Parents often wonder if they can file a lawsuit against the Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). A simple Google search will locate many websites devoted to the goal of “suing DYFS”. Does this really happen? How often? And, who is the prevailing plaintiff when battling the state of New Jersey over its flawed child protection agency?
Unfortunately, only in very limited circumstances can a parent sue DYFS for its often ill-conceived interference in family life. DYFS caseworkers are afforded immunity when performing work in their official capacity as employees of the state. Only when conduct is performed outside the scope of their broad-ranging job duties, or when action is taken that can be considered tortious, may an employee be subject to civil penalties.
Unfortunately, much bad behavior is tolerable when acting under the guise of “child protection”. Perhaps this is because our society feels a moral imperative to protect those who cannot protect themselves. But, does state interference truly prevent and/or remediate harm to children? Or is it more often the case that state involvement causes more harm than good?
To be certain, many families require state assistance in order to function minimally and to preserve their families. However, the vast overreaching of many caseworkers and investigators call into question the legitimacy of those well intentioned, dedicated social workers who are truly desirous of preventing out-of-home placement and keeping families together through the provision of services and proper case management.
As is often the case, it may be that the only way to effectuate change in the system is to initiate litigation and bring the problems to the forefront. Only when we begin to see the evisceration of families as a societal problem, and not just a poor person’s problem, will families in New Jersey truly be safe from obtrusive government intervention.