Having a child removed from the home can be traumatizing. Though, every situation is different, the New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) can come to a house after a complaint of suspected child abuse or neglect and remove the child from the custody of the parents. This can lead to a chain of events that could eventually lead to a permanency hearing, which is the last hearing of four hearings that involves whether or not a parent is fit for parenthood.
Under New Jersey law, and according to the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA), a permanency hearing is held after the removal of a child from a home within 12 months of the date the child is placed into foster care. This hearing is to determine the child’s permanency plan, which could involve scenarios such as reunification with the child’s parents, permanent placement with a relative or family friend, termination of parental rights, and adoptive placement. It is not completely permanent though, the parents still have opportunities to reunite, though it may be limited.
What Happens Before the Permanency Hearing?
When a child is removed from the home by the DCPP, it is normally considered a short-term solution for the safety of the child. However, there are laws in every state that prevent the possibility that a child is in the foster care system for too long.
There are three hearings before the permanency hearing, which includes the following:
- Preliminary hearing: The first hearing is normally brief, and the parent is allowed to attend. This is also where the DCPP must show the court the reasons why the child was removed from the parents, and the judge will make a decision. The judge also decides if the child is placed into foster care or in out-of-home placement while the case is ongoing.
- Fact-finding Hearing: This is when the judge is shown evidence of whether there was child abuse or neglect. This is a very important part of the process where a highly skilled DCPP lawyer must be involved.
- Dispositional hearing: This occurs immediately after the previous hearing where the judge decides the next steps. The judge will address the issues in the case, why the child was removed, and what can be done for a possible reunion to occur.
While the child is in foster care, the DCPP will work with the courts to establish a long-term plan for the child to reunite with the parents or find adequate guardians, whether it is a family member, family friend, or adoption. Now, it is certainly possible for the parents, the DCPP, and the court to come to an agreed upon plan for this reunion before a permanency hearing happens. This scenario would involve diligent work by the parents to follow the guidance of the DCPP and the courts, and to prove that they are capable to care for the child.
If the parents cannot abide by the plan and they are not found fit enough to parent the child, then the permanency hearing is held within 12 months of separation.
What Happens at the Permanency Hearing?
At the permanency hearing, the DCPP will present to the court what they recommend is best for the child. These recommendations will include the plan for where the child is to be placed permanently. The outcomes can consist of the child returning to the parents, to a suitable family member, or to a friend, or if the parental rights will be terminated and the child is to be adopted.
Though the name may say it, a permanency hearing is by no means permanent. In fact, if a child is in foster care for a long period of time, then a permanency hearing can happen more than once, likely every 12 months after the first hearing. This does not mean it should be taken lightly. Also, if a situation is deemed too dangerous for a child, the permanency hearing can happen before the 12-month deadline.
At the hearing, a qualified DCPP lawyer will also present a plan on the parents’ behalf to help provide an opportunity for the parents to reunite. The DCPP will have the burden of proof to show that here were efforts made to help the parents reunite with their child. The DCPP submits their plan to the judge, and the judge makes a decision.
What Outcomes Can Happen?
These are the five possible plans the DCPP will present to the judge as a sufficient, long-term plan for the child:
- Reunion with one or both parents.
- Independent living, which is where the child, if over 16 years old, is permitted to remain in custody with the DCPP.
- Long-term specialized care if the child has a disability.
- Kinship legal guardianship, which is when the child is placed with a family member or friend that has been caring for the child.
- Termination of parental rights. The parent is found to be unfit and is dangerous to the child, who is then placed into adoption.
The process to reunite can be stressful and complex, so it is crucial to speak to a lawyer right away. A lawyer will protect the rights of the parents and will help the reunification process go smoothly.
Cherry Hill DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help Parents Reunite with Their Children
A child who is removed from the home is distressing. If your child was removed from your home by the DCPP, then you must contact one of our Cherry Hill DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker immediately. Our experienced attorneys protect parents falsely accused of child abuse or neglect. Call us today at 856-210-9776 or complete our online form for an initial consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.