Evidence in DYFS cases to be discussed in a panel discussion


On Monday, August 13, 2012, Allison C. Williams will be presenting for the New Jersey Institute of Continuing Legal Education (ICLE) in the preeminent Evidence for Family Lawyers CLE. This program is designed to provide hours of rich information about the intricacies of the Rules of Evidence in the Family Part.

Of critical importance is ICLE’s willingness to include topics related to DYFS (n/k/a DCPP) cases – a progressive move demonstrating ICLE’s continuing responsiveness to the needs of the legal community.

And, further, this is a real testament to Allison C. Williams’ fervent efforts to educate the bench, bar and society at large about litigation within the child welfare system in New Jersey.

Can I sue DYFS?


Parents often wonder if they can file a lawsuit against the Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). A simple Google search will locate many websites devoted to the goal of “suing DYFS”. Does this really happen? How often? And, who is the prevailing plaintiff when battling the state of New Jersey over its flawed child protection agency?

Unfortunately, only in very limited circumstances can a parent sue DYFS for its often ill-conceived interference in family life. DYFS caseworkers are afforded immunity when performing work in their official capacity as employees of the state. Only when conduct is performed outside the scope of their broad-ranging job duties, or when action is taken that can be considered tortious, may an employee be subject to civil penalties.

Unfortunately, much bad behavior is tolerable when acting under the guise of “child protection”. Perhaps this is because our society feels a moral imperative to protect those who cannot protect themselves. But, does state interference truly prevent and/or remediate harm to children? Or is it more often the case that state involvement causes more harm than good?

To be certain, many families require state assistance in order to function minimally and to preserve their families. However, the vast overreaching of many caseworkers and investigators call into question the legitimacy of those well intentioned, dedicated social workers who are truly desirous of preventing out-of-home placement and keeping families together through the provision of services and proper case management.

As is often the case, it may be that the only way to effectuate change in the system is to initiate litigation and bring the problems to the forefront. Only when we begin to see the evisceration of families as a societal problem, and not just a poor person’s problem, will families in New Jersey truly be safe from obtrusive government intervention.

What’s In A Name: DYFS becomes DCPP


Never one to be labeled stagnant, our Child Welfare agency in New Jersey, formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), will now be known as the Department of Children Protection and Permanency (DCPP).  What does this means for those of us in the trenches?  And most importantly, what does this mean for the families of New Jersey?

A change in an agency name may signify a change in perspective – perhaps, a change in the objectives that will be pursued.  But, this may or may not be a good thing.  The prior name encompassed both Youth and Family.  Youth, i.e., Children, came first, but linked to Youth were their families.  Oftentimes, parents ask why DYFS is only concerned about the “youth” and not the “family”.  One can only imagine how that query will fester now that “Family” is taken out of the name altogether.

Child Welfare Advocates may posit that DYFS was always directed, first and foremost, toward “Child Protection and Permanency”, so codifying those goals in the agency name makes sense.  However, this position overlooks the reality for many families involved with the child welfare agency. 

When the State steps in, accuses parents of wrongdoing, critiques every aspect of their lives and their very being, sometimes removing their children from their care, many times restricting their access to their children, parents’ responses often range from Fight to Flight, long before submission emerges.  At the inception of the case, the child welfare advocate many times engenders a sense of helplessness in the parent that causes the parent to obfuscate issues in defensiveness, to such an extent that feigned concerns by the agency become as real in the eyes of the Court as the legitimate concerns that may, or may not, rise to the level of abuse or neglect of children.  When that occurs, the antagonistic relationship between the parent and the agency becomes yet another obstacle to be overcome by the parent in order to achieve reunification.  Yet, when this process of overcoming takes longer than a year, the State may proceed with an action to terminate parental rights.

Parents, quite justifiably, fear the agency.  Its involvement signifies the beginning of a very short (1 year) journey toward eliminating lifelong problems that took decades to present.  Met with this nearly impossible standard, families can be eviscerated.  Parents realize their ill-fated circumstances through all contacts with the agency – even by seeing its name and all that its name represents.

Do we really want “Permanency” (often equated with anti-reunification) to be the symbol of New Jersey’s Child Welfare agency?  Should “Family” have been removed from the name of the agency charged with “rehabilitating and improving family life N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.50(e)”?