral also mentioned both parents are learning disabled and lacked parenting skills. A caseworker investigated and Ralph admitted the kicking incident but claimed he and Veronica had resolved their differences. Rodney appeared to be healthy and the allegations were deemed unfounded and the Division closed the case.

On July 14, 2010, the Division received another referral. Rodney's pediatrician, Dr. Danilo Guinto, reported that Rodney, who was then two years old, had a severe case of eczema that had not improved over three months. Dr. Guinto suspected Veronica and Ralph were not giving the child the prescribed treatment. Dr. Guinto also reported that Veronica's sister, S.D. (Sally), observed Ralph hitting Rodney in the face, although he found no evidence of bruising when he examined the child.

After interviewing Dr. Guinto, a Division caseworker went to the home Veronica and Ralph shared with Sally and Barbara. Veronica denied that Ralph hit Rodney in the face. She also told the caseworker that her parents died when she was young and Barbara had cared for her since then.

Barbara told the caseworker that Veronica suffers from developmental delays[3] and without help from her and her daughter Sally, Veronica would not be able to properly care for Rodney or protect him from Ralph.

Sally told the caseworker that neither parent properly cares for Rodney and that she had seen Ralph slap Rodney in the face. When Sally told Veronica what Ralph did, Veronica seemed unaffected by it.

On October 6, 2010, the Division arranged for both Veronica and Ralph to be evaluated by psychologist Barry Katz, Ph.D. After completing the evaluation of Veronica, Dr. Katz concluded that she is mentally disabled with limited coping ability:

[Veronica] is limited in her ability to deal with complexity and daily stresses. [Veronica] has never lived on her own. She does not handle her own finances. . . . She is quite limited in her ability to meet the needs of a child. [Veronica] has admitted to missing [t]he therapy appointment yesterday because she forgot about it. [Veronica] has been described to have been living in a home that has become dirty with the presence of vermin. She did not have the inclination to clean up the home until the family was confronted with this by DYFS. [Veronica] has admitted to dealing with [Rodney]'s crying by striking him.

Dr. Katz recommended that Veronica attend "parenting training appropriate for her level of intellectual functioning." In addition, he recommended that Veronica be continually ...


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