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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. S.I.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

July 2, 2014

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, [1] Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
S.I., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF S.I., a minor

Submitted May 29, 2014

Approved for Publication August 20, 2014.

Page 266

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FN-09-270-12.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant ( Erin L. Pinder, Designated Counsel, on the briefs).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent ( Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Joyce Calefati Booth, 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 SAPP-PETERSON, LIHOTZ and MAVEN.

OPINION

Page 267

[437 N.J.Super. 146] LIHOTZ, J.A.D.

Defendant S.I. appeals from a Family Part order, entered following a fact-finding hearing, which determined she had abused and neglected her minor grandchild for whom she was the legal custodian.[2] S.I. refused consent to allow the child to undergo a mental health evaluation because she believed the child was being " manipulative" and merely " acting out." The Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) executed an emergency removal and sought a psychiatric evaluation to discern whether the child was suicidal. S.I. challenges the trial judge's factual findings, as well as her application of the law to the facts. Specifically, S.I. disputes: (1) the single act of withholding her consent for the mental health evaluation demonstrated medical neglect; (2) she failed to exercise a minimum degree of care by withholding her consent for the evaluation; and (3) the child suffered or was at imminent risk of suffering harm because she withheld her consent.

We have considered the arguments advanced by the parties. Although we find no fault with the Division's initial decision to remove the child to effectuate a mental health evaluation, we conclude the record lacks substantial credible evidence that S.I.'s [437 N.J.Super. 147] conduct amounted to medical neglect or recklessly created a substantial risk to the child's mental health or physical safety. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.L., 213 N.J. 1, 59 A.3d 576 (2013). Accordingly, we reverse the finding of abuse or neglect.

These facts are taken from the April 5, 2012 fact-finding hearing. During the hearing the State presented testimonial evidence from two Division workers and admitted, without objection, documents evidencing the initial referral and the Division's investigation. S.I. testified in her own behalf.[3]

A school nurse contacted the Division after a note written by S.I.'s then twelve-year-old grandchild was discovered, which

Page 268

stated: " I want to kill myself. I hate my life." When confronted, the child explained she wrote the note more than a month earlier, but admitted being depressed. She stated she " ha[d] no plan on how she's going to hurt herself." Further, the child expressed fear of S.I., complaining her grandmother hits her in the back " once per week." The child insisted she did not want to return to S.I.'s care.

A mobile crisis unit was contacted. The record states a response team went to the school, but does not include the results of the child's evaluation.

The school's vice principal contacted S.I. asking her to come to the school. S.I. complied. When told of the discovered note, S.I. did not believe the child was suicidal or desired to end her life. The vice principal informed the Division S.I. became " extremely upset" after the child's comments were disclosed and she " could not be calmed." S.I. insisted the child was acting out after being punished. She repeatedly denied the child's allegations of physical abuse, and suggested the child was merely rebelling. S.I. declined the recommendation she take the child to the hospital for a mental health evaluation.

[437 N.J.Super. 148] The vice principal advised the Division worker when he told S.I. the child feared returning home, S.I. responded " She don't want me. I don't want her." S.I. then left the school without the child. Subsequent calls by the vice principal to S.I. went unanswered. The school called the Division after S.I. left the school.

Division Special Response Unit (SPRU) worker Pedro Cereno responded to the school. He interviewed the child, who said she disliked school because classmates bullied her, called her names and made fun of her appearance. The child complained S.I. yells at her, which causes " feelings of depression" and " she would rather be dead than go through these things." Although the child did not have a plan to harm herself, she feared returning home as " she d[id] ...


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