Complaints Linger for Child Protective Services

Despite changes, some still worry that the Division of Child Protection and Permanency isn't doing enough.

By Brenda Flanagan

Julissa Sanchez is 16 with a baby boy and a complaint.

“They just be all in our business,” she said. “Two, three years I’ve been with DYFS.”

People still call it DYFS, even though it’s now the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. It assigned caseworkers to watch Julissa’s family in Newark.

“Every move you make, they wanna know. And that’s just annoying because I can’t go nowhere without my child, without them being in my face, asking questions, just trying to take every little reason they’re trying to take my child away from me,” she said.

The state had no comment. Ironically, Julissa lives across the street from the house where 7-year-old Faheem Williams died in 2003, his body shoved into a plastic bin after being brutally beaten and starved. One of DYFS’s most notoriously mishandled cases, it pressured New Jersey to accept a court-ordered DYFS monitor and set goals for improvement. In May 2011, the Christiana Glenn case surfaced.

The starving 8-year-old died in a second floor Irvington apartment of injuries sustained from beatings. Again, DYFS had apparently miscalculated. Frustrated child advocates demanded more information.

When asked if the communication is getting any better than that day, Mary Coogan said, “No. I think it’s very difficult to get detailed information regarding cases from the state.”

Coogan’s with Advocates for Children of New Jersey. She says even with oversight and regular reports, the state’s child protection agency isn’t forthcoming.

“There are laws regarding confidentiality, to protect the family, but we would argue the state uses those laws to avoid making information public,” Coogan said.

The latest report from the federal monitor cites stats from last year and says the state’s continuing to “make significant progress” meeting requirements, and that its performance “regarding the appropriate placement of children in the state’s custody remains strong overall.”

The agency’s commissioner stated, “I’m enormously proud of our department, the changes we have made and the commitment of our staff.”

“While they’re on the right track, they’re not there yet. And we would argue against any lessening of the monitoring at this time,” Coogan said. “Because I think the pressure of the monitor has gotten them to where they are now.”

Coogan says caseworkers still make crucial mistakes like sending a child back into an abusive home setting.

“And then is re-abused. That is happening twice as many times as what the monitor would allow. And because that number is creeping up, that’s of concern,” she said.

The report shows Child Protective Services is working hard to rehabilitate its reputation. But advocates say a more open policy would help improve its image and its performance.