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New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. J.H.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

November 26, 2013

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
J.H., Defendant-Appellant, and R.R., Defendant-Respondent, and T.H., Defendant. IN THE MATTER OF S.R. and G.R., Minors.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted November 12, 2013 [1]

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County, Docket No. FN-03-39-12.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Amy M. Williams, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Lisa A. Puglisi, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Hannah F. Edman, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for respondent R.R. (Dana Citron, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors (Katherine J. Bierwas, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Before Judges Harris and Guadagno.

PER CURIAM

Defendant J.H. (Joan), [2] the biological mother of the minor children S.R. (Sam) and G.R. (Gina), appeals from the June 5, 2012 order of the Family Part finding that she abused or neglected Gina.[3] Joan also appeals from that part of the order terminating litigation and continuing the children in the custody of their father, R.R. (Robert). We affirm.

I.

Sam was born to Joan and Robert on August 11, 2007, and Gina was born to them on May 10, 2009. Joan and Robert separated and Joan obtained a final restraining order against Robert. In 2010, both children were residing with Joan and her boyfriend, T.H. (Thomas). Between April 14, 2010, and June 14, 2011, the Division received six referrals concerning the children, all of which were determined to be unfounded after investigation.

On August 5, 2011, Joan took Gina to the emergency room at Virtua Memorial Hospital with what was diagnosed as a "minor head contusion." Joan told doctors that Gina fell when getting off the toilet and struck her head. Gina was treated and released.

Five days later, Joan returned to Virtua with Gina who presented with a swollen right eye. A CT scan showed skeletal "frontal soft tissue swelling." Ultimately, Gina was diagnosed with conjunctivitis, prescribed Ocuflox, and discharged from Virtua.

On August 19, 2011, Joan brought Gina to her pediatrician, Dr. Bryan H. Levey, [4] and told him Gina had fallen down stairs. Dr. Levey noticed bruising "all over [Gina's] body, " and when he questioned Joan as to how the child was injured, Joan's explanation changed. Dr. Levey determined that "while it is possible that the injuries sustained by [Gina] could have possibly resulted from a fall, the likelihood of such [is] minimal." Dr. Levey referred Joan to Virtua for additional testing and an assessment of Gina's injuries, but when Joan returned home and called for medical transportation, she was taken to Cooper Hospital.

The Division was notified and a caseworker responded to Cooper Hospital. There, the caseworker spoke first with attending nurse, Rachel McClintock, who reported that Gina displayed bruises "from head to toe . . . in varying stages of healing, " and hemorrhaging in both eyes. The caseworker also spoke with Dr. Kathryn McCans who examined Gina and found that the child's liver enzyme levels were very high. Dr. McCans explained that was an indicator that the child may have suffered blunt force trauma.

When the Division learned that Sam was staying with a relative while Joan was at the hospital with Gina, the Division effected an emergency removal of Sam and placed him in foster care. Sam was questioned by a caseworker and stated he did not like his mother's boyfriend, Thomas, because Thomas punched Sam in the back and had punched Gina in her face and stomach. When Gina was interviewed, she told a caseworker that Joan and Thomas had hurt her.

On August 22, 2011, Gina was cleared for release from Cooper Hospital, and the Division took custody of her and placed her in foster care. On August 24, the Family Part granted custody of both children to the Division with the consent of Joan.

On September 13, 2011, all parties, including Robert, appeared. The deputy attorney general indicated that psychological evaluations had been scheduled for Joan, Thomas, and Robert, however, counsel for Joan indicated that she was objecting to participating in the psychological evaluation until the conclusion of the fact-finding hearing. Thomas joined in that application and the court agreed to delay the evaluations.

Robert, who was not represented, requested that he be granted custody of both children. The court entered an order that continued custody, care, and supervision of the children with the Division and directed that Robert be investigated as a possible placement for both children.

On November 7, 2011, after receiving a report from Robert's therapist, Dr. Michael Palmer, that Robert would be an appropriate caregiver, the court granted the Division's request to transfer custody of both children to Robert with the Division maintaining care and supervision. The Division informed the court that Robert had completed an extensive rehabilitative program, which included anger management and parenting skills. After completing twenty-six weeks ...


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