In a published decision on June 11, 2013, the Appellate Division has explicitly prohibited trial Courts from ratifying the outright FALSE information given to resource parents by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCPP”) (formerly, the Division of Youth and Family Services (“DYFS”)). Specifically, in DYFS v. H.R. & N.B., the Appellate Division remanded to the trial Court the issue of alternatives to TPR (termination of parental rights) because the relative placement repeatedly testified that DCPP had told her in no uncertain terms that Kinship Legal Guardianship (KLG) was not available for her niece because the child was not 12 years of age.
The Court pointed out that this clearly erroneous 12-year benchmark was NOT included in the KLG statute. Further, once the trial Court became aware of the relatives’ misinformed perception that KLG was not available for a child under age 12, it had a duty to correct the misinformation.
What’s shocking about this decision is NOT the fact that DCPP lied to the resource parents. That happens all the time. Any attorney who does this work is likely familiar with the anecdotal tales of foster parents being told they MUST adopt or the children for whom they provide care will be yanked away by the Division. We hear, routinely, about the “12-year-old-rule” for KLG. No surprises there.
But when, exactly, is someone – ANYONE – going to address the fact that this very powerful government agency routinely lies to families involved with the child welfare system? This case provides evidence that, not only was the 12-year-old-rule offered up as gospel by the caseworker involved with this family, but she learned of it when she attended a foster parent class!
The Division LIE – “the 12-year-old-rule” was a part of its inculcation of foster parents… State-administered training courses premised upon a LIE by the State. And yet, while the Appellate Division correctly remanded the matter to be considered anew by the trial judge because of the patently inaccurate information provided by DCPP to the foster parent, the fact that an appeal was required in order to right this wrong is disturbing.
When, exactly, will trial Courts respond to outright lies by the Division with the same outrage engendered by lies told by litigants? Shouldn’t we, as a society, be able to rely upon the representations of those in power, those entrusted with protecting our most valuable asset – i.e., children? If anything, shouldn’t there be some sanction for the agency, which is already gifted with the benefit of a presumed “high degree of reliability” per the Cope decision?
When members of the defense bar routinely hear of patterns of practice by the Division that contravene statutes, case law, court rules, administrative regulations, AOC policies, court orders and other legal mandates, we must not shy away from unveiling these atrocities for the trial Court’s consideration. Hopefully, armed with the H.R. case, we now have strong precedent to urge trial Courts not to look past the manipulations of this agency.
One can only hope that trial Courts begin to see how rampant the Division’s lies are … and begin to do something about it.
The Division’s bias against KLG is obvious. They don’t want to agree to any solution that preserves parental rights for our clients. We have to push for it. The best way to do it is to file a pretrial motion for KLG in cases where it is appropriate. I recently had a TPR trial in which a caseworker testified that KLG was never even discussed with the relative, even after I filed a motion! It’s also helpful to get a defense expert who can recommend KLG.
Although I have had cases in which clients balked at KLG even though it was the best realistic result they could get.
As things stand now, our clients can get KLG only when the Division is willing to agree to it, it is much harder to for us to get it no matter how hard we push. The best thing to do is educate our clients about it.