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New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. A.S.K.

Supreme Court of New Jersey

January 23, 2019

New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
A.S.K., and T.T., Defendants, and E.M.C., Defendant-Appellant. In the Matter of the Guardianship of N.D.K., A.E.C., and E.S.K., minors.

          Argued January 2, 2019

          On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at ___ N.J.Super. ___ (App. Div. 2017).

          Clara S. Licata, Designated Counsel, argued the cause for appellant (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Office of Parental Representation, attorney; Clara S. Licata, of counsel and on the briefs).

          Sara M. Gregory, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney; Sara M. Gregory, on the briefs, Jason W. Rockwell, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel and on the briefs).

          David Valentin, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for minor A.E.C. (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney; David Valentin, on the briefs).

          PER CURIAM

         The Court considers the Appellate Division's affirmance of the trial court's decision to terminate the parental rights of E.M.C. ("Eric") to his son, A.E.C. ("Adam") based on the record and the application of the best-interests-of-the-child test.

         Adam was born on November 14, 2009, and began residing with Eric in March 2012. Before Adam came to live with him, Eric had last seen him in July 2011.

         The first referral to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (the Division) was made in April 2012, after Eric brought twenty-nine month-old Adam to the pediatrician with severe eczema. Adam was undernourished, weighing twenty-one pounds, the weight of a child half his age. His speech was mumbled. Eric cooperated with the Division's investigation. The April 2012 investigation summary reported Eric "followed-up with all the child's medical appointments" and Adam was "now up to date with his immunizations and . . . receiving treatment for his eczema." Because Adam was residing with Eric, the allegation of abuse and neglect against Adam's mother, A.K. ("Ali") was deemed unsubstantiated.

         In September 2012, a second referral to the Division was made by an anonymous neighbor of Ali's, reporting drug use by Ali, her sister and mother while children were in their care. The investigation confirmed Adam continued to reside with Eric at this time and, although child welfare concerns persisted regarding Ali's admitted drug use, the allegations of neglect and inadequate supervision were deemed to be unfounded.

         Ali gave birth to a third child in June 2013, and alleged Eric was the biological father. Eric's fiancée was displeased that Eric had another child with Ali and, by July 2013, Adam returned to live with Ali.

         In December 2013, the Division was granted care and supervision of all three of Ali's children. The children were eventually placed with M.L. ("Maisie"), a resource identified by Ali. The Division was unable to contact Eric because his whereabouts were unknown.

         In May and June 2014, the Division embarked upon an extensive search to locate Eric. The search ended, by coincidence, on June 18, 2014, during an unannounced home visit to Ali. Eric emerged from her residence as Ali was speaking with the caseworker. The caseworker exchanged contact information with Eric. She also advised him a Family Team Meeting was scheduled and it was important for him to attend. Eric did not attend the meeting and, after the caseworker contacted him about the importance of attendance, his telephone number was shut off. The Division's goal changed from reunification for the three children to adoption in January 2015 and a guardianship complaint was filed.

         The Division was again unable to locate Eric for an extended period of time. The Primary Worker on this matter testified she was in the process of checking addresses for him when his grandmother provided an address. While she was on her way there, she received a call from Eric, who had been called by his grandmother, and was then able to meet with him. Eric's first appearance in the guardianship litigation was on January ...


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