Child Welfare Court Process
The questions and answers below highlight some of the most important information about your abuse or neglect case and guide you through the contents of this handbook.
Section 1: Basic Information About Abuse and Neglect Cases
What is an abuse or neglect case?
The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) has filed a court case against you because it believes you have abused or neglected your child. Usually, DYFS wants to place or keep your child in foster care or another out-of-home placement until it feels the child can return home to you safely. DYFS must demonstrate to the court that you have abused or neglected your child.
How will the court decide if I abused or neglected my child?
The court will find that you have abused or neglected your child if you have seriously harmed or created a risk of serious harm to your child. See The definition of abuse and neglect.
How will my case start?
DYFS will start its case against you by filing court papers explaining how it believes that you have abused or neglected your child. These papers are called an Order to Show Cause and a Complaint. See How DYFS starts and abuse or neglect action.
How can I get a lawyer?
You have the right to a lawyer and should get one as quickly as possible. If your income is low, you may qualify to have a lawyer appointed to represent you. See How to get a lawyer.
Who else will be involved in the case?
- Your child will also have a lawyer called a law guardian.
- A deputy attorney general (DAG) will represent DYFS.
- A court appointed special advocate (CASA) worker may be appointed to advocate for your child’s needs. See this information.
Section 2: Working With DYFS to Get Your Child Back
Will someone from DYFS be involved in my case?
You will have a DYFS caseworker assigned to your case. See Your DYFS caseworker.
Will I get help from DYFS?
In most cases, DYFS must provide services that will help you get your child returned home. Some of the services DYFS can provide or refer you to are therapy, day care, home health aides, parenting education, substance abuse treatment, and emergency shelter or housing. See DYFS' responsibility to help families.
How will I see my child when my child is in foster care?
In most cases, DYFS must arrange a schedule for visits between you and your child while he or she is in foster care. It is very important to visit with your child. See Visiting with your child.
Can my child live with relatives or friends?
If your child is going to be removed from you, let DYFS know right away if you have relatives or friends who could care for your child. See Finding relatives or friends to take care of your child.
Section 3: The Court Process
What will happen in court after DYFS files a case against me?
There will be a series of court hearings:
Preliminary hearing. This is the first hearing, and the judge will decide whether or not DYFS has shown good reasons to continue its case and whether or not your child should be in placement while your case is going on. See Your preliminary hearing.
Fact-finding hearing. At this hearing, DYFS will try to prove to the judge that you have abused or neglected your child. You have the right to present your view of the situation and defend against what DYFS says. See Your fact-finding hearing.
Dispositional hearing. If the judge finds that you abused or neglected your child, the judge must hold a dispositional hearing to decide what should happen next. The judge will decide whether your child can come home, whether you need to continue getting services, and other issues. See Dispositional hearing.
Review hearing. After your dispositional hearing, the judge will generally schedule your case for one or more review hearings to check on how you and your child are doing. See Review hearings.
Permanency hearing. Within 12 months of the time your child enters foster care or another out-of-home placement, the judge will hold a permanency hearing. At the permanency hearing, DYFS will present a plan for a permanent living situation for your child, and the judge will decide whether or not to approve that plan. See Permanency hearing.
Mediation. Some counties have neutral mediators who can meet with everyone involved to try to resolve some or all of the issues in the case. See Mediation.
Section 4: Other Legal Matters
What is the Child Placement Review Board (CPRB)?
The Child Placement Review Board (CPRB) is a group of volunteers who review cases of children in foster care and make recommendations to the judge. The CPRB in your county should review your case within 45 days of your child’s removal. See The Child Placement Review Board.
What if DYFS notifies me that it has substantiated abuse or neglect?
In addition to bringing this court case against you, DYFS may make its own finding that you abused or neglected your child. If DYFS sends you a notice that it has substantiated abuse or neglect, you may want to appeal that decision. See DYFS administrative substantiation of abuse or neglect.
Can DYFS collect child support from me?
If your child is in foster care, your county welfare agency may file for a child support order against you to collect money for supporting your child. See Child support.
What if I receive welfare benefits?
If you were receiving welfare before your child was removed, you will lose your benefits. Or, if you still have a child at home, your benefits will be lowered. See Welfare.
Section 5: Suggestions to Help You Get Your Child Back
- Get a lawyer right away and work with your lawyer.
- Try to get services that you think will help you and start them right away.
- Attend all hearings and appointments in your case so that DYFS and the court know that you are serious about getting your child back.
- Visit with your child as much as possible.
- Do everything you can to show that you can provide a safe, stable home for your child.
- Involve family members and friends to help you do what is needed to have your child returned to you.
- Make sure your child’s needs are being met and advocate for your child if you think your child needs services or other help.
See Section 5: Suggestions to Help You Get Your Child Back.
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Copyright © 2011 Legal Services of New Jersey
This information last reviewed 10/28/11