NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES,  PLAINTIFF--RESPONDENT,
N.D., DEFENDANT--APPELLANT, AND J.P. AND A.J., DEFENDANTS. IN THE MATTER OF E.D., MINOR
Submitted March 24, 2014
Approved for Publication May 8, 2014.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FN-09-218-12.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant ( Clara S. Licata, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent ( Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Kenneth Cabot, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor E.D. ( Karen E. Lodeserto, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Before Judges PARRILLO, HARRIS, and GUADAGNO.
[435 N.J.Super. 490] GUADAGNO, J.A.D.
In this appeal, we revisit the issue of in utero exposure of a newborn to drugs and the quantum of proof necessary to sustain a finding of abuse or neglect against the mother who ingested drugs before the child was born. Defendant N.D. (Natalie), the biological mother of E.D. (Edgar), appeals from the April 5, 2012 order of the Family Part finding that
she abused or neglected her child pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(4). For the reasons that follow, we are compelled to reverse and remand.
On October 19, 2011, the Division received a referral from Christ Hospital in Jersey City that the mother of a child delivered at thirty-six weeks gestation tested positive for cocaine after delivery.
Division caseworker Sandra Attal was dispatched to the hospital and interviewed Natalie that day. Natalie told Attal that she went to a friend's house a few days earlier and sniffed two lines of cocaine. When Attal asked Natalie who the father of the child was, she was unsure but identified two men as possibilities. Upon further questioning, it became apparent to Attal that Natalie lacked stable housing, although she planned to stay with friends of her mother until she could find an apartment. Natalie had no clothing, provisions, furniture, or supplies for the child but suggested that relatives might provide a crib. Natalie also made a vague reference that someone would be coming from Virginia with [435 N.J.Super. 491] " things" for the child. Later that day, a hospital nurse informed Attal that Edgar's urine screen was positive for cocaine.
Concerned with Natalie's unaddressed drug use, lack of appropriate housing, and inability to provide for a newborn, the Division sought custody of Edgar. After filing an order to show cause, the Division was granted temporary custody of Edgar. Natalie was offered psychological and substance abuse evaluations and supervised visitation.
Natalie failed to appear at the return on the order to show cause or at a subsequent fact-finding hearing, although she was represented ...