Reunification, or Isolation and Alienation in Abuse and Neglect Matters
Parental Rights are fundamental rights and therefore entitled to the highest level of protection under the United States Constitution and New Jersey Constitution. Despite this protection, it appears that well too often in matters involving abuse and neglect or matters which in involve the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P formerly known as DYFS) at all, these rights fail to exist entirely and are certainly not given the protection which they are statutorily or constitutionally entitled. Although, DCP&P acting on behalf of the State of Jersey is statutorily obligated to work with a family towards reunification, this does not happen a majority of the time. Instead, the efforts and/or services provided appear geared towards proving their case against a parent for abuse and/or neglect or termination of parental rights and the result often ensures alienation of the child from their parent vs. reunification.
In most cases involving DCP&P, visitation between the parent and child is to be frequent. Yet, implementing a visitation schedule is frequently delayed, resulting in weeks if not months before a child sees their parent. Even when implemented, and regardless of what is contained in a court Order, these visits are reduced in time or cancelled all together. Unfortunately, most attempts by the parent(s) to rectify their visitation issues are ignored entirely until a return to Court months down the road. Even more unfortunate, is the resulting perception of the child(rent), i.e. that their parent(s) doesn’t care enough to “get better” or see them.
Moreover, and of equal concern, is that Even the services offered that tend to be requested by DCP&P seem more geared towards legal positioning versus providing the parent(s) and child(red) services geared towards assisting the problem timely with a focus on reunification as soon as possible. Parent(s) are often asked to undergo comprehensive or overly broad evaluations that are forensic in nature but result in no real services being in place. Too frequently is it required for a parent to return to court, one or even three months down the road before the actual services requested or needed are even put in place. Ironically, DCP&P refuses to permit visitation or keeps visitation limited until the services (they haven’t secured or offered) are completed. This places the parent in a “lose lose” situation and it further isolates the child(red) from their family or parent(s). This of course delays the parents attempt to regain custody or even increase their parenting time with their child(ren) and often creates a status quo that ensures any reunification efforts will be made more difficult.
Last, there appears to be a complete absence of services geared towards assisting the children in understanding what is going on all together. The children involved in these matters are provided very little information, leaving them to wonder why their mother or father hasn’t come to see them or get them home. They rarely receive therapy or services to address the underlying issue being experienced by their family such as a parent’s addiction to drugs or mental health issues, which would of course help them appreciate the plight of their parent(s). Instead, children in these cases can be abruptly removed from their parent(s), their school and their friends, and left wondering for months what is going on without any real tools in place to help them better understand and take the blame off of them. No child should feel as though their parent does not want them or refuses to do something easy to get them back. They deserve to be educated and counseled so that regardless of whether they can be safely returned, they have an appreciation of what occurred and their lack of role in the situation.
In sum, although DCP&P is in fact obligated to work with a family towards reunification, in reality this has seemingly become an afterthought. Therefore, if you or your family is the subject of an abuse and neglect matter or any matter wherein DCP&P is involved to offer your family services, to ensure that these services are 1) the appropriate and necessary services; and 2) provided timely to preserve your relationship with your child(ren), contact the lawyers at the Martone Law Group who are experienced in addressing these issues compassionately and aggressively and can assist you in navigating your way towards reunification with your child(ren).