Absolutely, children should participate in child welfare court hearings as long as the child wants to be involved. Many children wish to appear in court. Children desire to meet the judge because they feel it is important for the judge to put a face with a name when making critical decisions about their lives. Children may want to speak directly to the judge about their circumstances such as where they want to live, whether they want to be supervised, how often they want to visit their parents, visiting other family members or friends and school.
Children should not be forced or coerced into participating at a DCPP (formerly, DYFS) court hearing. Child victims may have trouble testifying in court. They may feel scared, confused, and distrustful. There are other options for children to feel more comfortable. The child should be asked who they want in the courtroom as support. This could be a parent, resource parent, family member, Law Guardian, Law Guardian investigator, CASA or mentor. A child can appear in court and listen without having to testify. Their presence alone may impact how the different attorneys’ advocate. By sitting at counsel table, if the child has questions or concerns as the hearing takes place, they would be able to speak directly to their Law Guardian. The Law Guardian can better advocate with real-time information directly from the child. Another option to participate in court is through a child interview with the judge. A child interview is a meeting between the child and the judge. Child interviews may take place in the judge chambers or in the open courtroom.
The Administrative Office of the Courts began a program several years ago for children to participate in Permanency Hearings. Under that statute, a child is entitled to appear at a court hearing and should be given at least 15 days prior notice of the time and place. N.J.S.A. 30: 4C-61.2 (b)(2).
During a final adoption hearing, children over the age of ten are required to testify that they agree to the adoption unless their appearance is waived. N.J.S.A. 9:3-49. And, when the court is determining whether a Kinship Legal Guardianship should be finalized, children over the age of twelve should appear to let the judge know the child’s wishes. N.J.S.A. 3B:12A-6(a)(7). A third option when the court is determining who a child should live with is custody. The judge may also be interested in hearing from children based on their age and capacity to form intelligent decisions. N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c).
When a child participates in court, the judge will have an opportunity to ask the child questions about his or her experience. The judge may want to hear from the child prior to making a decision. The judge can also directly ask the child what services they would want to attend like therapy, mentoring, extracurricular activities, or tutoring. A court can also find out directly from the child whether the services are helping or if the service needs to be cancelled or altered. For example, if a child is participating in therapy but not clicking with the therapist, maybe the therapist needs to be changed. A child might be tutored once a week but it’s not enough to boost grades and needs additional sessions. At hearings, judges view the interaction between the child and parents, see if the child appears healthy and well cared for and evaluate their body language and demeanor. All of this is considered when making decisions.
There are other benefits to children appearing in court such as it allows them to understand the process that is affecting their day-to-day lives and hear directly from the judge, caseworkers, attorneys, and CASA. Youth do not have control when removed from their homes and where they are going to live next. Hearing whether their parents are abiding by the court order and attending services and programs, helps them understand why they are not home or why there is supervision. They feel empowered and have a sense of control over information they want the judge to know when making decisions. By appearing in court, adding input, becoming part of the process and by simply being heard, it can help them focus on the reasons why the judge is making decisions they feel is in the best interest of the child. Understanding the information can be therapeutic, regardless of the outcome.
Child interviews should children participate in court?
The Administrative Office of the Courts Permanency Hearings. N.J.S.A. 30: 4C-61.2 (b)(2)
final adoption hearing, children over the age of ten Kinship Legal Guardianship N.J.S.A. 3B:12A-6(a)(7)
Lawyer attorney NJ DCPP DYFS CASA removed from their homes court order attending services supervision empowered sense of control appearing in court part of the process simply being heard judge best interest of the child. therapeutic