DYFS Substantiations of Child Abuse – The Role of Corroboration

In DYFS v. T.L. A-0506-11T2, the Appellate Division entered several rulings about corroboration of children’s statements of prior abuse. The Court noted that N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(a)(4) exists to alleviate the necessity of having children unnecessarily relive unpleasant experiences by being required to testify when other reliable evidence will suffice to prove the truth of the matter.  One such piece of “reliable evidence” is the Admission of the parent. 

But interestingly, the Court also held that prior statements of “the child” need not be limited to “the child” at issue in the litigation.  Prior statements of non-subject children can also be admitted.  This ruling seems at variance with the plain language of the statute, which references “the” child – not “a” child.  However, the statute is designed to prevent abuse victims from testifying.  In this case, all children at issue – even those who were not subject to the action – were victimized by the conduct about which statements were given.  Hence, the result achieved by the ruling is consonant with the purpose of the statute.

But what if the non-subject children could only speak to the alleged victimization of “the child” at issue in the case?  In this scenario, I am not so sure that the Court’s ruling in T.L. would stand.  Future published appellate cases may give some guidance on this issue, as there is none at present.

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