Getting services from DYFS
This is your final chance to fix the problems that prevent you from caring for your child. If you have a substance abuse problem, you must enroll in a substance abuse treatment program immediately. If you are recovering from substance abuse, this is an important time to get all of the help you need to stay clean and be tested to prove that you are clean.
If there are particular services that you think you need now, tell DYFS and your lawyer. If DYFS refuses to give you help at this point, your lawyer can ask the judge to order DYFS to give you the services you need. If you cannot get DYFS to give you services, try to find the help you need yourself.
DYFS is usually required to make “reasonable efforts” to help parents correct their problems. These reasonable efforts include at least the following steps:
- Working with you to develop a plan for services to help you get your child back;
- Providing or referring you to the services you and DYFS have agreed upon, such as counseling, family therapy, or substance abuse treatment;
- Informing you about the progress, development, and health of your child in foster care; and
- Arranging for you to visit with your child.
If DYFS is providing therapy, parenting skills classes, or other services to you now, be sure you attend all of the sessions. If you do not participate in the services DYFS offers, a judge is likely to think that you are not serious about getting your child back. If you are ordered by a judge to participate in services and you do not participate, the court may penalize you.
One problem many parents face in termination of parental rights cases is having to miss work or school to attend evaluations, court, parenting classes, substance abuse programs, or therapy sessions. If you work or go to school during the day, make sure that the caseworker and your lawyer know your schedule for work and school. Ask the caseworker or service provider to schedule appointments that do not conflict with these obligations or with other appointments for services. If the services you need cannot be provided at a time when you can go, consider changing your work or school schedule or looking for a different job or school program that will allow you to be where you are required to be. Try to arrange your schedule so that you can miss work or school when you have to do the things you must do to try to get your child back. Let your employer or teachers know that you sometimes will have to be away during the day.
Discuss any barriers to your full participation in the services with your lawyer to get help finding a solution.
Visiting with your child
Regular visits are a very important part of trying to get your child returned and maintaining your parental rights. You should have as much contact with your child as possible. Regular visits help maintain and strengthen your relationship with your child and allow your child to have consistent and reliable contact with you. It is very important that you do not miss visits with your child.
If DYFS is not letting you visit with your child, you may ask the court to order visits. If DYFS argues that visits with you could be psychologically or physically dangerous for your child, the judge may require psychological evaluations to help decide whether to permit visits. Another possibility is that the judge might order that visits take place in the presence of a therapist or counselor.
In many cases, visits are held at the DYFS office and are supervised by a caseworker. If you are not satisfied with how often you visit, where your visits take place, or how long they last, ask your lawyer to try to get you a better visitation plan.
You may make a request to the court that visits be more often, for a longer period of time, held in a different location, and supervised by a relative, friend, or community member. New Jersey’s visitation regulations recognize that frequent and lengthy family visits are “beneficial for most children.” The regulations state that the goal for most children is to have lengthy weekly visits with parents in the most comfortable setting possible.
You may also ask that visits be unsupervised. Unsupervised visits are more likely to be granted if you are making progress in the completion of the services offered to you or if the claims DYFS makes against you do not raise safety issues. For example, a parent charged with educational neglect may not require supervision during a visit. If your visits must be supervised, you or your lawyer may suggest that a friend or relative be the supervisor.
You may ask DYFS and the judge to allow your visits with your child to take place at your home; at the home of a friend or relative; or at a park, restaurant, or other public place. Sometimes visits can be arranged for a parent who is in prison or jail, a hospital, or a substance abuse treatment program.
In addition to parent-child visits, you may ask DYFS and the judge for contact by telephone, letters, or e-mail. You may also ask to participate in or attend the child’s extracurricular activities, such as attending a “back-to-school night,” a school play, or an organized team sport.
Make the most of your time with your child. Try to take healthy snacks for your child to eat and drink at the visits. Take games to play or books to read. Sharing pictures can help reinforce your child’s relationship with the family.
If you have no way to get to your visits, ask DYFS to provide you with transportation. If DYFS does not agree to provide transportation, your lawyer may ask the court to order DYFS to provide it.
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Copyright © 2011 Legal Services of New Jersey
This information last reviewed 10/28/11