Mentally Ill Mother Did Not Neglect Children In DYFS Case According to Appellate Court
- February 19, 2014
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In New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. C.F., the Appellate Court reversed the lower Family Court’s finding that a mother, who has a chronic mental illness, abused or neglected her children. In April of 2012, a New Jersey Family Court held in a Title 9 complaint citing that C.F. had abused and neglected her two children. The case originated in 2011 when DYFS received a referral from the local police department citing that C.F.’s behavior was out of control as she was “throwing things, breaking things, screaming, ranting and raving.” The police took C.F. to a local hospital where she was admitted into the psychiatric ward. She was thereafter referred for outpatient treatment. At the time, C.F. reported to a DFYS caseworker that she was hearing voices. As part of the DYFS investigation, a court appointed psychiatrist evaluated C.F. and diagnosed her with “bipolar disorder or possibly an agitated depression with psychosis.” The psychiatrist noted that he thought that C.F. would be noncompliant with treatment based upon her history of noncompliance with treatment and her lack of understanding regarding her mental illness. Throughout her life, C.F., was hospitalized for psychiatric reasons at least five times beginning in 1994. She has been prescribed multiple medications for to treat her illnesses. In 2012, the Family Court determined that DYFS satisfied its burden by a preponderance of the evidence that C.F. neglected her children because of her chronic mental illness, her lack of insight into her illness, her refusal to take her medication regularly, her history of noncompliance with treatment, the necessity of police intervention into her family, and her numerous hospitalizations for mental illness. C.F. appealed this decision arguing that DYFS failed to prove that she neglected her children by a preponderance of the evidence because she did not act willfully or wantonly to put her children at risk. In its decision, the Appellate Court found that the narrow issue in the case was whether or not the facts in the record demonstrated that C.F.’s mental illness caused her to fail to exercise a minimum degree of care by recklessly creating a harm or the substantial risk of harm for her children under N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(4)(b). The Court reversed the Family Court’s finding that C.F. abused or neglected her children by holding that the record simply did not show that C.F. ever harmed or threatened to harm the children and that her history of mental illness did not demonstrate a substantial risk that she may harm her children. In its opinion, the Court noted that C.F. had the benefit of living with the children’s father and her parents who were all aware of her mental health issues and could intervene to ensure the children were not in danger. In reversing the lower court’s decision the Appellate Court ordered that C.F.’s name be removed from the Central Child Abuse Registry. Child neglect and abuse are very serious issues. A court finding of abuse and neglect can have an extremely negative effect on a person’s life including the ability to obtain certain jobs and being restricted from places where children frequent. If DYFS has become involved with your family or you expect that DYFS will become involved with your family it is extremely important that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about DYFS, custody & visitation, abuse and neglect, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way intended to replace the advice of an attorney.