New Jersey DYFS Defense is Changing with the Times!


Hi Everyone!  For the past few years, NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com has provided top-quality information, insights and perspectives on the topic of child abuse and neglect and the agency entrusted with investigating same.  Until February 29, 2013, that agency was most commonly known as DYFS – the Division of Youth and Family Services.  However, with an overhaul of agency protocol and procedure came a new name.  Now, DYFS is known as DCPP – the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.  

Though we are loathe to accept that the agency in our state entrusted with investigating often quite serious allegations such as child sexual abuse is referred to as “PP”, it is with much chagrin that we accept it.  And so, today, NewJerseyDYFSDefense will now be known as NewJerseyDCPPdefense.  We will function as we always have — to provide our perspective on how the child welfare systems works (and fails to work) for the families in this state.  We will continue to provide commentary and to refrain from giving legal advice.

And most importantly, we will continue to respond to your thoughts, concerns and questions by publishing content designed to enlighten our constituents about Child Welfare law, procedure and policy.

Stay tuned for more great content.

If you or someone you know is involved with the child welfare agency, DCPP, please contact Paragano & Williams, LLC, for a consultation.

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 you or someone you know has been contacted by the Division seeking to investigate, before denying access and facing potential removal, contact Paragano and Williams, LLC for a consultation.

Livermore Child Care Workers Accused Of Abuse For Binding Babies


This story is what typically springs to mind when the words “child abuse and neglect” are uttered. In reality, the cast majority of “child abuse and neglect” cases are not of this sort, do not involve the heinous allegations set forth here, and do not warrant or require the extent to state intrusion into family life that is prompted by such stories.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend reading these types of stories so that our society can learn to differentiate these offenses from those we most frequently encounter in the world of child welfare law litigation.

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 Paragano & Williams, LLC for a consultation.

What a difference a year makes!


In litigation brought by the division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP)(formerly the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS)), one year is a very significant benchmark in the case. After one year in litigation, the court is required to conduct a permanency hearing and to approve a plan to achieve permanency for the child. That plan may include reunification with the parent, termination of parental rights followed by adoption, kinship legal guardianship with a relative, or one of three other alternatives. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.50.

Though there is no statutory requirement for litigation to last one year, anecdotal experience from child welfare attorneys supports that this is typical. Various, however, a requirement for a permanency hearing within one year pursuant to the a
Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA).

Further, parent educational materials distributed in child welfare courts, provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), that the case should be resolved with reunification, if possible, within one year.

But should we accept the de facto presumption that the litigation must last a year? Does having a one-year “benchmark” allow the agency to justify its delay in implementing necessary services to achieve reunification? Does having a one-year benchmark encourage the agency to talk on additional requested services for family over the course of that year, knowing that the practice typically includes a one-year period of litigation? And because it is exceedingly rare that a court will not grant the agency its request for additional services, what is lost, really, by requesting more and more and more of a parent because the agency has one year to play with?

It is a dirty little secret of child welfare agencies that services are often provided to families solely for the purpose of meeting the statutory requirement down the line to terminate parental rights. Now that ASFA requires concurrent planning, the agency cannot take this “over servicing” approach with only those families anticipated to have termination in their future; it adopts this approach for all families.

The consequence of this “standard operating procedure” is that many families are simply tortured by a one-year entitlement by the agency to control its life, rather than a strategic, directed approach to help families and end litigation. It is true that many families achieve reunification before the end of litigation, as a parent may seek return of the child at any time, which shall be granted unless there is evidence of harm to the child’s health, safety or welfare. See, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.32(a). Yet, it is all too common that the division successfully opposes reunification upon the stated concern that a lapse of perfection upon reunification will only result in a subsequent removal.

This concern is not totally unwarranted. However, the one year benchmark is far too often used as a guillotine over families, rather than a tempered response to the circumstances presented to the court. Wow the benchmark appears to be here to stay, we should not accept that one year is a magic number that should guide most cases. Each case requires and deserves a case-by-case individual approach.

If you or someone you know is involved in child welfare litigation that appears to be dragging on needlessly, contact Paragano & Williams, LLC for assistance resolving your matter expeditiously.

Does DCPP Need a Warrant to Search My Home?


When the Division of Child Protection and Permanency receives a referral, it is required by law to investigate.  A required component of that investigation includes speaking with the accused parent.  N.J.A.C. 10:129-3.1(b)(7).  Another required component of the investigation includes inspecting the home environment of the allegedly abused or neglected child.  N.J.A.C. 10:129-3.1(b)(4).  These components, along with others, are evaluated to help the agency assess risk.  Risk must be assessed with each allegation investigated, as child safety may be impaired without such a determination.

Unfortunately, the determination of risk comes with or without the parent’s involvement.  If risk cannot be assessed unless the home is evaluated, the Division may conclude – having considered the balance of factors that they must evaluate – that the missing information (i.e., the state of the home or the explanation of the parent) is essential and without it, the only safe alternative is to presume a harm exists, remove the child and await a determination by a Court.

Conversely, there are times when the parent’s failure to allow a home inspection or interview of the accused may annoy the investigators and perhaps increase the likelihood that litigation may ensue, but would not prompt a removal.  The critical determination for the agency is whether there exists an “imminent risk of harm” (which is required for removal, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.28 and -8.29) or a “substantial risk of harm” (which is required for a finding of abuse or neglect as defined in N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)).

My experience has been that few cases turn on the state of the home, where that is the only remaining piece of a child welfare investigation to be completed.  Nonetheless, there are certainly times when a parent is better served by denying access to the home.  If a parent elects to deny access, the Division may threaten to remove the child — whether a basis exists for such action or not.  In order to evaluate the merits of such a threat, it is imperative that parents consult counsel before making the final decision and declaration that access to the home will not be granted.

If you or someone you know are considering denying access to a home that is the subject of a child abuse investigation or refusing an interview with the Division, please contact Paragano & Williams, LLC to make sure you are making the right choice.

Child Welfare Law Associate Attorney Position Available Immediately


The Founder of NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com, Allison C. Williams, Esq., is looking to share her zealous form of Parental Defense Advocacy with the next era of attorneys in the State of New Jersey. Parental defense attorneys need to know the right way to help the families of New Jersey – with the extensive knowledge, dynamic advocacy and zealous presentation of defenses that is entailed in such representation. Ms. Williams has been teaching parental defense to attorneys for years, and now, she is ready to share that knowledge with an attorney who will learn the intricacies of this practice and how the revamp the child welfare system – one client at a time!

For these reasons, the law firm of Paragano & Williams, LLC is looking to hire a Family Law Associate Attorney. Ideal candidates should have 2-3 years of experience. A family Law clerkship is highly preferred. The position will cover primarily Child Welfare Law (i.e., matters involving the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), f/k/a the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS)); however, the position will also involve handling matrimonial, custody, support, domestic violence and Municipal Court cases. Candidates should write exceptionally well and be eager to build a practice. Please submit resumes to Ms. Williams by e-mail at awilliams@paraganowilliams.com.

DeMystifying the Children in Court (CIC) Docket


On Wednesday, April 10, 2013, NewJerseyDYFSdefense founder, Allison C. Williams, Esq., will be presenting on a panel discussing defense of parents in child welfare (i.e., DYFS/DCPP) matters. The educational program for judges and attorneys will be presented to the Union County Bar Association (UCBA) immediately preceding the Mccloud Awards Dinner. Some of the topics will include:

– Should parents voluntarily speak to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) regarding allegations of child abuse;

– How to gain access to DCPP records when no complaint has been filed by the agency;

– How to litigate a custody case and a DCPP case at the same time;

– How to secure the best parenting time arrangement during a DCPP case while a criminal investigation is ongoing and/or a criminal charge has been filed;

– When to consult DCPP counsel during a matrimonial case, when to refer it out and when to handle it behind the scenes;

– How to gain a strategic advantage over the agency while “call operating” with an investigation; and

– Much, much more!

The panel will include Superior Court Judge Camille Kenny, Deputy Attorney General Christian Arnold and law guardian in Patricia Vogler. The event will take place at LaFaire restaurant in Mountainside, New Jersey, starting at 4:30 PM.

This event further confirms that Ms. Williams is the foremost authority on parental defense in child welfare cases in the State of New Jersey.

If you or someone you know is involved with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly DYFS), and you may need assistance, please contact us at Paragano and Williams, LLC.

Medically Fragile Children in DCPP/DYFS Custody


Children who are considered “special needs” that end up in resource care are required to be placed with special placement providers who are trained to provide a higher degree of care. These homes are referred to as “ships” placements. “Ships” is abbreviated as SHSP (Special Home Service Provider).

Children who are placed in SHSP’s homes are typically those with medical injuries that require more frequent medical attention than children in the same age category without such injuries. However, not every child who has some form of medical ailment or injury requires such a placement. For instance, a baby who was not yet ambulatory at the time of an injury that is now in a cast requires no higher degree of attention and care than any other baby, except that she must have her cast carefully cleaned, examined, et cetera.

The determination of whether a child requires a SHSPs home is an important one. If the child is placed in such a home, the parent will likely receive substantially less parenting time with the child, as relative placements are unlikely. With standard placements, relatives can be provisionally approved, subject to completing the foster parent training (i.e., referred to as the Pride training course). If a child is medically fragile, the placement must be a SHSPs foster placement, and the division and the court are less likely to approve a relative for placement, subject to subsequent training.

Of course, one must question why this is the case. After all, if a parent leaves the hospital with a child in a cast, with a medical problem, one requiring higher attention in the detailed medical instruction, that child is still released to his parents with instruction from his doctors. Yet, with foster placements, the state takes the position that some “high degree” of medical training is required in order to have placement of the child, no matter the degree of injury or ailment from which the child suffers. This is likely because parents are entitled to commit simple negligence when caring for their children, whereas the state is not. As such, the state is less likely to accept well-intentioned foster placements that do not meet their highest criteria for care if the child has already been physically injured, resulting in removal from the parents and placement in foster care.

It is important to look to the child’s specific injuries when evaluating whether or not a SHSP home is required. Many times, when such a placement is not required, exploring the basis for the placement can give helpful insights to the court when evaluating the case as a whole. Specifically, if the Division has reached the knee-jerk conclusion that it must have been the parent’s abuse that caused the child’s injuries, the division often takes draconian measures to ensure the parent is afforded as little contact with the child as possible while in placement. This often occurs by the Division’s insisting upon a SHSP’s placement when one is not required.

One way of uncovering such a tactic is by demanding a copy of the nurse’s notes that must be maintained for every SHSP’s placement. The division’s nurse is required to see the child weekly and make a detailed log of the child’s medical status, feeding schedule and care instructions administered by the resource parents in order to ensure that the child’s medical needs are being met in that placement. The parent is entitled to receive a copy of this nurse’s log upon request.

Rarely are these logs kept consistent with the training protocols and the requirements set forth in the administrative code. When these deficits are highlighted, the court will often grow weary of the division’s position as to the necessity of the placement, thereby calling into question the division’s position as to other issues in the case, including the parents’ culpability for the child’s injuries. One never knows what will be found until the information is sought and explored.

If you or someone you know has a child in placement that has been declared medically fragile when that designation appears unwarranted, please contact Paragano and Williams, LLC for assistance.