Who Causes the Harm?


In protracted DCPP litigation, there are often many twists and turns in the cases. Sometimes, the “non-offending parent” becomes the target of an investigation by the agency. This is common in cases where one parent is substantiated for abuse and the other parent is subsequently substantiated for “failure to protect” the children from the alleged abusive parent.

If children are in the custody of the alleged non-protective parent, any distress by the children is typically attributed to that parent. But is that truly the case?

Is it not harm in and of itself to have the child welfare agency and its many, many individuals (caseworkers, investigators, supervisors and liaisons), the law guardian’s office (with its many investigators and attorneys), parents attorneys and a judge or two, involved in the life of a child? If the child is struggling with the loss of one parent who is barred from access due to court orders in DCPP Court, does that parental absence not cause immediate harm and trauma to the child? Especially when the child knows the parent has not died but is simply not authorized by the court to see them?

And can we place upon the “non-offending” parent the burden of the children’s emotional stability, when it is the very existence of the “helpers” of the child welfare system that is increasing if not causing the distress in the child?

In my experience, these thorny issues are too amorphous for this to be determined with any degree of psychological certainty. Expert reports are obtained and testimony is provided, which amounts to little more than the “gut reaction” of the expert. Absent a smoking gun such as a child confessing that the “non-offending” parent is berating the child about his/her offending parent, the child’s emotional response are often the product of all that plagues him/her.

Sadly, those involved in the child welfare system often fall into one of two camps – i.e., the child-saver camp and the parent-defender can. Those in the former category would be inclined to believe that child distress is a product of nonsupport by the “non-offending” parent. Those in the latter category are more inclined to believe that the child’s distress is a product of the enormous, oppressive invasion of the child’s life by the child welfare system.

Whichever view is adopted, the opinions on this topic are too significant to be decided by “gut reactions”. That is exactly what happens day in and day out. Consequently, many practitioners advise parents whose spouse has been substantiated to either sever ties with that parent or at least down play the relationship to appease the players in this system who take a predatory stance when faced with a parent they feel is supportive of a parent found by a judge to be abusive.

This post presents no position on the issue, but simply provides food for thought for future consideration.

If you or someone you know is involved in the child welfare system as either a targeted parent or a non-offending parent, contact the Williams Law Group, LLC to schedule a consultation.

DYFS Lawyer: All Lawyers are not Created Equal


When a parent is accused of abuse or neglect, or faces the most severe life consequence of termination of parental rights, a lawyer with expertise in the field of child welfare law is vital to parent defense. Many lawyers advertise that they are capable of adeptly handling a DYFS matter. Some are correct. Unfortunately, many more are not.

DYFS litigation is imbued with complexities that transcend basic family law. This area of litigation requires an intimate familiarity with agency law and procedure, Superior Court law and procedure, and the intersection of the two. It requires an understanding of social work, psychology, psychiatry, mental health generally and medical conditions. It requires an understanding of the Rules of Court and Rules of Evidence, many of which differ from those applicable to matrimonial and family law. It requires an intimate familiarity with two key statutes defining abuse, neglect and parental unfitness, and their subparts. Few attorneys have this familiarity.

Many parents seek out an attorney who is skilled in the field of family law. One way of determining if a practitioner is skilled in family law is by seeking those who have been Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney. While these practitioners are deemed competent in the field of family law, they are not necessarily so in the field of Child welfare law. To become certified, one must pass an examination created by the Board on Attorney Certification. This examination does not include any material covering child welfare law topics.

Choosing an attorney is an important step in the reunification and sustenance of families involved in the child welfare system. Parents should be careful not to choose a lawyer simply because they are a skilled family law practitioner or, even worse, simply because they advertise that they are a “DYFS Lawyer“.

If a parent is seeking representation by an attorney with the skills, reputation and knowledge needed to help adeptly navigate the child welfare system, please contact Allison C. Williams, Esq. for a consultation.