The Supreme Goal of Reasonable Efforts in DCPP Cases
The Division of Child Protection and Permanency Must Make Reasonable Efforts to Maintain or Restore the Unity of the Families they Investigate in New Jersey
The Division of Child Protection and Permanency is a New Jersey government agency that is responsible for investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect, providing services to aid the parent and child, and arranging placement of the child when necessary. It is common for parents involved in a DCPP investigation or case to feel like the state is against them, but DCPP is actually obligated by law to provide reasonable efforts and services to help keep the child in the parent’s home and avoid placement of the child whenever possible. When a child is placed out of the home, the agency has a legal duty under most circumstances to make reasonable efforts to facilitate the reunification of the family.
Under New Jersey law, “reasonable efforts” refer to DCPP’s attempts to reinforce the family structure and remedy the problematic situation that led to an investigation or a child’s placement in another setting like foster care. In furtherance of this goal, DCPP provides various services to the child and parents to facilitate safe reunification, including communicating with the parents and informing them of the child’s physical health, development, and progress in various areas. DCPP will also help to facilitate visitation between the child and parent when appropriate and develop a plan with the parents for appropriate, agreed upon services.
Reasonable Efforts by DCPP to Reunify the Family in NJ
In order to avoid the need to remove a child from their home, DCPP is required to make reasonable efforts to assist the family in resolving the issues that led to an investigation before a child is taken out of the parent’s custody and placed into a group home, a family member’s care, or foster care. DCPP must continue to make reasonable efforts to reunify the family and allow the child to safely return to their parent or guardian. Finally, DCPP must make reasonable efforts to place the child in a safe home in a timely manner, and if reunification of the family is not possible and is not part of the child’s plan, DCPP must make reasonable efforts to finalize the child’s permanent placement.
Circumstances where Reasonable Efforts to Reunify the Family are not Required
While DCPP aims to safely reunify a child with their parent whenever possible, there are certain circumstances in which DCPP does not have a legal obligation to make reasonable efforts to reunify the family. If a child has been abused, abandoned, neglected, or subject to cruelty by the parent, reasonable efforts by DCPP to reunify the parent and child are not required. Reasonable efforts are also not required if the parent has been convicted of murder or manslaughter of any child or if they attempted or aided in the murder of any child. If the parent has assaulted any child, causing serious bodily injury, no reasonable efforts to reunify the family are required.
If the parent has another child and their parental rights to that child were terminated involuntarily, DCPP is not required to make reasonable efforts to reunify another one of the parent’s children with that parent.
Prior to removal of the child from the home, DCPP is not required to make reasonable efforts to keep the child in the home and avoid placement if DCPP believes that removal of the child and placement in foster care is necessary to prevent imminent harm to the child’s health and safety or if avoiding placement of the child outside of the home risks putting the child in danger.
Other Services when Child Protection Agency Workers Make Reasonable Efforts
The services provided to a parent should be specific to their needs and circumstances. Some examples of services that DCPP may provide to families include financial services, parenting classes, counseling, substance abuse treatment, and residential placement. DCPP is also required to facilitate visitation between the parent and child when appropriate. Whenever possible, visitation should be frequent and long enough to foster reunification between the child and parent.
In a 2010 New Jersey case, Division of Youth and Family Services v. I.S., the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the state failed to make reasonable efforts as required by statute when it terminated the parental rights of a father who was not the target parent in the original investigation involving the child’s birth mother, without making an effort to help the father overcome circumstances that led to placement of the child out of the home. The court also found that the agency failed to provide the father with any services besides a parenting class, which the court found to be inappropriate because the father had already raised other children into adulthood.
In another case, Division of Youth & Family Services v. P.W.R., the state removed a teenager from her parent’s home because they did not have heat in the home and delayed her visits to the orthodontist. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the agency failed in its statutory duty to provide financial assistance to the family to remedy the heating problem and keep the child in the home and that the lack of heat and other issues in the home did not rise to the level of neglect.
Let our Lawyers Help You Get the Reasonable Efforts from DCPP Your Family Deserves
If you are currently involved in a DCPP investigation or your child has been taken out of your home and placed into foster care, it is crucial that you understand your rights and the services you are entitled to receive under the law in order to facilitate reunification with your child, and what you can do to fight allegations of abuse or neglect that may have resulted in your child’s removal. When we work with a parent who is involved in a DCPP case, our goal is to ensure that the family’s rights are protected, and the best interests of the child are served. We believe that reunification of the parent and child is in the best interests of the child whenever it can be accomplished in a way that ensures the child’s safety and wellbeing.
Reunification often requires the provision of specific services to the family from DCPP. The state has a statutory obligation to make reasonable efforts to provide these services, and we work with parents and caregivers to ensure that the family receives the services they are entitled to. Sometimes that involves filing a motion on behalf of the parent requesting that DCPP provide reasonable efforts to help the family obtain the resources and services they need. Where a family is in financial need, but the child has not been neglected, we can request that the court order financial assistance from DCPP like help with utility bills or rent.
While this is undoubtedly a stressful time for you and your family, it is not a crisis that you have to navigate alone. Contact a New Jersey DCPP lawyer at our office to receive a free consultation and answers to your particular questions today. Having handled hundreds of child protective services cases on behalf of clients in New Brunswick, Edison, Jersey City, Millburn, Elizabeth, Morris Township, Fort Lee, Paramus, and elsewhere in New Jersey, our lawyers have the skills to defend and advocate for you. We assist families in the pursuit of assuring their rights in DCPP investigations, Title 9 cases, Title 30 cases, family law cases involving children and domestic violence, and many other related issues throughout New Jersey. Call (908)-356-6900 today.