Happy Thanksgiving to the Families of New Jersey!


This time of year is fraught with sadness for so many people – particularly those children and families that are kept from their loved ones due to allegations of abuse or neglect. When abuse has been substantiated, families are kept apart to ensure safety of children. However, when abuse is only suspected, the separation of children from their families is all the more troubling and tragic.

The Division of Youth and Family Services (“DYFS”), n/k/a the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCPP”) – like many other partiers involved in family court litigation – is usually taxed with requests for holiday parenting time at this time of the year. Last minute requests for increased parenting time, approval of additional supervisors, overnight access to allow all family members to attend gatherings out of state, present in droves.

To increase the likelihood that your family may enjoy time together at the holidays, during the pendency of a DYFS/DCPP matter, here are a few suggestions:

1. Aim to address holiday parenting time requests at least 4 to 6 weeks in advance of the holiday.

2. Identify as many family members and friends to the agency that may be evaluated and approved to supervise parenting time. A person who may be ineligible for placement (e.g., because of inadequate shelter) may be approved to serve as a supervisor at a holiday party.

3. Remember that not every parent requires supervision. The Division almost universally requests supervised parenting time for parents accused of any form of abuse or neglect. However, the agency and the court must identify a basis for supervision, and absent same, visitation is to be unsupervised.

If the allegation is medical neglect of a child, what risk can be identified from the alleged neglectful parent spending time in the presence of the child at a holiday event, when someone else in the family would be responsible for the child’s medical needs if any? Do not be afraid to make the argument.

4. Supervised overnight parenting time is not impossible to accomplish while ensuring safety for the child. If the accused parent has a substance abuse problem, how likely is it that the parent will abstain from substances while supervised until the child’s bedtime, but then, while the child is asleep, abuse substances and place the child at risk? Not very.

5. Expansion of parenting time at the holidays is very common. Seek the support of agencies that will supervise parenting time for a fee. These agencies may not be available on the holiday, but may be available a day or two afterward.

Celebration can occur at any time. Arrange supervised visits for the day before or after the holiday. Many agencies will supervise visitation off site, traveling with the parent to public places for parenting time.

These tips are not designed to constitute legal advice. For information about how you and your family can be together for holiday parenting time while your DYFS case is ongoing, please contact Allison C. Williams, Esq. and schedule a consultation.

Allison C. Williams, Esq. to Present a CLE on Confidential DYFS Records


New Jersey, among other states, requires licensed attorneys to attend a certain number of hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) programs every two years. Many bar associations and private companies provide these programs; however, the largest provider in the state is the New Jersey Institute of Continuing Legal Education (www.njicle.com).

On Monday, November 12, 2012, Allison C. Williams, Esq. will be presenting for NJICLE in the Annual Hot Tips for Family Lawyers CLE. The Hot Tips CLE includes a wealth of information from 40 presenters, providing practice pointers for attorneys addressing a wide array of topics. Ms. Williams will be presenting on DYFS issues – specifically, how to gain access to confidential records maintained by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), now known as the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP).

Provided to each attendee at the CLE presentation will be a comprehensive book of materials containing the article authored by Ms. Williams. That article will be available here on NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com in the upcoming weeks. Check back for a copy of the article and for more valuable information all about defense of parents in DYFS/DCPP matters.

Should a Parent Accused of Abuse or Neglect Agree to an Interview with DYFS?


Parents often contact me and ask if the accused parent is required to be interviewed by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), n/k/a the Division of Child Protection of Permanency (DCPP). Some parents want to exonerate themselves and often feel that a quick chat with the Division may resolve the issue. Other parents fear exchanging any words with the Division, no matter how innocuous the alleged infraction or conciliatory the worker who contacts them. The determination of whether or not a parent should be interviewed is fact sensitive and requires legal advice. This post is not designed to replace that advice.

The Division has an obligation to investigate every referral made alleging potential abuse or neglect or parental unfitness. Their focus is on actual harm and risk of harm. To do that, an interview with the child is typically required. For non-verbal children, the investigator must personally observe the non-verbal child. Once these minimum requirements (and others) are satisfied, the Division must speak with the accused parent.

If the parent refuses to be interviewed and the Division can discern that there is no imminent risk of harm that necessitates the removal of a child, the agency must determine whether or not it will pursue the matter further. In some instances, the Division can determine from the information gathered to date that no abuse or neglect has occurred or is likely to occur based upon the current level of risk to the child. In these instances, the agency may choose to close its investigation with a determination and no further involvement with the family – despite its non-compliance with the Administrative Code requirement that it speak to the accused parent. My experience has been that this is rare.

Conversely, if the parent refuses to be interviewed, the Division may elect to take one of several actions – all of which are undesirable. The Division may determine that the potential risk to the child cannot be determined, absent an interview with the parent. If that is the case, the agency may elect to seek removal of the child until such time as risk can be assessed. The Division may also file an action in Superior Court to compel a parent to cooperate with its investigation. A court will typically compel the parent to be interviewed, absent some compelling reason such as the pendency of a criminal investigation or prosecution.

The determination of when a parent should submit or refuse to submit to an interview with the agency is very fact-specific. The nature of the allegations, parent’s knowledge of the child’s statement(s) if any to the agency, the parent’s relationship with the other parent of the child at issue, and most importantly, the county office investigating and the judge in the county hearing DYFS/DCPP matters.

If a parent is contacted by the agency and an interview is requested, the parent should ask for the opportunity to consult with counsel. In such instances, Allison C. Williams, Esq. can consult with the parent to determine the best course of action, which may include an interview in the presence of counsel or a refusal to be interviewed. A parent should not simply refuse to be interviewed and hope for the best. This rarely works out for the best.

Substance Abuse Evaluations by DCPP/DYFS


When the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), f/k/a the Division of Youth and Family Services, (DYFS) receives an allegation of abuse or neglect stemming from the use or abuse of alcohol or drugs (legal or illegal), often the accused parent is asked to submit to a substance abuse evaluation. This process entails meeting with a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LCADC) and taking a series of quantitative tests (yes/no; true/false; scale from 1 to 10; etc.) designed to evaluate potentially riskful behaviors involved in substance use.

Parents are often loathe to submit to any form of evaluation by the Division for fear that the agency’s bias in referring the parent for evaluation will taint the evaluator and result in an unfair assessment. This fear has much greater validity when the evaluation being proposed is a psychological evaluation, rather than a substance abuse evaluation.

The reason is that addiction is succinctly defined as compulsive behavior that continues in the face of adverse consequences. The answers to the substance abuse evaluation determine the risk; whereas, in psychological evaluations, there is a higher degree of subjectivity involved in interpreting the results of the quantitative tests.

If asked to submit to a Substance Abuse Evaluation, defense counsel may limit a parent’s exposure by implementing these practice pointers:

1. Ask that the evaluation not be used in the Fact Finding hearing.

Alcohol or drug addition is not, per se, child abuse. Div. of Youth and Fam. Svcs. v. V.T., 423 N.J.Super. 320 (App.Div.2011). Thus, the existence of an addiction is arguably not probative of whether or not such condition harmed a child on a specific occasion.

2. If the parent submits to evaluation and subsequently engages in treatment, that treatment should not be used in the Fact Finding hearing as evidence that an addiction existed.

Evidence in Fact Finding hearings must be “competent, material and relevant”. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(c). That means, the Rules of Evidence apply. N.J.R.E. 407 prohibits the use of corrective action to prove the condition corrected.

“[E]vidence of remedial measures is excluded not because it lacks relevancy, but because admission of said testimony might discourage corrective action and induce perpetuation of the damage and condition that gave rise to the lawsuit.” Hansson v. Catalytic Constr. Co., 43 N.J.Super. at 29. That principle applies equally in child welfare cases, as it does in negligence cases.

3. Stipulating to the existence of an addiction obviates the need for cumulative evidence, such as the substance abuse evaluation, to prove that fact. See, N.J.R.E. 101(a)(4).

4. Even if a Substance Abuse Evaluation and/or treatment compliance comes into evidence, the focus for the Court must be directed to the risks inherent in the situation and whether a child has suffered harm or is likely to suffer future harm.

Where unintentional conduct (i.e., neglect) is alleged, the Division maintains the burden of proof to demonstrate the probability of present or future harm. New Jersey Div. of Youth & Fam. Svcs. v. S.S., 372 N.J.Super. 13 (App.Div.2004). Neglect cannot be founded on assumptions and suppositions.

These pointers are not designed to provide legal advice. For more information, please contact Allison C. Williams, Esq. and schedule a Consultation.