On May 5, 2014, the New Jersey Appellate Division entered a critical ruling in the case of DCPP v. M.C., Docket No. A2398-12T. The M.C. case draws from several recent published decisions to conclude that child abuse and neglect findings must be based upon proof of (a) actual impairment; or (b) substantial risk of impairment. Where the basis of the finding of “substantial risk”, the Division must prove an “imminent danger” of impairment based upon present circumstances – i.e., the circumstances at the time of trial, not the circumstances at the time the Complaint was filed.
After performing a meticulous deconstruction of the statutory child abuse/neglect definition in N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c), the Court discusses several cases that lend support to the Court’s interpretation that “imminent danger” of child impairment must exist and continue to exist, despite Division involvement. The beauty of this finding is that it truly balances the equities between prevention and redress of child maltreatment, on the one hand, and parental autonomy and constitutional rights, on the other.
Many DCPP cases are approached from an adversarial posture. Parents fear admitting to human frailties and accepting help from the Division, for fear that those admissions will put the nail in the coffin of the abuse finding by the Court. Parents who accept help have their intimate thoughts documented in therapy reports. Parents evaluated for substance or mental health treatment are expected to discuss their mistakes as parents, but those very statements are then used against them at trial.
The M.C. decision upends that sad commentary on social service intervention. Now, impaired or otherwise imperfect parents can rely upon the Division’s assistance to improve their home lives, with the Court’s focus being on whether their child is in “imminent danger” of impairment. This topic and more will be covered next week at a CLE taught by Allison C. Williams, Esq., entitled “Nuts and Bolts of Defending DCPP/DYFS Abuse & Neglect Actions”. The program takes place at Seton Hall Law School on Monday, May 19, 2014, at 9:00 a.m.
If you or someone you know is involved with the child welfare agency, please contact the Williams Law Group, LLC, to schedule a consultation.