Heroin is sweeping the nation; and deaths from heroin overdoses in the States of New York, and New Jersey are reaching epic proportions. We also cannot forget about the abuse of alcohol, because although legal, it can have just as deadly consequences.
At this point in our history, the widespread use of illegal drugs and the abuse of alcohol make the terms “Narcotics Anonymous” and “Alcoholics Anonymous” seem like oxymorons – because almost all of us personally know someone who has been affected.
Often, those “someones” have children. And many who are addicted start off believing that they can handle it. And while it might seem like they are doing okay at first, the downward spiral is inevitable without professional help. At this point, the addicted parent(s) may lose custody – even before disaster strikes. (See my previous blog, Lost Children).
So, how do you help protect the children of parents with substance abuse issues before bad gets to worse? What can you do if the parent refuses to get help and the children are in real danger?
Option 1: Talk to the parents, and encourage them to file a custody application to voluntarily place joint legal custody of the children with a family member, or close family friend, who is (1) not currently using illegal substances or abusing alcohol, (2) does not have a recent history involving substance abuse, (3) does not have a history involving child abuse, (4) does not a have recent criminal charge that may result in incarceration; and (5) does not have a history of conviction involving sexual crimes, aggravated assault, or murder – regardless of the length of time that has passed.
This can be used as a preemptive measure, to give the children a better chance of avoiding placement in a foster home (sometimes referred to as a resource home) if the state agency were to get involved – namely the Department of Child Protection and Permanency, if you live in New Jersey; or the Administration for Children’s Services if you live in New York. If the children are removed and placed in foster care anyway, immediately consult with an attorney who has specialized knowledge of Child Welfare Law, a great deal of experience with and DCPP and ACS cases.
In order to remove custody of (a) child(ren), the state agency has to prove that it is necessary for the safety of the child(ren). With the existence of someone who is already “safe”, and who already has legal custody, it makes the need for placement in foster care a lot less necessary.
It’s important to note that exercising this option does not mean that you are signing your rights away as a parent, and it does not mean that the children have to go and live with the joint legal custodian right away. It simply means that you have a plan in place for the children should an issue arise.
Option 2: If you are a relative or close family friend who is very familiar with the children, a second option is to apply to the Court on an Order to Show Cause, if you believe that the threat of danger is looming. This might be able to help you get custody of the children, if you have not exercised Option 1.
This option is, more risky than Option 1, however, because there is no guarantee that you will be granted custody of the child in an Order to Show Cause if the parents object; and DCPP or ACS may very well be called in to remove the children. You may also be subjected to strict resource home licensing standards by DCPP or ACS, before being considered for placement. If this happens, be sure to consult with an Attorney who has specialized knowledge of DCPP and ACS resource home licensing procedures to advocate for placement with relatives and family friends.
If you have reason to believe that a child is at imminent risk of harm – For Example: You see a parent who is affected by, or under the influence of a substance putting (a) child(ren) in the car, and attempting to drive away – you are obligated to immediately call 911, and the child abuse hotline in your state.
If you live in New Jersey, call 1-888-652-2873.
If you live in New York, call 1-800-342-3720.
Patricia A. Ames, Esq. is a licensed attorney in the states of New York and New Jersey, and is the Owner & Managing Partner at AMES LAW GROUP. She is a former attorney for the State of New Jersey, Office of the Law Guardian, where she exclusively practiced child abuse and neglect law. Patricia has spent many years successfully challenging DCPP emergency removals, licensing decisions as to relatives and family friends, and permanency plans for termination of parental rights. She now represents parents in all family law matters, including child custody, and child abuse, and neglect cases.
If you or someone you know has a question about his or her rights as they relate to custody, or child abuse and neglect, then please call the skilled attorneys at AMES LAW GROUP. The attorneys at AMES LAW GROUP have substantial expertise in such matters as this office exclusively focuses its practice on family law and family law related issues. For a private consultation, contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call our offices at 888-200-1270.
Written by: Patricia A. Ames, Esq.