Ever notice how every case filed by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), n/k/a the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) kicks off with a Complaint and a request for supervised visitation? Does anyone ever question the need for supervision at the initial filing? Of course not, you may be thinking. After all, why would DYFS (DCPP) be involved with the family if there was no need to monitor the actions of the alleged child abusers, right?
Sadly, the allegations made in these cases often come partnered with the assumption that parental supervision is required. But is that always true? What about the case where a father is accused to acts of domestic violence against a mother in the presence of a child but never any infliction of harm against a child? Presumably if the “harm” to that child is witnessing domestic violence, how likely is that harm to reoccur if the parents are not together when in the presence of the child?
And what about cases in which a parent has a substance abuse problem, but the parent’s relatives all confirm that she has never used or abused substances in the presence of the children? Can that parent really not be trusted to have unsupervised dinner visits with the children, especially if she must blow into a breathing device installed on her vehicle to confirm she is “dry” before operating it?
How about the case where a step-parent is accused of being unduly harsh toward a step-child but no such allegation exists as to his natural children? Can he really not be trusted to be alone with his children against whom there is no allegation?
Unfortunately, the DYFS/DCPP “script” is to request supervision; however, the Division’s Field Operations Manual clearly provides that visitation is to be LEAST RESTRICTIVE option available to ensure child safety, and where supervision is requested, the rationale for the request must be set forth with specificity. DYFS rarely goes “off script”, and as a result, Superior Court judges rarely go “off script”.
But placing the impediment of plastic, short-term parental restriction upon a parent who is already being overwhelmed by the panoply of testimony, evaluations, monitoring and worse, usually does more harm than good in the “altruistic” world of social work. It creates barriers to collaboration between the State and the parent to remedy the harm alleged to impair parenting. And, isn’t that why the action is being filed in the first place?
As defense counsel, it is our job to argue against supervision. Never concede that supervised visitation is warranted on the facts presented. Be creative in fashioning the “least restrictive” alternative. Stop assuming that the Division will prevail in its quest for supervision, and perhaps, one day, it will not.