On March 21st, Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order mandating all non-essential retail businesses temporarily close in order to halt the spread of COVID-19. Businesses, residents and government officials are still scrambling to adjust to the new normal until it is deemed safe to return to our daily lives, leaving many questions while the globe works to flatten the curve.
The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF), which helps to support at-risk children and families, has taken measures to ensure the safety of both their employees and the families that they serve. Most staff is now ordered to work at home, being provided technical support as needed. As of now, all permanency, adoption and resource staff are working remotely. Visitations by child protective services will be conducted remotely instead of in-person, using daily phone calls, FaceTime and other means to maintain contact with the child and the birth family. In-person monthly or twice-monthly visits have been relaxed.
Members of the COVID-19 Response Teams, comprised of local office field staff, are located at the area offices to manage referrals from the state’s central screening hotline, as well as any high-risk permanency cases. A skeleton crew in local offices are helping with any clerical issues. Though some court cases are still conducted in person, that is also expected to end amid the pandemic.
Any notices regarding removing a child from DCF will indicate that hearings will be conducted remotely. A contact number for the caseworker will also be provided to help with communications for the parents on the scheduling of the hearing. As of right now, the state’s court system will be adjourning all fact-findings in child abuse and neglect cases, as well as termination of parental rights trials, though they are discussing if the system will have to resort to having trials remotely.
Additional guidance for employees and families will be offered as issues come up and will be posted on the department’s website. New Jersey is a mandatory reporting state. If you witness child abuse, call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-877-652-2873.