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Allison Williams Williams Law Group Family Law, Divorce, Custody & Support
As an attorney, it has always been, and will always be, about helping people. I'm passionate about my clients and I aggressively represent them. The Williams Law Group uses ethical means to create winning strategies. If you have a legal issue/s, we'd like to hear your message!
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“Division of Child Protection and Permanency”

Use of Child Interviews in DCPP Cases

In Family Court, children are often witnesses to matters before the Court.  Children may witness domestic violence between their parents.  They may provide exculpatory information to refute allegations of adultery or neglect.  In such cases, trial Courts usually shy away from placing children on the witness stand in open Court and instead conduct child interviews in the judge’s chambers, where the child’s testimony is critical.  The prevailing view is that method of information testing protects children. In cases brought by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP, formerly DYFS), the child is the subject of the action.  The child is person alleged to be in need of protection. So, courts go above and beyond — not only to ensure the child is subjected to in-court testimony, but also to avoid any child testimony, including child interviews.  In DCPP cases, children’s hearsay statements of abuse may be admitted into evidence; however, no such statement is sufficient to make a finding of abuse absent corroboration. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(a)(4).  Despite this broad exception to the hearsay rule, the Court must still find “credible, corroborative evidence” as a precondition to admissibility of the statement.  New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. L.A., 357 N.J.Super. 155, 167 (App.Div.2003). Anecdotal experience finds that judges in DCPP matters often prefer to admit the child’s statements of abuse in lieu of live testimony.  But what happens when there is no corroboration for the child’s statements, rendering them inadmissible?  The Division may still choose to proceed, in which case the child’s testimony is required.  Trial judges, many of whom were litigators before they were elevated to the bench, are often adept at handling direct examination. But what about cross examination?  What happens when defense counsel desires to confront a child witness with inconsistent statements?  What happens if the trial judge does not “confront” the child, but rather, gingerly explores the topic with the child?  Is not cross examination the best device we have in an adversarial system for unearthing the truth?  What becomes of that adversarial system when a trial judge refuses to become adversarial with a witness, and hence, defense counsel is deprived of the most effective means of challenging the child’s statements? What about the element of surprise?  With a witness on the witness stand, defense counsel can confront the witness with pictures, recordings, written statements – anything likely to call into question the witness’s credibility.  A...

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No More KLG based upon DCPP Lies … at least Not This One Particular Lie

In a published decision on June 11, 2013, the Appellate Division has explicitly prohibited trial Courts from ratifying the outright FALSE information given to resource parents by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCPP”) (formerly, the Division of Youth and Family Services (“DYFS”)). Specifically, in DYFS v. H.R. & N.B., the Appellate Division remanded to the trial Court the issue of alternatives to TPR (termination of parental rights) because the relative placement repeatedly testified that DCPP had told her in no uncertain terms that Kinship Legal Guardianship (KLG) was not available for her niece because the child was not 12 years of age. The Court pointed out that this clearly erroneous 12-year benchmark was NOT included in the KLG statute. Further, once the trial Court became aware of the relatives’ misinformed perception that KLG was not available for a child under age 12, it had a duty to correct the misinformation. What’s shocking about this decision is NOT the fact that DCPP lied to the resource parents. That happens all the time. Any attorney who does this work is likely familiar with the anecdotal tales of foster parents being told they MUST adopt or the children for whom they provide care will be yanked away by the Division. We hear, routinely, about the “12-year-old-rule” for KLG. No surprises there. But when, exactly, is someone – ANYONE – going to address the fact that this very powerful government agency routinely lies to families involved with the child welfare system? This case provides evidence that, not only was the 12-year-old-rule offered up as gospel by the caseworker involved with this family, but she learned of it when she attended a foster parent class! The Division LIE – “the 12-year-old-rule” was a part of its inculcation of foster parents… State-administered training courses premised upon a LIE by the State. And yet, while the Appellate Division correctly remanded the matter to be considered anew by the trial judge because of the patently inaccurate information provided by DCPP to the foster parent, the fact that an appeal was required in order to right this wrong is disturbing. When, exactly, will trial Courts respond to outright lies by the Division with the same outrage engendered by lies told by litigants? Shouldn’t we, as a society, be able to rely upon the representations of those in power, those entrusted with protecting our most valuable asset...

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The Importance of Appealing a DYFS/DCPP Substantiation of Abuse/Neglect

If the Division of Child Protection and Permanency substantiates an allegation of child abuse or neglect, the perpetrator’s name is listed on the Child Abuse Central Registry. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.11. This is a confidential list that is maintained by the Department of Children and Families. Only a limited number of agencies have a statutory right to access the Registry, including licensed daycare providers, adoptive agencies and residential elder care facilities. For all others, a request must be made in writing to the Division to release the information, and failing same, court order must be sought. School districts employing teachers are not, by statute, entitled to check the Registry. However, nothing in the law prevents an employer (including a school district) from requesting an applicant’s consent to authorize the Division to release this information for purposes of evaluating her employability. Further, nothing in the law protects an applicant from an employer’s choice to draw an adverse inference from an applicant’s failure or refusal to release the information. So, if a person is listed on the Registry, they remain in jeopardy of having an employer-requested background check that could preclude him from employment. If you receive a letter advising that the Division had substantiated an allegation of abuse or neglect, you should appeal. Instructions will be provided in the letter, advising where to send the request and what information is required. An administrative appeal occurs in the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). The Rules of Evidence do not apply. The procedure is trial-like, but the cases are tried “de novo”. Rather, the a question for the Administrative Law Judge is whether the agency’s decision is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Because of these differences between Superior Court litigation and administrative practice, it is imperative that an accused parent/caregiver select an attorney that is skilled in handling these matters. If you or someone you know has been substantiated for abuse or neglect and desire to appeal, please contact The Williams Law Group, LLC to schedule a...

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What is a Dodd Removal?

When DCPP, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly, DYFS, the Division of Youth and Family Services) investigates an allegation of child abuse or neglect, and uncovers what it believes to be “imminent risk of harm”, the Division may remove the children from the home immediately without a court order. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.28. This removal is referred to as a “Dodd” removal, named after the legislator who sponsored the legislation giving the Division this right. Once a Dodd removal occurs, the Division must be before a judge seeking a court order ratifying the Dodd within two court days. What constitutes “imminent risk of harm”? That varies from county to county, and frankly, from investigator to investigator. However, some general parameters include child sexual abuse where the alleged perpetrator is in the home; physical child abuse that would rise to the level of an “aggravating circumstance” that would relieve the Division of its obligation to make reasonable efforts to avoid placement; abandonment (i.e., child in the home with no caregiver), or acts of a similarly serious nature. Unfortunately, the Division will, from time to time, act improvidently in removing children from their home. This may occur in circumstances where the parent has been voluntarily accepting services from the Division over a period of time, and the agency ultimately comes to the conclusion that it is tired of trying to work with the parents and feels court intervention must be imposed upon the family to effectuate the positive result sought. It is also not unheard of that the agency will threaten to do a Dodd removal in order to scare parents into signing contracts with the agency, allowing unfettered access to a home, signing releases for medical or mental health information that is otherwise protected, and similar overreaching to accomplish what they otherwise could not. Many times, parents will contact counsel after the fact and claim that they only signed agreements and authorized the release of confidential information upon threat of removal by the Division. Such tactics constitute a gross violation of the public trust and misuse of government authority. Unfortunately, my experience has been that judges are upset by improvident removals than by noncooperation by parents when the Division investigates. Therefore, one must not casually disregard the Division’s threats to remove children, even when the parent believes the agency could not ultimately prove “imminent risk of harm” in court. If...

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Defending DYFS/DCPP Cases: An Essential Primer

On Saturday, April 27, 2013, Allison C. Williams, Esq., Founder of NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com, will be presenting a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminar for the lawyers and judges of New Jersey. The topic: Parental Defense in DYFS/DCPP cases. The presentation will take place at the Crowne Plaza in Fairfield. To register for this CLE, visit www.njicle.com. If you or someone you know is involved in litigation against the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services, please contact The Williams Law Group, LLC for a...

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