Section 2: Table of Contents
Your DYFS caseworker
A DYFS worker has been assigned to your case. Make sure that you write the names and telephone numbers of that worker and his or her supervisor on the form on the inside front cover of this handbook. If your worker or the supervisor changes, make sure to change the name and telephone number in this handbook.
Workers are often out of the DYFS office, away from their desks, or already on the telephone when parents call. Whenever you call your worker, leave a message on his or her answering machine if the worker is unavailable to speak with you. If you need to speak to someone right away, ask to speak to the worker’s supervisor. If the supervisor is not available, ask to speak to the covering worker. Be sure to note the name of the person you speak with.
Always keep a record of the date and time of the calls you make to your worker or his or her supervisor, so that you can be specific about your attempts to talk to DYFS. If you cannot reach your worker or the supervisor, or if you want to make sure that certain information gets into the DYFS record in your case, contact your attorney and provide him or her with that information. You and/or your attorney can send a letter or a fax to the worker and keep a copy of it. Letters and faxes sent to DYFS are proof that you attempted to contact your worker and proof that DYFS was given whatever information you put in your letter.
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DYFS’ responsibility to help families
In most cases, DYFS is required to help keep families together. DYFS must make reasonable efforts to help families so that foster care placement is not necessary. It must also help you reunite with your child if your child has been removed. DYFS is supposed to work with you and provide you with services to solve the problems that it says prevent you from caring for your child. At a minimum, DYFS is required to:
- Work with you to develop a case plan;
- Provide you with services that you and DYFS agree will help keep your family together or bring your family back together;
- Keep you informed about your child’s progress, development, and health; and
- Arrange for you to visit your child.
In certain cases, DYFS may ask the judge to rule that it does not have to make reasonable efforts to help you. The judge can only excuse DYFS from helping you if a court has terminated your rights to another one of your children, or you have caused very serious harm to a child.
Some of the services DYFS can provide to you are therapy, day care, home health aides, and parenting education. DYFS can refer parents for substance abuse treatment and other services. DYFS may also be able to help you if you need housing to keep your family together or to reunify. DYFS currently has a small emergency fund that can provide a limited amount of money for rent or a security deposit. If housing is your only unresolved problem and you are receiving welfare, or would qualify for welfare if your child were returned to you, DYFS may be able to help you get emergency housing assistance through your county welfare agency.
You should ask DYFS for any services that you think will help you. If DYFS refuses to provide services that you believe you or your child need, ask the judge to order DYFS to provide them. You can also appeal a decision by DYFS not to provide you with services you have requested. To start an administrative appeal, tell your caseworker or write to DYFS stating that you wish to appeal the denial of services. If you are not able to get therapy, substance abuse treatment, or other services you need through DYFS, try to get them on your own.
You need to know what DYFS expects you to do. Meet with DYFS as soon as possible to develop your written case plan. The case plan will state what you must do to reunify with your child and what DYFS must do to help you. You may want to talk to your lawyer before you sign the case plan. Get a copy of the case plan.
DYFS may request that you undergo a psychological, substance abuse, or other evaluation, or the judge may order you to get evaluated. You must attend all evaluations you are ordered to attend. If you have questions about cooperating with evaluations or other things you are required to do, discuss them with your lawyer right away.
You should begin services as soon as possible. If you have a substance abuse problem, you need to enter treatment immediately, attend regularly, and complete the treatment program. Trying to solve a substance abuse problem without a treatment program usually will not be acceptable to DYFS or to the judge.
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Visiting with your child
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. Visits are your opportunity to keep a close relationship with your child. Ask DYFS right away to arrange for you to visit with your child. Often, DYFS will only offer you supervised visits with your child at the DYFS office for one hour every other week. You should work with your attorney to ask the court for more frequent and longer visits. Visits with your child should be unsupervised, unless DYFS asked the court for supervised visits and explained the reasons why supervision is necessary. You can suggest that visits be arranged outside of the DYFS office, for example, in parks, at restaurants, at your home, or at the home of a responsible relative or friend.
If your visits must be supervised, you or your lawyer may suggest that a relative or friend be the supervisor. If you need transportation to visit with your child, ask for it. Also, ask if you may have telephone contact with your child and if you may send your child letters and gifts by mail. If DYFS does not agree with your visitation requests, you or your lawyer can ask the judge and try to get the judge to order better visitation than DYFS is offering.
Make the most of your visits with your child. Bring snacks, games, toys, and books with you to make the visits more enjoyable for your child. Bring family pictures to help you talk about your family, maintain your child’s family identity, and help your child remember good times you have had together. Focus your entire attention on your child throughout the visit. Be warm and affectionate, but do not force your child to respond if he or she resists. Always try to understand and meet your child’s needs. Do not discuss this case with your child or promise your child that he or she will be coming home soon, as that may be upsetting to your child.
Exhibit good techniques of discipline at visits. If your child becomes upset or misbehaves, try to redirect him or her to happy, appropriate activities.
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Finding relatives or friends to take care of your child
One of the first things you need to think about is whether you have relatives or friends who could care for your child. This includes the child’s other parent and his or her relatives. You should try to find someone who has a positive relationship with your child. If you have relatives or friends who live in another state, DYFS can ask that state to evaluate them. Give DYFS their names, addresses, and telephone numbers. Ask those relatives or friends to call DYFS themselves to request that your child be placed with them.
Before placing your child with a friend or relative, DYFS will check to see if they have criminal records or DYFS records. With some exceptions, DYFS will reject friends or relatives if they have criminal records or if DYFS finds that they abused or neglected a child. DYFS will also visit their home to be sure that they have enough room and a safe place for your child to live. If DYFS does not agree to a placement you suggest, you or your lawyer can ask the judge to order that placement.
Friends or relatives who take care of your child may be eligible for financial help for the child through several different programs. They can apply to DYFS to become foster parents and receive regular monthly payments for your child. The Kinship Navigator Program can also provide information about other benefits available to certain relatives and friends. Their toll-free number is 1-877-816-3211. In addition, DYFS may be able to provide funds for clothing, bedroom furniture, or other things your friends or relatives need to be able to take care of your child. DYFS can also provide Medicaid for your child while he or she is in the care of your friends or relatives.
Certain relatives who are not receiving monthly payments for the child from DYFS can apply to their county welfare agency for benefits for the child. The welfare agency can also help relatives and other caretakers apply for medical coverage for your child through NJ FamilyCare.
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Copyright © 2011 Legal Services of New Jersey
This information last reviewed 10/28/11