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.

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.

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)”?