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.

Find out if Your Name is on the Child Abuse Registry


Parents have recently inquired of me as to how they can find out if your name is on the child abuse registry. The registry is maintained by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). These agency records are confidential pursuant to statute. See, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10a. However, in certain limited circumstances, one may find out information that is otherwise confidential per statute.

If a parent or guardian is involved in a division matter, confidential information may be released to the extent necessary to help negotiate a case plan or discuss services for a family. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10a(b)(19).

If the matter is in active litigation, the parent’s attorney may have access to the confidential information. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10a(b)(17).

Finally, if the information is sought while no litigation is pending by the division, but other litigation exists or is contemplated, the parent may seek a court order to compel the release of the information. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10a(b)(6)
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If a parent is listed on the registry, they are entitled to appeal this administrative finding. The division will notify the parent in writing of the administrative right to appeal, which must be taken within 20 days of receiving written notification by the agency of its finding. For this reason, the division typically will advise the parent of the existence of a substantiated finding, even if the written notification has been sent to the parent. If the parent has not timely appealed, the division may choose to allow an administrative right to appeal; however, if not, the parent’s only recourse is to proceed to the Appellate Division to compel the agency to allow an administrative appeal.

For more information about gaining access to the registry and other confidential information, please contact our office and schedule a consultation to discuss your particular circumstances.

Impact upon Siblings of False Child Sexual Abuse Allegations


Thomas Kennedy, a father wrongfully accused of raping his then 11 year old daughter, Cassandra, was convicted but eventually freed when the child came forward with the truth. Cassandra’s sister appeared with Thomas and Cassandra to discuss the implications for this family trauma on the Katie Couric show.

The siblings often suffer as a result of the child sexual abuse disclosure – whether it is truthful or not. The sibling is often placed in therapy to deal with the loss of the accused parent and to help support the victim child. But what of those cases when the accused parent is not guilty? In those circumstances where therapy is required for the sibling who does not believe the abuse, the forcing of therapy can be harm in and of itself. No matter how well-intentioned the professionals involved, the sibling’s resistance to believing that abuse occurred often prolongs the therapy required of them.

These difficult issues often plague the child welfare system. Therapeutic intervention occurs within the context of litigation. If you or someone you know requires help with these issues in child welfare litigation, please contact us at http://NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com.