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Ask The Attorney: My Neighbor Falsely Reported Me to DYFS. What can I do?

What should you do if Division of Youth & Family Services unexpectedly shows up at your door?

Dear Ask the Attorney:

My neighbor and I have a hate-hate relationship.  Recently, in retaliation for complaining to the town about garbage in their front yard, my neighbor called up DYFS and reported that I was abusing my children.  It is not true!  I love my children and would never harm them, but DYFS showed up at my house and are now planning to investigate.  Can they do this?  What do I do?

Scared Mom

Our guest blogger today is Michael R. Ascher. Esq. Mr. Ascher is a partner in the firm and is engaged in a litigation practice handling both criminal and complex civil matters. His practice includes all categories of criminal cases including drunk driving defense, sex offenses, drug and white collar crimes, computer crime, conspiracy, fraud & theft cases and matters involving the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS).

Dear S.M.,

Under the law, the Division of Youth and Family Services, now known as the Division of Child Placement and Permanency has a statutory obligation to investigate all referrals concerning either child abuse or neglect.  These investigations must be begun immediately upon receipt of the referral.  Referrals can be made anonymously and without any corroborating information.  The Division will send out an investigating officer to interview you and your children.  Although you have a right to refuse the Division access, it can go to court and obtain an Order for Investigation which would permit them to interview both you and your children.  Often times, the Division will simply show up at a child’s school to interview the children without your prior knowledge or consent.  When confronted with a DYFS investigation, it is vitally important to obtain advice from an attorney who has experience with the Division.  Parents do have rights and should enforce them. 

DYFS referrals can turn into criminal investigations also.  Under the statute, the Division and county prosecutors are required to exchange information where there are allegations of either abuse or neglect.  Therefore, it is vitally important that you seek advice of an attorney.  An experienced DYFS attorney would insist upon being present during any interview of you.  An attorney’s presence is vital to protect your rights in any DYFS proceeding or a resulting criminal prosecution.  If the Division feels that your children are in imminent danger of harm or the risk of harm, they can initiate a removal.  This would permit them to actually remove your children without a court order. 

Even though you know that you have neither abused nor neglected your children, it is important that you do not confront any Division workers on your own.  During the investigatory stage, parents are at a disadvantage since they do not know the full extent of the allegations made against them.  The Division does not have to disclose all of the allegations that have been made.  Often times, Division workers will threaten to remove your children in an effort to have you sign a “safety plan” which could adversely impact your rights as a parent.  Before agreeing to any DYFS intervention or safety plan, you should seek the advice of an attorney to guide you through the difficult procedure confronting you. 

It is important that you understand that you have significant rights that you should seek to enforce.  After the Division has made its investigation, they will “substantiate” allegations of abuse or neglect, or will deem it “unfounded”.  If the allegations are substantiated, your name will be placed in a central registry.  However, you would have the right to appeal from that substantiated finding.  An unfounded finding would result in no further action, but the referral would remain in the Division’s file for three years. Substantiation may result in the Division taking court action against you.           

Being placed in a central registry may bar you from some types of employment, from becoming a foster parent or adopting a child in the future.  As you can see, you have rights following a DYFS investigation and the following conclusion if it is found to be substantiated.  During the entire process, you should seek advice of an experienced DYFS lawyer to assist you during this incredibly emotional time. 

“Ask the Attorney” is a blog in which answers to your legal questions submitted to asktheattorney@einhornharris.com may be answer.  The answers to the questions are for informational purposes only and are not to be construed as legal advice or the creation of an attorney–client relationship.  The facts of each case are different and you should therefore seek competent legal representation. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Not Domino January 26, 2013 at 03:22 PM
This sounds extremely scary! If the allegations are truly unfounded, can Scared Mom take some sort of legal action against the neighbor who made the false report? That nasty neighbor deserves some sort of punishment if they are making up stories like that just to make her life miserable. Scared Mom: If I were you, I'd try my best to have an open and honest conversation with the neighbor and make amends over whatever the issue was that triggered the hate-hate relationship, and genuinely try to forgive and forget and get past it. And if that didn't work, I'd just move.
Jerry Gordon January 26, 2013 at 03:48 PM
Notice how the lawyer said to contact another lawyer? That just wastes money and time. If DYFUS knocks on your door as a result of a neighbor harassing you. Let the DYFUS worker in and let them do their job. Comply with their request to interview your family and DYFUS will go away. The DYFUS worker will work with you and will quickly learn that your neighbor is using their agency to harass you. I know someone that took in an abused child from her husband's daughter and gave this child a good and decent and loving upbringing. The natural birth Mom and extend family called DYFUS once a week. The adopting family were friendly and cordial with DYFUS. After a while the DYFUS workers and the court couldn't do enough for the family of the adopted the child. Not domino is on the right path, diffuse your issues with your neighbor or move.. Most towns are set up to arbitrate neighbor disputes. Get the process started by filing an harassment complaint with the municipal court. BTW you can do all of this on your own WITHOUT a lawyer and his fees.
Al Baron January 26, 2013 at 03:57 PM
@Jerry...You are spot on about a lawyer suggesting that you call a lawyer. More billable hours. If you have done nothing wrong then why run to a lawyer ? That only makes you look like you are hiding something.
iam655321sir January 26, 2013 at 04:34 PM
Al, that is really bad advice -- Sadly she has little recourse. She could claim defamation of character, but she’d have to prove first off that indeed it was her neighbor who called DYFUS, then she might have to defend whatever act (real or imagined) her neighbor claims was or is occurring. Dealing with DYFUS or any government agency you must be careful not to incriminate yourself. Government agencies are trained to make you do that. Example, DYFUS asks if you drink alcoholic beverages? You answer no. They then say, never, and look at you like you are lying. So feeling guilty now, (because you know you do on occasion drink) you change your answer to rarely. DYFUS then checks a box off on their form that say – Do parents admit to Drinking? - YES! In today’s America the Presumption of innocents, has been thrown out the window. My advice to her would be get a lawyer and stop talking to DYFUS or any government agency as of this moment, until she has a lawyer. If questioned she should respond by saying. I’m sorry, but based on advice I’ve obtained I’m taking the 5th, If they want in her house or car she should refuse them and evoke her 4th amendment right forcing them to get a warrant, which may not be issued, particularly if DYFUS has no reason other then this one complaint! . Garbage like this can and has getting out of hand and people have had their children wrongfully taken from them, and then it takes mega dollars to get them back.
Hookerman January 26, 2013 at 05:09 PM
Don't forget, we're only hearing one side of the story here. Scared Mom's neighbor may have had a very good reason to report her to DYFS that had nothing to do with their dispute over garbage.
iam655321sir January 26, 2013 at 08:44 PM
Every parent with children needs to sit then down with them and have the DYFUS talk. Schools are big on telling young students if you are being abused to call DYFUS. Schools aren’t so big on telling those students if DYFUS even suspects abuse (like a black & blue from sled ridding) the child will be taken from their home and become a ward of the state. Children weave stories and tell their friends how they called DYFUS and DYFUS came to the house and told their parent to buy them a video game and like magic they did! Now it is real easy for Al and Jerry to sit here and tell this poor women she doesn’t need a lawyer, because they have no skin in the game, but any lawyer will tell you (and I’m not a lawyer) but lawyers will tell you the words they hear over and over again is – "I wish I had come to you earlier." Believe me, when social services shows up, along with an armed deputy to take your child, it is way too late to call a lawyer, but almost everyone does then.
Al Baron January 28, 2013 at 01:19 AM
It is DYFS.
Larry Huyler January 28, 2013 at 06:19 AM
So someone get's P.O.'ed at you and makes a false allegation against you to DYFS and in order to protect yourself, and your rights, you have to fork out bux to an attorney for representation when DYFS wants to question you about the false allegations. So an innocent person now becomes a victim of the system because they end up loosing a lot of money to protect themself over someone's vicious lies. Now aint that a fine kettle of fish?!?
Hookerman January 28, 2013 at 01:14 PM
If she truly did nothing wrong and the accusations are totally unfounded, then she has no more need to obtain an attorney than an innocent person does when being questioned by the police.
iam655321sir January 28, 2013 at 01:18 PM
Yes, it is very sad isn’t it? But it is not just DYFS, it is any government agency that shows up at your door uninvited. They are NOT your friends, and they are NOT there to help you. As Americans we have rights and one of our rights is the 5th. However, as exampled by other posters in this thread, we have been conditioned not to use that right as we have been taught to believe it makes you “LOOK” guilty. But, there is a huge difference between looking guilty, and being found guilty by an overzealous government agent who is twisting your very words against you, all just to get his supervisor who wants more convictions (or whatever) off his back. Don't make the mistake of believing for even one second that doesn't happen. Do police give out more tickets at the end of the mouth? Many believe so! I cannot stress this enough. In today’s America the presumption of innocents no longer exists. When DYFS, EPA, IRS or anyone of the hundreds of other governments agencies shows up uninvited at your door you are assumed guilty, otherwise they would not be there! DYFS, EPA, IRS are just a few of many government agencies who have wrongfully destroyed thousands of lawful America lives. Not understanding your rights, and not getting a lawyer who does understand you rights, is just what these people are hoping for.
iam655321sir January 28, 2013 at 04:17 PM
If she really did nothing wrong (which I believe to be the case, because I believe in the presumption of innocents) then why are those government people in her face, and in her life? What right do they have to interview her, and ask how she raises her children? Before you go making such bold statements Hookerman, you should look into how many “convicted felons” are now walking free because DNA evidence exonerated them. Look into how many lives the NJDEP has destroyed just to prove it has the bigger stick than the citizens to their very own private property. Look into parents who have had their children taken away from them wrongful by DYFS or some other government agency which has been given the mind boggling power of being allowed to so something like that.
Hookerman January 28, 2013 at 04:40 PM
The reason that DYFS is involved is because someone reported her to DYFS, so they have to follow up on any report. If you were my next door neighbor, I could report that I think you’re a terrorist who is building a bomb in your basement. Either the police or Homeland Security would have to investigate it, whether they thought there was any legitimacy to it or not. Would you automatically get an attorney just because they police showed up at your door saying they were investigating some report on you??? Of course, as I stated above, we’re only hearing one side of the story. The neighbor may have had a very good reason to contact DYFS in this case. Note that ‘Scared Mom’ stated that she would never ‘harm’ her children. However, she could neglect them, which is its own form of child abuse.
iam655321sir January 28, 2013 at 07:19 PM
Hookerman – You ask: “ Would you automatically get an attorney just because they police showed up at your door saying they were investigating some report on you??? No, not right away! First and foremost I would politely refuse to answer any of their questions by invoking my 5th amendment right. If they wanted to come in, I’d again politely tell them no invoking my 4th amendment right. After a question or two (with me taking the 5th) I’d politely ask them if I’m being detained or arrested, and then if they said no I’d then ask them to leave my property, to which they are obligated by LAW to leave. Then I call a lawyer! Do not make the mistake of thinking they just showed up there to clear up a little something or other about you, and they are there to help you clear your name. Believe me when I tell you this. If they show up, they have a folder full of information on you, and another one full of questions for you. They are not there to help prove you are innocent, they are there to help you dig a hole deep enough that they can then arrest you! About your "neglect" statement. Who the heck do you think you are to tell others how to raise their children. What is your definition of neglect or abuse? A 12 year old who's parents would not let him play soccer on Sunday morning, and instead "forced" him to go to church?
Hookerman January 28, 2013 at 07:45 PM
I sincerely hope that you have no children if you seriously are ignorant about the concept of child neglect. Neglect is a failure to provide for the basic needs of a child, such as health, supervision, nutrition, education, safety, etc. It IS a type of child abuse, even if the parent didn’t intentionally attempt to harm the child. Below are some examples of child neglect. They include allowing children to be in unsafe and unsanitary conditions without basic necessities (running water), not treating a child’s medical wounds (cuts, burns), and worst of all, leaving a toddler completely unsupervised so that he wandered into the road and was killed by a car. http://staugustine.com/news/local-news/2011-10-20/2-charged-child-neglect http://hamptonroads.com/2013/01/portsmouth-couple-charged-felony-child-neglect http://www2.wspa.com/news/2013/jan/28/upstate-mother-charged-homicide-child-neglect-cour-ar-5462236/
Lt.Dan January 31, 2013 at 06:05 AM
I wouldn't work for DYFS on a bet. They have a very serious job, limited resources and time, and all the blame if something tragic happens after they close the file. Parents would be poorly advised to cop any sort of attitude about their "rights" because DYFS concerns trump everything. Their investigators have little downside to finding an allegation has basis. They have a lot of downside to closing a file and clearing you. That is when you wonder why a CBS Sat truck is in your driveway all of a sudden. Many DYFS investigators want a uniform with them going in first time, and I don't blame them, domestics are the worse. Any advice about playing "I got rights" with them is bad advice, and this is one of those areas where you have to lawyer up or raise the risk of losing your kids, no matter how innocent you think you are. Be calm, courteous, and calm some more. Realize they will have absolutely no problem walking out your front door with your kid and an overnight bag 10 minutes after you give them lip. As far as the neighbor goes, filing a false report is not an insignificant offense. Your lawyer should also brief you on keeping a record of harrassment patterns if she continues and you should get on record with the local PD that you see this pattern emerging. A judge will convict on a pattern of harassment, and the charges can carry up to six months in jail per charge.
SockPuppet January 31, 2013 at 10:06 AM
Let's face it, people posing anonymous questions are going to put themselves in the most positive light. Yet, "Scared Mom" showed her hand when she revealed that she had a "hate-hate" relationship with her neighbor. We don't know that she's the good or bad guy in this situation, nor do we know that she is not, in fact, a child abuser. I would advise "Scared Mom" to clean up her own act before she calls the cops on her neighbors.
iam655321sir January 31, 2013 at 12:40 PM
Too my point --- See how things can get twisted round? Consider how the hate-hate statement has turned scared mom into the “bad guy.” The 4th and the 5th are there for you to stop you from putting yourself in a bad light, because of a poor choice of words, or statement. Obtain legal counsel anytime a government agency shows up uninvited in your life. I cannot stress this enough. Government agents are skillfully trained to get you to incriminate yourself. It makes their jobs easier, and at the end of the day, most of them don’t care if you are innocent or the guilty, they just care their cases are closed … Wouldn’t you agree Lt. Dan?
Hookerman January 31, 2013 at 01:30 PM
Let me offer a little clarification to what you stated about filing a false report Lt. Dan. The laws in NJ overwhelmingly support and protect those who report child abuse, and in fact, make it a legal obligation. A person does not need definitive proof to report child abuse, and can make the calls anonymously. A person can also face fines and jail time if they fail to report suspected child abuse. Secondly, a person who reports child abuse is legally protected from any civil or criminal liability, as long as the call is made in ‘good faith’. This means that you would have to prove that the reporter called DYFS for the deliberate reason of smearing or incriminating the accused for any liability to be present. It does NOT mean that if someone reports a case of child abuse, and the investigation does not turn up anything, that the reporter is guilty of filing a false report. In many cases of child abuse, it is determined that people who were suspicious, but didn’t take action because they didn’t have proof, weren’t sure that abuse was taking place, or were concerned about getting sued. The law in NJ is set up to encourage (and protect) people to report child abuse whenever there is any suspicion at all. https://www.preventchildabusenj.org/reporting.shtml
iam655321sir January 31, 2013 at 06:38 PM
Lt. Dan, Assuming you are in Public Law Enforcement, you took an oath to defend and protect the US and NJ Constitution to the very best of your ability. Stating in your words “DYFS concerns trump everything, “ is so far from defending and protecting the US and NJ Constitution you are way out of bounds, and frankly you should not be allowed to wear a badge
Kathy Dumonde March 18, 2013 at 08:45 PM
If you have an unreasonable neighbor and suspect something illegitimate could happen because they decide to settle their petty differences by abusing the law, get a tape and video camera on standby. The minute anyone shows up knocking on your door, start your video camera and advise them they are being recorded. If you are alone and afraid, do not let them in. At this point you don't know who they are. Want to get raped or beaten by your neighbors sick friend? Open the door to them. No, you tell them through the door that they will have to return with a warrant or you call the police to say someone is knocking on your door late at night to harass you, then you will have backup. Any abuse of the law will be documented. When Americans learn and fight for their rights and stop living in fear of the sick people who abuse the law then things may get done properly. Do not live your life in fear of your children being taken. It may aggravate your days but you damn well better be strong and fight or the petty sickos win. You who suggest moving and 'doormat' compliance are the sand in the eye of the justice system and liberty.
LilahLove June 08, 2013 at 08:50 PM
Even when a parent is 100% innocent DYFS does not simply "go away". Hiring a lawyer the minute they show up at your door is the smartest thing to do. So what if it costs tons of money.....your children arent worth it??? No matter if a case is unfounded or substantiated , these people make money off of you and your children , they ate not simply going away. Innocent or not DYFS is not going anywhere anytime soon....so hire a lawyer asap and get them the hell out of your life. Id pay infinite amounts of money to protect my child. That was some worthless advice. And for the record....I am not a lawyer.
Roger June 14, 2013 at 12:01 AM
The fact is that DYFS loves to wreck families. I know from numerous encounters that they are not there to clear you. They are there to screw you over. Get a lawyer!
unkown111 June 18, 2013 at 01:35 AM
A freind is involved in a DYFS case where it ws unfounded. they still recommed parenting and individual therapy to them. they are complying with the parenting but do not wish to attend therapy. The social worker advised them that they may have to take them to court if they do not attend therapy. If the case is unfound, what is the likelyhood of their case going to court? after all its just a recemmondation.

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