The agency has enormous amounts of power. That’s the reason why parents understandably fear the agency. An investigator gets to come to the home and gets to write down everything that he or she observes and everything that he or she is told from the parents and the children. As a result, that then becomes the evidence that’s used against the parent in court.
A remarkably high number of cases involve caseworkers who omit information inadvertently or otherwise, and sometimes they distort information, misconstrue what’s said to them, or simply fabricate things. As a result, that evidence then becomes used against somebody in court. However, because the law in New Jersey is that the evidence of these agencies is entitled to a high degree of reliability, it becomes very difficult for you to defend that evidence when you get to court. Rarely do judges have the time or the interest in debunking the presumption of the evidence in these cases being reliable. Agency workers’ words are given an enormous amount of weight.
If a child has been taken from the parent on an emergency removal, the parent is already behind the eight ball when appearing in court, so you have kind of a double whammy. You’ve got your child out of your custody, so the court already presumes that something severe had to have happened to warrant the child being removed. Then you have the “evidence,” which is somebody else’s say as to what took place that a court doesn’t necessarily want to hear was not accurate.
Allison C. Williams is a matrimonial and family law attorney serving Short Hills New Jersey. Her practice places an emphasis on complex child welfare matters. www.familylawyersnewjersey.com