In DYFS v. E.R., the Appellate Division upheld a finding of neglect against a parent who violated a DYFS case plan by repeatedly exposing her daughter to the mother’s boyfriend’s unwanted sexual advances. In so holding, the Court held:
Defendant’s misconduct lies in her steadfast loyalty to her paramour while ignoring her legal responsibility to protect her daughter from his unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances.
In essence, the mother was found culpable for NOT believing her child’s allegations. But, would the result have been the same if the mother had failed to believe her daughter’s allegations against her husband, rather than her boyfriend? And what if the daughter had been prone to acting out whenever mom commenced a new relationship? Is this a case of DYFS imputing to the parent the knowledge of when abuse claims are substantiated and should be believed? And what of those cases where DYFS substantiates abuse, then later changes the finding? If DYFS can change its mind, why cannot the parent?
The answer lies in the intricacies of each case. By and large, DYFS and the Superior Court have little to no tolerance for parents who place their individual need for a partner above their child’s need to live in an environment free from physical and emotional harm. Parents, disbelieve at your own peril…
In the recent unpublished decision of DYFS v. M.P. & D.C., the Appellate Division reversed a trial Court’s finding of abuse and neglect against a mother, determining the ruling was insufficient as a matter of law. Albeit in relatively innocuous prose, the Appellate panel appeared cognizant of the inclination of some lower Courts to adjudicate imperfect parenting as abuse and neglect. For instance, in this case, the mother and 2 kids were staying in a trailer/camper while visiting relatives in New Jersey. The trial Court found the camper “inadequate” – “a fact that would support the unlikely conclusion that every child on a camping trip with a parent or guardian is abused or neglected”.
This powerful dicta raises an important issue for consideration. How many times are parents found to have abused or neglected a child, when all the parent really did was live a less-than-perfect existence? How often do Courts truly require “willful and wanton misconduct” by a parent, with an attendant negative consequence for a child – either harm or substantial risk of harm – before the parent is branded with the lifetime label of abuser? Defense counsel must be mindful to reiterate these standards in EVERY case to ensure that “imperfection of parenting” does not transmute into the “imperviousness of labeling” parents.
Posted in Uncategorized
- Tagged abuse, Appellate Division, Court, guardian, misconduct, neglect, parent, parenting, risk of harm, wanton, willful