Thousands of children in New Jersey are being cared for by grandparents, other relatives, or close family friends. This often happens because the children’s parents are overwhelmed by problems like physical or mental illness, incarceration, substance abuse, or economic hardship. Sometimes relatives become caregivers when New Jersey DCP&P removes a child from the parent’s home due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. In many other cases, arrangements begin as an informal response to a family crisis.
When a temporary caregiver situation becomes long-term, formalizing the new arrangement is usually in a child’s best interests. Some caregivers pursue adoption, which transfers all parental rights and responsibilities from the birth parents to the adoptive parent(s). If adoption is neither feasible nor likely, a caregiver may instead petition the court for appointment as a kinship legal guardian, which allows the birth parents to retain some legal rights, including the right to visit the child, as well as the responsibility to provide financial support, if possible. The kinship legal guardian gains primary responsibility for the child without being subject to oversight by DCP&P, and also becomes eligible for subsidies and other assistance. For more information, see: New Jersey Kinship Legal Guardianship.
DCP&P Foster Placement with Relatives or Family Friends
Foster placement is a temporary step that eventually leads either to parent-child reunification, or to the more permanent steps of adoption or kinship legal guardianship. Whenever possible, DCP&P will place a child who has been removed from a parent’s home with relatives or close family friends who wish to act as foster parents and are able to provide a safe and nurturing environment. Placement with a person the child knows and trusts can minimize the trauma associated with parental separation. It can also facilitate continuation of close ties between the child’s parents and the new caregivers. All of this generally leads to better long-term adjustment for the child, lowering the risk of behavioral and other problems in the future.
Before DCP&P will approve a foster placement with a relative or family friend, they will conduct a thorough home inspection, along with appropriate background checks on all household members age 18 and older. All caretakers under DCP&P supervision are required to be licensed as New Jersey “resource parents.” Foster parents have the legal rights necessary to meet a child’s day-to-day needs, but remain subject to oversight and intervention by DCP&P.
Parental Rights in Grandparent or Relative Adoptions
Under current New Jersey law, a child can have only two legal parents. A third person who is not a legal parent may have certain rights and responsibilities as the child’s foster parent or kinship legal guardian, and in some cases, a person who has taken on a parental role over a long period of time with the consent of the legal parent may have some rights as the child’s “psychological parent.” A child cannot be legally adopted, however, unless the biological parents have voluntarily relinquished their parental rights, or such rights have been terminated through a court proceeding.
The State of New Jersey can terminate parental rights on the basis of “unfitness” if a parent abandons or abuses a child. New Jersey law defines child abuse or neglect as any of the following:
- Causing serious physical or emotional harm to a child, or allowing another person to cause such harm;
- Creating a risk of physical harm to a child, or allowing another person to create such risk;
- Sexually abusing a child, or allowing another person to sexually abuse a child;
- Harming a child, or creating a risk of harm to a child, by failing to provide proper care;
- Using excessive physical punishment on a child; or
- Abandoning a child.
A court will not terminate parental rights casually, even if a parent has little contact with their child. For more information on termination, see: How the Superior Court Process Works in a New Jersey DCP&P Case.
After the birth parents have relinquished their rights, or a court has terminated their rights, a grandparent or relative adoption can proceed through the appropriate court process. For more information on how the adoption process works in New Jersey, see New Jersey Private Adoption, and New Jersey State Agency Adoption.
Once an adoption is final, the adoptive parents assume all parental rights and responsibilities. The birth parents are no longer required to provide the child with any type of support and cannot have any type of contact the child without the permission of the adoptive parents. The adoptive parents gain the right to manage all aspects of the child’s care and may qualify for Federal Adoption Tax Credits and other tax benefits. The child also gains the right to share in certain government benefits and to inherit directly from the adoptive parents.
Deciding whether or not to proceed with adoption of a grandchild or relative can be difficult. A knowledgeable and compassionate attorney can provide you with accurate information that will help you make the right decision for your family. If you do decide to embark on the adoption process, the assistance of a skilled attorney is essential to ensure that all legal procedures are followed correctly and efficiently. Our experienced New Jersey adoption attorneys can help. Please contact us to schedule your free confidential consultation. Take the first step. Call today: 888-888-0919.