Heightened Burden to Terminate Parental Rights of a Teen Parent

The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division has provided trial Courts with guidance vis-a-vis an analytical framework to evaluate the State’s efforts to terminate the parental rights of a teen parent. In the New Jersey Div. of Youth and Fam. Svcs. v. L.J.D., the Court established a “heightened burden” for guardianship matters involving teens. This “special circumstance” of teen parenthood requires “services to aid the development of the child-parent’s maturation” and likely necessitates extending reunification efforts beyond the twelve-month timeframe mandated by N.J.S.A. 30:4D-61.2(a) and N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.54(b). These are important guideposts to evaluate future TPR cases involving teen parents.

This 55-page Decision, authored by Judge Lihotz, raises many questions, not the least of which is the appropriateness of “services” offered by the agency to parents from whom children have been removed. In this case, the parent argued that services were not appropriate because the Division did not provide one last service – a Mommy & Me program – that may have been sufficient. The Court rejected this argument – not based upon the program proposed, but based upon the volume of “services” that otherwise were not utilized effectively by the parent.

This demonstrates the need for parent-advocates to oppose the routine referrals made for services when those services are not likely to benefit the parent and child. Services should not be rejected out of hand; however, if the only conceivable benefit to a parent in a particular service is to aid the Division is increasing its list of “services” offered to meet its “reasonable efforts” mandate, the service should be opposed.

Each offered “service” should be evaluated. Ask for Resumes of Service Providers. Request detailed information about the program guidelines. If the program is geared toward substance abuse, and the parent’s primary issue is psychological disorder, oppose this service being required of the parent. Or, at the very least, oppose the service being included in the list of the Division’s “reasonable efforts” to reunify. In all litigation, cases are won and lost on the details. Child welfare cases are no different. Make your record in these cases by holding the Division to its burden – whether it be the “usual” burden or the heightened burden of L.J.D.

5 thoughts on “Heightened Burden to Terminate Parental Rights of a Teen Parent

    • I am glad that the site was helpful to you. I welcome you to register with our RSS feed, so you will receive notifications of new content being posted. I also welcome any ideas or concerns you would like to see addressed on the site. We aim to provide valuable content to the parent defense bar, as well as to the families of New Jersey. Any insights, critiques or comments you have to offer can only help to make the site better for all. — Warm regards, Allison

  1. Pingback: 8 Common Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights in South Carolina | South Carolina DSS Blog

    • Dear Graves,

      Your site is quite impressive! I am aghast at much of the content you have posted on your site regarding South Carolina child welfare law policy and practice. I would greatly appreciate an opportunity to speak with you about it further.

      I have submitted a proposal to present at the ABA’s Parent Defense Conference in Washington, D.C. in July 2013. Perhaps that is a location where our paths may cross. I am always intrigued to meet a strong advocate in this field of practice, and your website amply places you in that category.

      Warm regards,
      Allison C. Williams

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