When the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), f/k/a the Division of Youth and Family Services, (DYFS) receives an allegation of abuse or neglect stemming from the use or abuse of alcohol or drugs (legal or illegal), often the accused parent is asked to submit to a substance abuse evaluation.
This process entails meeting with a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LCADC) and taking a series of quantitative tests (yes/no; true/false; scale from 1 to 10; etc.) designed to evaluate potentially riskful behaviors involved in substance use.
Parents are often loathe to submit to any form of evaluation by the Division for fear that the agency’s bias in referring the parent for evaluation will taint the evaluator and result in an unfair assessment.
This fear has much greater validity when the evaluation being proposed is a psychological evaluation, rather than a substance abuse evaluation.
The reason is that addiction is succinctly defined as compulsive behavior that continues in the face of adverse consequences.
The answers to the substance abuse evaluation determine the risk; whereas, in psychological evaluations, there is a higher degree of subjectivity involved in interpreting the results of the quantitative tests.
Does a child abuse allegation impact child custody during divorce?
If asked to submit to a Substance Abuse Evaluation, defense counsel may limit a parent’s exposure by implementing these practice pointers:
- Ask that the evaluation not be used in the Fact Finding hearing.
Alcohol or drug addition is not, per se, child abuse. Div. of Youth and Fam. Svcs. v. V.T., 423 N.J.Super. 320 (App.Div.2011). Thus, the existence of an addiction is arguably not probative of whether or not such condition harmed a child on a specific occasion.
- If the parent submits to evaluation and subsequently engages in treatment, that treatment should not be used in the Fact Finding hearing as evidence that an addiction existed. Evidence in Fact Finding hearings must be “competent, material and relevant”. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(c). That means, the Rules of Evidence apply. N.J.R.E. 407 prohibits the use of corrective action to prove the condition corrected. “[E]vidence of remedial measures is excluded not because it lacks relevancy, but because admission of said testimony might discourage corrective action and induce perpetuation of the damage and condition that gave rise to the lawsuit.” Hansson v. Catalytic Constr. Co., 43 N.J.Super. at 29. That principle applies equally in child welfare cases, as it does in negligence cases.
- Stipulating to the existence of an addiction obviates the need for cumulative evidence, such as the substance abuse evaluation, to prove that fact. See, N.J.R.E. 101(a)(4).
- Even if a Substance Abuse Evaluation and/or treatment compliance comes into evidence, the focus for the Court must be directed to the risks inherent in the situation and whether a child has suffered harm or is likely to suffer future harm.
Where unintentional conduct (i.e., neglect) is alleged, the Division maintains the burden of proof to demonstrate the probability of present or future harm. New Jersey Div. of Youth & Fam. Svcs. v. S.S., 372 N.J.Super. 13 (App.Div.2004). Neglect cannot be founded on assumptions and suppositions.
These pointers are not designed to provide legal advice. For more information, please contact Allison C. Williams, Esq. and schedule a Consultation.