All states have agencies that deal with the safety and well-being of its children and which offer support and assistance to families. In New Jersey, that agency is called the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS).
Allegations of abuse and child neglect are investigated by representatives of DYFS and law enforcement and in some cases DYFS may remove the children from their home and placement in a safe environment.
DYFS also arranges for treatment programs, counseling, substance abuse, foster care, residential placement and other services to families and children.
A filing of child abuse or neglect against you is a serious charge and can: affect your parental rights; have significant emotional repercussions for the children, and affect many aspects of your future as a parent, professional and citizen. Retaining a criminal defense lawyer in these cases is essential.
The types of cases that the DYFS investigates are as follows:
Any physical, sexual or emotional harm to a child under 18 that is caused by a parent, guardian or anyone else entrusted to the child’s care.
A failure by a parent or care giver to provide adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter, medical care or a safe living environment.
Mandatory Reporting of Abuse
According to New Jersey law, any person who suspects child abuse or neglect must notify the authorities or call the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). If the call is made in good faith, the caller is immune from civil or criminal liability. The calls can be made anonymously. Failure to report suspected abuse is a disorderly persons charge and subjects the person to a fine of up to $1000 and/or incarceration up to six months.
In some cases, when a parent or parents are charged with child abuse or neglect, the children are removed from a parent’s care or custody. Findings of neglect can result in guardianship of the children being transferred to another adult. This occurs when the a court determines that the family has not resolved its problems that led to the investigation and the initial removal of the child from their care.
Allegations of abuse or neglect often arise in divorce and child custody disputes where one party is attempting to discredit the other.
Parents in these cases should consider retaining the counsel of a qualified criminal defense attorney, as these cases are often complex, emotional and can have devastating effects for parents whose cases are not presented adequately.
A police officer or DYFS may remove a child from his residence without the consent of his parent or other person legally responsible for the child’s care, if there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child’s life or health is in immediate danger. The following day, the court shall conduct a hearing to determine whether the child’s interests require protection pending a final order of disposition.
If DYFS or the police have not removed the child from the home, DYFS can request that the court order removal of the child pending a preliminary hearing regarding the removal of the child. An “Order to Show Cause”, which supplies the basic burden of proof for the accusation, must be supported by affidavits from witnesses who are alleging the abuse. A guardian is appointed for the child or children to represent their interests. DYFS is represented by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. If DYFS files a case against you alleging abuse or neglect, you are entitled to a full hearing.
Upon the filing of an “Order to Show Cause” there is a preliminary hearing at which the court decides whether there are good reasons to continue the case. Thereafter, there is a fact-finding hearing at which DYFS will introduce evidence that the defendant abused or neglected the child. During this hearing, the defendant is able to present his or her case and should retain the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
If the court determines the defendant did abuse or neglect the child, a dispositional hearing is held after a set period of time, during which the court considers whether the child should return home or whether the offender needs to continue to receive treatment and counseling.
It is only in extreme cases that a child is removed from the home. In most cases, you and your family will receive counseling and other services.
Review hearings are held until the court is satisfied that all is well. This can continue until the child is emancipated. A permanency hearing is held if the child has been in a foster home or other non-home placement for 12 months. If there efforts to reunify the child with his or her parents are unsuccessful, the court may terminate the parent’s rights.
Consequences of DYFS Intervention
Although a DYFS case hearing is not a criminal proceeding, you may face separate criminal charges from the county prosecutor for abuse, neglect, assault, sexual contact, sexual assault, battery or other offenses related to the abuse or neglect charges.
Under New Jersey law, if the child has been in foster care for 15 months, DYFS is required to bring a termination of parental rights case against you unless you can show:
- The child is living with a relative who can provide permanent care
- DYFS feels termination is not in the child’s best interests
- DYFS failed to give you the treatment or help it was obligated to provide
If you are charged by DYFS or by law enforcement with criminal charges of abuse and neglect, you have a right to an attorney and to not give any statements to these representatives, regardless of what is promised or held over your head.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can interview witnesses on your behalf and obtain the best treatment services and counseling for you and your family if that is needed or advised.
Many times spouses in contested custody cases will allege instances of abuse or neglect, or very young children will be tutored or encouraged to say that you touched them inappropriately or harmed them in some other fashion.
In some cases, a representative from DYFS may feel that any bruise discovered on a child is grounds for an abuse allegation, regardless of the actual cause of the bruising.
A experienced criminal defense attorney can repudiate these charges and offer you other defenses depending upon the facts and circumstances of your case.
If you are being investigate by DYFS we want to hear your story.