In this case, a single mother raising behaviorally challenged twin girls sought the assistance of child services, DYFS, and ended up losing custody of one of the girls to her ex-husband.
The mother, who was a nurse, struggled with raising her daughters alone after the mother and father divorced. She sought assistance from the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), but she felt that their services were inadequate. As a nurse, she observed many families with similar problems receiving better services from DYFS. She was informed by someone from the DDD that, if the girls became overwhelming, she could seek DYFS’s assistance by bringing the girls to the emergency room, which she eventually did.
DYFS took supervision of the twins and placed them in an residential facility, which is what the mother wanted, however, their intervention did not end there. Once DYFS obtained supervision of the children, it was hesitant to return the girls to their mother’s care. One of the girls, S.S., in particular.
After S.S. was released from the residential facility, she moved in with her father in Pennsylvania. The court eventually granted the father custody of S.S. and declined to order visitation with the mother, under the “best interests of the child” standard found in Title 30 of New Jersey Statutes. The court maintained jurisdiction over these children, even though DYFS did not prove or allege that the mother had abused or neglected the girls. The court found that its continued supervision was warranted in this case, despite the lack of abuse or neglect.
The Appellate Division upheld this use of a “hybrid” proceeding, with elements of a Title 9 abuse and neglect case and elements of a Title 30 proceeding to terminate parental rights. The appellate court interpreted N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.50c, which states:
"If facts sufficient to sustain the complaint under [Title 9] are not established, or the court concludes that its assistance is not required on the record before it, the court shall dismiss the complaint and shall state the grounds for the dismissal."
as allowing a court to retain supervision of a case if:
1) Facts sufficient to sustain the complaint are established
2) The court concludes that its assistance is required.
even though the statute states that the case shall be dismissed if either of those conditions are not met. In this case, since DYFS had not established “facts sufficient to sustain the complaint under [Title 9]” the court should have “dismiss[ed] the complaint and [stated] the grounds for the dismissal." N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.50c.
Nevertheless, this case demonstrates the discretion that courts and DYFS will exercise to protect children that come under their care- even if the children are brought there voluntarily by a parent seeking assistance. The take home for us is that we need to be cautious when dealing with government agencies. This mother was at the end of her rope and it is a good thing that she had DYFS to turn to for assistance- at least her children finally received the help that they needed and were doing much better at the time of this opinion. But that assistance came at a cost the mother did not anticipate- she lost custody of one of her daughters. Now the daughter did not end up in foster care or a group home, she is with her father now, and again, doing very well. But just beware that even if you seek help from DYFS voluntarily, and even if you have not abused or neglected your children, you may not retain as much control over the situation as you would like, and you may experience unintended consequences.
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