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Village Parenting: Who Should Determine the Existence of Abuse or Neglect?

September 11, 2015 | Posted In Family Law - Family Law

The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” seems to apply more and more in today’s society. Parents who let their young children walk home from school or to the park down the block are now subject to the judgment of their neighbors who may call the police to report abuse or concern.

A mother who posts a photo of her children bundled up in their car seats before vacation may be opening herself up to a torrent of abuse and critiques from other moms on social media. And in many cases over the summer, parents who leave their children in the car — even accidentally — while they run errands find themselves engaged in legal and custodial battles from all sides: the media, the courts and state child protective services.

The news is filled with stories of the latest parent to have a forgetful moment or make a bad decision, and most of these stories make headlines in our newspapers and social media feeds. But as many people turn to judge and point fingers, they forget that their accusations could have disastrous, long-term consequences on the kids involved.

We see more and more cases where parents are investigated for their child-rearing decisions — namely, the parents who were raising “free-range” children who were allowed to walk to neighborhood parks together. The scrutiny those parents faced from the media, local law enforcement and protective agencies placed them in the not-so-pleasant spotlight because their neighbors labeled their actions as negligent.

Sometimes it’s necessary to act on behalf of a child or children you know to protect them from harm at the hands of their parents. But far too often, outsiders get involved in monitoring other parents’ skills and take their accusations to the police and/or their local child and family services.

However, once these agencies are involved, the stakes change drastically and it can be hard for parents who made mistakes or who were choosing to parent differently to defend themselves. Realistically, it’s impossible for parents to hold themselves up to the various standards set by their neighbors, parents, local schools and others — and all these groups should be kept from the judging process.

Who Should be Making the Call?

In a decision last month, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the ultimate power to determine whether a parent has been abusive such that he or she should be charged with abuse and neglect lies with a judge, not a child welfare agency. The decision was made regarding the case of a woman who left her toddler in her running car with the doors locked and windows cracked for a few moments.

However, the ruling could set the standards for other parents who have been brought to court or family services because of someone else’s accusation. A true determination of guilt in negligence or abuse cases must come from a judge after a hearing.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling may have an impact on your current situation or a pending case you may have with the Division of Youth and Family Services or your local welfare agency. For more information about how this decision could change your relationship with your children, contact a New Jersey family law attorney at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, today. We represent parents who have been accused of abuse or negligence by agencies and law enforcement officials.


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