Never one to be labeled stagnant, our Child Welfare agency in New Jersey, formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), will now be known as the Department of Children Protection and Permanency (DCPP). What does this means for those of us in the trenches? And most importantly, what does this mean for the families of New Jersey?
A change in an agency name may signify a change in perspective – perhaps, a change in the objectives that will be pursued. But, this may or may not be a good thing. The prior name encompassed both Youth and Family. Youth, i.e., Children, came first, but linked to Youth were their families. Oftentimes, parents ask why DYFS is only concerned about the “youth” and not the “family”. One can only imagine how that query will fester now that “Family” is taken out of the name altogether.
Child Welfare Advocates may posit that DYFS was always directed, first and foremost, toward “Child Protection and Permanency”, so codifying those goals in the agency name makes sense. However, this position overlooks the reality for many families involved with the child welfare agency.
When the State steps in, accuses parents of wrongdoing, critiques every aspect of their lives and their very being, sometimes removing their children from their care, many times restricting their access to their children, parents’ responses often range from Fight to Flight, long before submission emerges. At the inception of the case, the child welfare advocate many times engenders a sense of helplessness in the parent that causes the parent to obfuscate issues in defensiveness, to such an extent that feigned concerns by the agency become as real in the eyes of the Court as the legitimate concerns that may, or may not, rise to the level of abuse or neglect of children. When that occurs, the antagonistic relationship between the parent and the agency becomes yet another obstacle to be overcome by the parent in order to achieve reunification. Yet, when this process of overcoming takes longer than a year, the State may proceed with an action to terminate parental rights.
Parents, quite justifiably, fear the agency. Its involvement signifies the beginning of a very short (1 year) journey toward eliminating lifelong problems that took decades to present. Met with this nearly impossible standard, families can be eviscerated. Parents realize their ill-fated circumstances through all contacts with the agency – even by seeing its name and all that its name represents.
Do we really want “Permanency” (often equated with anti-reunification) to be the symbol of New Jersey’s Child Welfare agency? Should “Family” have been removed from the name of the agency charged with “rehabilitating and improving family life N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.50(e)”?