Recently, Miriam’s Heart has begun to focus efforts to advocate and edify around the needs of children in foster care here in New Jersey. We have added a Director of Advocacy and Grants. Jessica Sauer, Esq. has spent a bulk of her career standing in the gap to protect vulnerable children in her role as a law guardian for children in foster care. Under her incredible leadership, a group of advocates have begun to rally folks from our area to consider how we might improve the experiences of our most vulnerable, children in foster care.
Through no fault of their own, so many children lack common sense approaches that would prove to keep them safe, providing them with permanency and stability that they need to thrive. As we being to raise awareness of ways you can lift your voice to stand in the gap, we want to provide you with the information you’ll need to pursue justice on their behalf!
This legislation would TAKE AWAY a foster child’s right to have a psychologist, with training in trauma and child development, weigh in on their case during termination of parental rights trials. Judges and lawyers are NOT psychologists. Children in foster care who have experienced trauma deserve to KEEP the right to have a qualified mental health professional provide their expert opinions.
A5598/S3814: Requires DCF or court to consider placement of children with relatives or kinship guardians when making placement decision; makes changes to certain standards for initiating petitions to terminate parental rights.– Maria Connolly, Child Advocacy Association of New Jersey, an initiative of Miriam’s Heart.
In spite of laws intended to move cases promptly towards reunification or adoption, the practical reality is that children can be in foster care for many years. For example, Ella* is 4 years old. Ella has been in foster care since birth and has lived her whole life with a foster family who wants to adopt her, but the court is only now hearing a case to determine whether to terminate the rights of her biological parents.)
Current law allows psychological testimony about the impact on a child from a lack of permanency to be considered in terminating a parent’s rights – but only if the psychologist finds that removing the child from their resource parents would cause serious and enduring emotional or psychological harm to the child. So currently, the judge can use the psychologist’s recommendation, along with MANY other types of evidence, to consider the best interest of the child and make a decision on permanency for the child.
Our concern is that removing this language from the statute would have the practical effect of causing judges to ignore the impact of a lack of permanency on the child. (We are concerned that in cases like Ella’s, where the foster home is the only home they have ever known and they have lived there for years, the disruption that would happen in removing her from that home might not even be considered.)
A5598/S3814 could TAKE AWAY a foster child’s right to have a psychologist (with training in trauma and child development, and who has evaluated the child, her biological parents, and her foster/adoptive parents), testify about what is in the best interest of a child and would create an unnecessary barrier to permanency. A decision to terminate parental rights should not center solely on the parents and their actions. An action that will bring a child serious and enduring harm is a highly relevant consideration and the child’s wellbeing must be considered in this decision as well.
Judges are NOT psychologists. Let psychologists weigh in for NJ’s most vulnerable! Call your New Jersey Senator and Assembly people and tell them to VOTE NO on A5598/S3814
*Ella represents a fictional child whose story mirrors that of SO many actual foster children
To find your legislators: