The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) is responsible for ensuring that every child has a safe and permanent home. A permanency plan contains recommendations from the DCPP about where the child should live after being removed from the home due to child abuse or neglect. Every permanency plan is different. Although a primary goal is to keep children with their parents, sometimes that is not in the child’s best interests.
In New Jersey, the child welfare and court systems must minimize the time a child is in foster care. To do so, the court holds permanency hearings if reunification with the parent is not possible. A permanency hearing must be held within 12 months of the child being in foster placement and at least every 12 months after that point. The purpose of the hearing is for the DCPP to determine a plan for the child’s permanent placement and gain approval for their recommendations. A child’s parents, foster parents, or temporary caregivers can attend the hearing.
The DCPP will present the permanency plan to the court for their ruling on the appropriateness of the plan and final approval. They will generally recommend one of five permanency plans.
What are the Five Possible Permanency Plans?
The DCPP will recommend one of five plans. Common DCPP recommendations are listed below.
This plan is often recommended when the parents are actively addressing the issues that led to the child’s removal. It comes with safeguards and periodic checks to ensure the child’s safety and the parents’ continued cooperation with their remediation. For example, suppose the child was removed due to drug use in the home. In that case, the plan may be to reunite the family once the parents have made significant progress in their treatment plans and completely abstain from using drugs.
The DCPP can also ask for an extension, which gives a parent more time to resolve their issues before the child returns to them. The DCPP tries to keep families together whenever possible. When that is just not possible, they will consider kinship legal guardianship or termination of parental rights.
Kinship Legal Guardianship
When a parent cannot take care of a child because of drug abuse, incarceration, mental illness, economic hardship, or another reason, a relative or family friend may step in to care for the child. These arrangements may start informally, but the DCPP will often recommend formalizing the living situation through a kinship legal guardianship. This arrangement gives the child more stability and the caregiver more autonomy.
Under a kinship legal guardianship, the guardian has primary responsibility for decision-making regarding education, medical care, safety, well-being, and other issues. This guardianship is valid only until the child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school. It can also be reversed if a parent can once again care for the child after stringent evaluation.
A kinship legal guardianship does not sever a biological parent’s rights. They can still visit the child and provide financial support if able. They can also decide whether the child can be adopted or change their name.
Termination of Parental Rights
The DCPP will recommend complete termination of parental rights when there is no chance that the parent will ever be able to care for the child. Termination is needed before the child can be adopted by a relative, family friend, or another caregiver.
Adoption transfers all rights and responsibilities regarding the child to the adoptive parents. It terminates the birth parents’ rights in every aspect of the child’s life. The adoptive parents can also decide whether the birth parents can have contact with the child.
The DCPP may recommend termination of parental rights if a family member or friend wants to adopt the child or if the child resides in a home of a non-relative that is willing to adopt them, such as a foster home. They may also recommend termination of parental rights if reunification with parents is unsafe and if adoption is viable, even though the adopter may not yet be known.
The DCPP may recommend an independent living plan if no adult is willing to provide long-term care or if the child does not want to be adopted or cannot make decisions about their long-term care. If reunification with parents would be unsafe and the child is between the ages of 16 and 21 years old, independent living may be a plausible solution.
Independent living is generally recommended as a last resort after all other viable alternatives are exhausted. It permits the DCPP to maintain custody of the child while providing services and resources to help them live independently as they transition to adulthood.
All parties involved in the child’s case must agree on the recommendation before it can move forward. There are different criteria, services, and recommendations for children who are 16 and 17 years old versus young adults who are 18 to 21 years old in an independent living plan.
Long-Term Specialized Care
The DCPP may recommend long-term specialized care when a child of any age cannot live independently because of severe developmental or cognitive disabilities and the biological parents or other caretakers cannot care for the child. A child must need ongoing medical care or supervision to qualify for long-term specialized care from a residential facility or similar provider, where they will stay indefinitely.
Haddonfield DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Assist Clients With Permanency Hearings
Every child deserves to have a safe and permanent home. The Haddonfield DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker help parents understand their rights under the law. Call us at 856-795-9400 or contact us online for an initial consultation. We are located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.