Use of Child Interviews in DCPP Cases

In Family Court, children are often witnesses to matters before the Court.  Children may witness domestic violence between their parents.  They may provide exculpatory information to refute allegations of adultery or neglect.  In such cases, trial Courts usually shy away from placing children on the witness stand in open Court and instead conduct child interviews in the judge’s chambers, where the child’s testimony is critical.  The prevailing view is that method of information testing protects children.

In cases brought by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP, formerly DYFS), the child is the subject of the action.  The child is person alleged to be in need of protection. So, courts go above and beyond — not only to ensure the child is subjected to in-court testimony, but also to avoid any child testimony, including child interviews.  In DCPP cases, children’s hearsay statements of abuse may be admitted into evidence; however, no such statement is sufficient to make a finding of abuse absent corroboration. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(a)(4).  Despite this broad exception to the hearsay rule, the Court must still find “credible, corroborative evidence” as a precondition to admissibility of the statement.  New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. L.A., 357 N.J.Super. 155, 167 (App.Div.2003).

Anecdotal experience finds that judges in DCPP matters often prefer to admit the child’s statements of abuse in lieu of live testimony.  But what happens when there is no corroboration for the child’s statements, rendering them inadmissible?  The Division may still choose to proceed, in which case the child’s testimony is required.  Trial judges, many of whom were litigators before they were elevated to the bench, are often adept at handling direct examination.

But what about cross examination?  What happens when defense counsel desires to confront a child witness with inconsistent statements?  What happens if the trial judge does not “confront” the child, but rather, gingerly explores the topic with the child?  Is not cross examination the best device we have in an adversarial system for unearthing the truth?  What becomes of that adversarial system when a trial judge refuses to become adversarial with a witness, and hence, defense counsel is deprived of the most effective means of challenging the child’s statements?

What about the element of surprise?  With a witness on the witness stand, defense counsel can confront the witness with pictures, recordings, written statements – anything likely to call into question the witness’s credibility.  A witness’s credibility is always at issue when he or she testifies; therefore, the New Jersey Rules of Evidence contemplate allowing broad latitude to counsel when exploring the witness’s truthfulness.  N.J.R.E. 611(b).  A party may introduce extrinsic evidence relevant to credibility, whether or not that extrinsic evidence bears upon the subject matter of the action. State v. Johnson, 216 N.J. Super. 588, 603 (App. Div. 1987). What happens when defense counsel is deprived of the element of surprise, inasmuch as she must present the information to the trial judge (and opposing counsel) in advance, rather than during live testimony?  Certainly, that takes some of the momentum out of the questioning.

There are no easy answers to these questions.  But, raise these questions (and more) when presenting questions to the trial judge to be asked of the witness.  R. 5:8-6 affords counsel the right to pose questions to be asked of the child by the trial judge.  Use the presentment of questions as your opportunity to educate the judge about the inconsistencies.  Just as there are times when attorneys ask marginally appropriate questions of witnesses moreso to elicit a reaction than to obtain the answer to the question – so, too, should counsel use every opportunity to present questions to inform the Court of weaknesses in the Division’s case.

If you or someone you know is involved in a child welfare (DCPP) matter, contact Paragano & Williams, LLC, to schedule a consultation.

Check Out our New Page: When Family Court meets DCPP Court!

This page contains an article published in the New Jersey Family Lawyer by Allison C. Williams, Esq., exploring the many ways that discrepant rules in child welfare matters – those rules applicable when DCPP files a case, verses those rules applicable when a parent, guardian or other concerned person files a case – can dramatically alter the outcome, and not in a manner that promotes child safety consistently across the Family Part.

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.

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.

New Jersey DYFS Defense is Changing with the Times!

Hi Everyone!  For the past few years, 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.

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, 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

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, 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