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New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. T.A.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

December 20, 2013

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
T.A., Defendant-Appellant, and A.R., Defendant. IN THE MATTER OF K.R., Minor.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted December 10, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FN-16-97-12.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Michael J. Pastacaldi, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

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

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor K.R. (Cory H. Cassar, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).

Before Judges Reisner and Alvarez. [1]

PER CURIAM

In this Title Nine case, defendant T.A. appeals from an August 31, 2012 order, finding that she neglected her son Kevin[2]by failing to seek regular, appropriate medical care for his sickle cell disease and by failing to immediately take him to the hospital after he suffered a stroke.

On this appeal, defendant contends that the trial court's factual findings are not supported by the evidence, while the Division contends that the evidence supports the findings. The Law Guardian supports defendant's argument, adding that the trial court did not find – and the record does not support the conclusion – that the child's protection requires placement of defendant's name on the Central Registry. For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

I

We begin by reviewing the procedural history, because it is both puzzling and illuminating. The incident in question occurred on Friday, March 18, 2011, when the child's daycare center called defendant because Kevin was crying, complaining of mouth pain, and had slurred speech and weakness in his left arm. According to the Division's evidence, someone at the center advised defendant to take the child to the doctor right away or take him to the emergency room. Based on her observations when she arrived home with the child, who was then four years old, defendant did not think he was in severe distress and, when she could not get an immediate appointment with the child's pediatrician, she waited until the following Monday to take him to the hospital. When he was examined at the hospital, the doctors determined that the child had suffered a stroke, a known but rare complication associated with sickle cell disease.

The Division did not file a Title Nine complaint until December 2, 2011. On the return date, December 15, 2011, the Division's attorney told the Family Part judge that, after some delay, defendant had accepted services designed to educate her about the child's medical needs, and the Division wished to withdraw the complaint. The Law Guardian opposed the withdrawal on the grounds that the incident was serious and defendant had not yet actually attended the proposed training; the Law Guardian suggested that the court mark the case "inactive" and review it in a month or two. The judge entered an order for supervision and scheduled a return date in January 2012.

On January 27, 2012, the Division attorney stated that defendant "has been complying with the Division, " taking the child to all scheduled medical appointments, and receiving education about sickle cell disease. The Division and Law Guardian agreed that the case should remain open "for the Division to continue with care and supervision with this family." The Law Guardian noted that the child did not appear to have suffered any permanent injury from the stroke. All counsel acknowledged that defendant worked a split shift at her full-time job[3] and was diligently juggling work, medical education about sickle cell disease, and taking the child to all of his medical ...


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