The DCPP Agenda behind Services

In every case brought by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), the Division seeks an Order compelling the parent(s) to engage in services to address the issues that necessitated the Division’s involvement. These “services” range from psychological evaluations to substance abuse treatment to marital counseling. But, the one common denominator in all “services” is the Division’s insistence that the services be secured by the Division with its contracted providers and not privately retained by the parent.

Does one ever stop to question why? If a parent has a need for domestic violence counseling, is there some legitimate reason why New Jersey tax dollars are required to fund a 26-week course, in lieu of the parent’s resources paying for the counseling through her private insurance? Is it that the state wants the parent to jump through the hoops of attending a course once a week, at a pre-set time, with others, to atone for the sins of victim-hood in interpersonal relationship? Or perhaps it is because the division can rely upon a course it has approved, but has some trepidation about relying upon a professional with whom the Division is not familiar?

Perhaps. But, I would suggest there is another reason. However much the judiciary resists this truism, the Division is NOT a disinterested third party solely interested in the best interests of children. The Division is a government agency. A bureaucracy. It functions on red tape. Thrives on inefficiency. And succeeds on ensuring that everyone follows the rules, obeys the commands, sticks with the agenda, and makes sure the agency does not get sued for screwing up.

Not screwing up is good, right? Wrong. When one is motivated by not screwing up, the highest success ever to be achieved is blind adherence to rote instructions. That means, if 1 + 2 = 3, always, universally, because that’s the rule, when 1.1 comes along, and there’s no formula to determine how to reach 3, the universality of the 1+2=3 rule becomes the default. So, 1.1 becomes 1 because it is easier to get to 3 by adding 2, rather than do the math Dan subtract 1.1 from 3.

The net result becomes a gross oversimplification of complex problems or, alternatively, an exaggerated over-response to the simplicity of human interactions. That is the reason why it becomes easier to require a psychological evaluation in EVERY case, rather than say that in cases where a parent has already been evaluated by a credentialed psychologist other than one paid by the Division, there is no need to replicate the evaluation; we can simply implement the recommended treatment.

That is the reason why it is easier to say EVERY parent is limited to supervised visitation in the Division office, rather than question the need for a parent to have supervision where the alleged harm to the child was medical neglect, and the medical condition allegedly neglected no longer exists!

It is easier to follow simple rules (e.g., child in foster care = no phone access to parents) than it is to THINK and tailor decisions to the needs of the child, the parent and the circumstances. Consequently, the agency functions best when its employees obey. That ensures they keep their jobs. And THAT is what governs when alleged child abuse or neglect is investigated and treated. Once these motivations are questioned, one realizes that the agency is NOT merely a disinterested third party out to save the children. Underneath every decision is a motivation. Beyond every service is a checklist that ensures that the requested service is offered to promote many objectives, which may include child protection, but which may – and likely does – include job security by e obedient box-checker.

The sooner this reality is acknowledged by those in positions of power, the sooner “services” can be out into their proper context.

If you or someone you know is involved with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, contact Paragano & Williams, LLC, to schedule a consultation.

The Importance of Appealing a DYFS/DCPP Substantiation of Abuse/Neglect

If the Division of Child Protection and Permanency substantiates an allegation of child abuse or neglect, the perpetrator’s name is listed on the Child Abuse Central Registry. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.11. This is a confidential list that is maintained by the Department of Children and Families. Only a limited number of agencies have a statutory right to access the Registry, including licensed daycare providers, adoptive agencies and residential elder care facilities. For all others, a request must be made in writing to the Division to release the information, and failing same, court order must be sought.

School districts employing teachers are not, by statute, entitled to check the Registry. However, nothing in the law prevents an employer (including a school district) from requesting an applicant’s consent to authorize the Division to release this information for purposes of evaluating her employability. Further, nothing in the law protects an applicant from an employer’s choice to draw an adverse inference from an applicant’s failure or refusal to release the information.

So, if a person is listed on the Registry, they remain in jeopardy of having an employer-requested background check that could preclude him from employment. If you receive a letter advising that the Division had substantiated an allegation of abuse or neglect, you should appeal. Instructions will be provided in the letter, advising where to send the request and what information is required.

An administrative appeal occurs in the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). The Rules of Evidence do not apply. The procedure is trial-like, but the cases are tried “de novo”. Rather, the a question for the Administrative Law Judge is whether the agency’s decision is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Because of these differences between Superior Court litigation and administrative practice, it is imperative that an accused parent/caregiver select an attorney that is skilled in handling these matters.

If you or someone you know has been substantiated for abuse or neglect and desire to appeal, please contact Paragano & Williams, LLC to schedule a consultation.

Okay, so Here’s a First!

Today, of the New Jersey Appellate Division released a two-page decision reversing a finding of “risk of harm” under N.J.S.A. 30:4C–11 in a case brought by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency that was tried over four days. No facts were discussed, no law analyzed, and yet, the court reversed.

Why? Because the Division did not oppose a reversal! It stands to reason, then, but the Division knew the finding should have been reversed, but simply did not take the initiative to assert that to the court, but rather left the court to its own conclusion. A good result for the parents in this case; however, this decision presents more questions than answers for the field of child welfare law.

We do not know from the decision if a new DAG handle the appeal and disagreed with her predecessor to try the case, but that makes no difference in my view. The “client” is the Division. While a finding under Title 30 is not quite the same as a finding of Title 9 (no registry, no prior finding to taint future child abuse investigations, etc.), is still a child-abuse finding, which our law says is a substantial weight against the parent, if for no reason other than reputational injury in its existence. Should not then the Division have an obligation to be a sure of its position before putting the parents through the emotional and financial turmoil of a four day trial and appellate briefing before such a finding is sought?

And assuming that the agency changed its position in favor of the parents after the trial occurred. Should not the Division have simply joined in consent to have the finding reversed by the Appellate Division? After all, nothing compelled the Appellate Division to reverse the finding simply because all of the attorneys in the case disagreed with the trial judge’s conclusion.

And does the procedural machination in this case not call into question other cases that the agency prosecutes against parents? How many times has a fresh set of eyes come upon a DCPP case only to have the unsupportable finding of child abuse against the parent disregarded because someone somewhere in the halls of the agency felt, however unwarranted, that a finding was needed?

We often refer to the Title 9 finding as the first meal in the coffin any termination proceeding. In termination proceedings, all doubt is to be weighed against termination of parental rights and in favor of the parent. Should that standard not also apply any time child welfare if implicated? Does that not serve the policy of our state that accords parents the constitutional right to parent while also protecting children from harm?

Hopefully, defense counsel will rely upon this case to show the strategic maneuvering of the agency in court, if for no other reason than to demonstrate to judges that the agency is not a dis-interested body that simply wants to “protect the children”. It has its agenda and should be treated like any other litigant before the court, with its motivations analyzed.

If you or someone you know is involved with litigation against the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, contact Paragano & Williams, LLC to schedule a consultation.