Roth-Gutman Law

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Strategizing with you to help a child

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Guardian ad Litem

By A. G.

Picture this- you and your partner are separating. You want to make sure that the best interest of your child is being considered and that the custody is determined without bias, in a mature and calm way. However, you don’t get along with your ex. You are constantly battling over whose house your child should be at after school or for the weekends. What can you do to help your child?  Choosing the right custody lawyer is an important first step in the process. Next is considering if you need a Guardian ad Litem for your child. A Guardian ad Litem (or GAL) can be appointed on behalf of your child. A GAL  helps the child express their concerns and makes the experience of their parents separating or getting divorced go smoother. When it comes to parenting, there may be numerous topics that need to be addressed- topics may range from general well-being and safety to visitation and custody to school issues, to any other issues pertaining to your child. So, let’s dig deeper to discuss what a GAL does in a divorce or custody case.

The Law

In New Jersey, a GAL can be appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child or children during a legal proceeding, and in this situation, when custody, visitation and parenting time is being decided by a judge. One or both parents can request for the court to appoint the GAL on its own motion or the Court can choose to order one on its own. The GAL assigned to the case will interview children, parents, and any relevant parties; review medical records and case notes in order to determine the best interests of the child. The GAL will file a report with the court with recommendations regarding custody of the child or children. The report should be under a protective order, meaning the public will not have access to the report. Under Rule 5:8B, the responsibilities of a Guardian ad Litem include, but are not limited to: 

  1. Interviewing the children and parties.
  2. Interviewing other persons possessing relevant information.
  3. Obtaining relevant documentary evidence.
  4. Conferring with counsel for the parties.
  5. Conferring with the court, on notice to counsel.
  6. Obtaining the assistance of independent experts, on leave of court.
  7. Obtaining the assistance of a lawyer for the child (Rule 5:8A) on leave of court.
  8. Such other matters as the guardian ad litem may request, on leave of court.

Who is a Guardian ad Litem? Who fits the job? 

When hiring someone, you want to make sure that they are the right fit. Professionals appropriate to appoint as a Guardian ad Litem are an attorney, social worker, or mental health professional. It is important to hire someone who has worked with children to make your child feel comfortable and at ease. At this moment in time, when there is a shortage of mental health professionals, it might make sense to consider an attorney who has worked with children. To make the court process smoother, agreeing on a GAL before the court appoints someone might also be advantageous- this would allow you or your attorney to meet and interview the professional or to find a referral that would be a good match for your family. When deciding on a GAL, it is important to look for a neutral party, someone that both parties can agree on.  This ensures the child will know that the GAL is not on anyone’s side except the child’s. Children are often told to pick, coerced into, or manipulated into choosing one parent’s side. Selecting someone both parties feel comfortable with is important or the judge will assign someone else because it could cause issues if one parent doesn’t feel at ease with the GAL.

Both mental health professionals and attorneys have rules of professional conduct. However, one advantage to choosing a lawyer is they must report to the court and be an officer for the court. Lawyers are trained to analyze a large amount of information and make recommendations to their clients- this could potentially make the process move quicker and smoother overall. However, lawyers have not earned a master’s in social work or a psychology degree so they cannot make any clinical diagnosis of family members. Lawyers can, and often do, recommend services, programs, and therapies.

Making sure that the GAL that you are hiring fits these requirements is important and can make everything easier for you, your ex, and, most importantly, your child. And speaking of hiring, who pays the GAL? The GAL fees will be part of the court order. Costs may be split between the parties. GAL fees are typically billed on an hourly basis.

Insights into the Role of the Guardian ad Litem

A Guardian ad Litem’s responsibility is to gather information to provide an insightful, informed recommendation to the court. A GAL acts as an independent fact finder and investigator. The GAL is someone the child can talk to about their situation and voice their concerns and wishes during that time. They will also meet with the parents as well as other important individuals such as stepparents or school personnel. A GAL may also review school and medical records.

Selecting a GAL to help with a custody or divorce case can decrease tension by allowing each party to have their voice heard, including ensuring that the child will know that they have someone to talk to without having to speak directly to a judge. A Guardian ad Litem is a great option to help the child and makes them feel more in control of their situation.

Back to School Tips

That’s right, you just heard the school bell ring again! School is around the corner and summer vacation is ending. A new school year can be stressful for kids. This may include the social aspect to the amount of homework that needs to be completed each night. To make sure your child is ready for the school year and has a smooth transition, here are a couple of steps to consider for your child to be prepared and equipped with the support they may need. Check out some tips and tricks below.
When school is back in session, so are activities. Having your child or the child you are caring for join a team or club can help them make new friends or develop stronger relationships. Other benefits are enhancing social skills, and helping them learn how to have a healthy relationship with a coach or mentor. Having someone in a child’s life that they can look up to can help them mature and grow to their full potential. Being on a team teaches life skills that are crucial and beneficial for any child. Sharing, relying on one another, working together towards a common goal, using communication, and so much more can be learned while playing a sport or attending an afterschool or weekend activity.
Becoming involved within your community and school can help kids branch out and feel welcome. Joining something at school can help children meet teachers that will help them in the long run. Being in a controlled environment assists children with learning to feel comfortable with trusted adults and peers.
Meeting the Teachers:
Meeting your child’s teacher is extremely important. Make sure to review if your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or an Intervention and Referral Service (I & RS) plan as well as the overall needs of the child. You may talk about what the child needs to feel comfortable in the classroom. Discussing class participation can also be beneficial because some children may feel anxious speaking or presenting in front of twenty kids.
Another school staff member be sure to meet with is the guidance counselor. If your child or the child you are caring for is struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma or any mental health issues, it is important for the guidance counselor to know at least some basic information so they can better assist and help if the child needs a break. Hopefully, you’ll be able to come home and express to your child they have someone safe to talk to during the school day if necessary. When speaking with these staff members, leave the conversation confidently that both you and them are on the same page and know your child’s needs. Follow-up meetings throughout the school year to know that your child is adjusting well is also a good idea to make sure that everything is going smoothly.
Lastly, routines are crucial for most people, especially children, because it gives them a sense of being in the know and they are able to anticipate what's going to happen on a daily basis. Children are able to thrive when knowing what is expected of them and when informed of the routine each day. Understanding that on the schedule is their karate class happens every Wednesday at 5:00 or that homework gets done after dinner is useful and can make their lives feel more orderly and calm.
For foster children, while caregivers might not always know if a visit is going to take place, scheduling something like the same restaurant to go on visit days could be helpful. Or, having the same meal like tacos or spaghetti and meatballs can work as well. This is so that the child feels some sense of routine and control over one aspect of the day by knowing the same thing will occur each time there is a visit, especially if parent visits are scheduled but not routinely occurring.
Overall, going back to school for the caretaker means getting everything in order for your child to succeed. This is for both during the school year and feeling ready for the fall in general. Making sure you have a game plan makes your child feel more comfortable, secure, and hopefully, in turn, increases the household’s flow and happiness. Alright, are you ready for your first class? I hope you took notes!
By A.G.

Camp Sparks Connections

I spent the latter part of the winter and most of the spring focusing on recruitment for Camp to Belong River Valley, now known as Rooted Kinections, Inc., a nonprofit sleep away camp dedicated to reuniting siblings separated by foster care, kinship homes and adoption. The camp helps kids see their siblings again after being apart from each other so they can cultivate deeper relationships. Rooted Kinections understands that all children deserve an opportunity to spend meaningful time at camp while also prioritizing seeing their siblings.

In addition to building sibling connection, Rooted Kinections gives kids that might not otherwise have the opportunity to attend camp. Did you go to sleep away camp as a kid? It can be an important experience for children and can profoundly impact a child’s life.

Camp provides children with an opportunity to have fun, make new friends, and learn new skills in a safe and nurturing environment. Being at camp makes kids feel more independent and in control of their lives. Most children thrive on normalcy and routine and in the summer, without school, routine is often nonexistent. For foster children, routine and normalcy may not exist in their day-to-day lives due to trauma and instability. Camp can provide the predictability of a schedule and routine that can be comforting and grounding. For instance, each day there might be swimming at 10:30, while boating is at 1:00, and arts and crafts is at 2:00. A schedule keeps kids calm, focused and able to immerse themselves in the activities. When routines are implemented, children can also feel more productive knowing that they have done multiple things that day.

Unfortunately, some children may feel isolated and alone at home or during the school year, depending on their relationships with their peers. Camp nurtures a sense of community and belonging in a lighthearted way outside of a structured learning, school environment. Some children may have never met other children outside of school to develop friendships. It allows children to interact and connect while living together. Bunks can have a strong bond that is built on trust. Being able to be in a group can make a child’s personality shine and feel most like themselves. They can make new friends and feel like they are a part of a supportive community.

One of the most exciting parts of camp for all children is the opportunity to explore new interests and activities. The costs of activities in many areas are quite expensive, only allowing parents and caregivers to only focus on one or none. Or maybe, a guardian lives in an area where a child feels like they need to pick one sport and spends 10 hours a week focusing on that alone. These reasons provide limited access to extracurricular activities while camps can provide a wide variety of activities such as arts, sports, and outdoor adventures. Getting to try out something new every couple of days is exciting and a child can learn to expand their horizons and what interests them. While participating in new activities throughout the camp day, they can also meet other kids that have similar interests, forming new friendships.

Reflecting on my own camp experience, one thing I’ve always cherished is how it developed my self-confidence. Many children may have faced difficult challenges in their lives, but camp can give them the chance to be successful in a new environment. They may have encountered numerous hardships in their lives, but camp can give them the chance to thrive in a new setting and start fresh. Self-confidence can be built while auditioning for the camp play or trying a new sport with your bunkmates. They can learn to tackle challenges and gain a sense of achievement. Imagine never being on a ropes course, and by the third day of camp being able to finish it without looking down!

Camp can be a sanctuary where they can let their guard down, engage in leisure activities and feel secure. Being in nature also helps and contributes to opening their eyes to the beauty that surrounds them. Overall, camp lets children try new things, can help them learn accountability and to be more independent, and allows them to meet new people that can be lifelong friends. It can be a place where they can relax, have fun, feel safe, and enjoy the summer as well!

Fun fact: Photo is where I attended camp as a child! In 2022, I spent the weekend as an adult… and it was amazing!

Protective Powers for You and Your Family

Estate Planning for Everyone:

Power of Attorney & Living Will

For purposes of this article, it will address three types of documents:

General Durable Power of Attorney, Durable Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will

General Durable Power of Attorney 

A General Durable Power of Attorney is used to appoint someone to handle your financial affairs while you are alive but may be affected by a disability or are otherwise incapacitated. It is sometimes also just called a Power of Attorney, but may be referred to as a Durable Power of Attorney, General Power of Attorney, and Financial Power of Attorney. This document can assist with long-term planning that may become necessary as well as any immediate needs should someone need to step in.

Durable Medical Power of Attorney 

A Durable Medical Power of Attorney is when you appoint someone to make medical decisions for you, but only if your doctor finds you are unable to make your own medical decisions. This document is also referred to as an Advanced Healthcare Directive, Proxy Directive, Health Care Proxy, Healthcare Power of Attorney. Examples of when a health care agent or health care representative is needed is when a person has Alzheimer’s disease, has a chronic illness and is in and out of a medical setting, before a person is undergoing surgery in case there is a medical complication, or when a person needs assistance making medical decisions for them because they do not have the mental capacity to do so themselves. 

Living Will

A Living Will is also referred to as a Directive to Physicians, Health Care Directive and Physicians Directive. A Living Will is used when a person is incapacitated or unconscious. A Living Will is a legal document that expresses your preferences and directions for life-sustaining procedures and measures. It contains written directions that you give for a loved one to make decisions to communicate your wishes and guides your physician and family about what you want or do not want to sustain your life.  Decisions may include things like feeding tubes, amputation, blood transfusions, and resuscitation decisions, etc.

How is a Power of Attorney or Living Will Different From a Will?

A will is used after someone passes away and is used to express how finances should be managed and divided as well as who should care for children if the parents pass away.

A Power of Attorney and Living Will are used while a person is still alive.

The Process of Writing 

The process of writing both Powers of Attorney is relatively simple and it can be revoked or updated at any time. Each family is unique; it is always recommended to speak with an attorney. They will help you draft the documents to make sure that it complies with your state’s laws and wishes.

Why Update a Power of Attorney and Living Will?

By updating a Power of Attorney and Living Will, you are authorizing someone “to speak”  for you if something happens to you. It ensures that your finances and health will be taken care of by someone you trust and who shares your values. The process of appointing someone can be a difficult decision, but it’s crucial to consider as it ensures that your wishes will be honored should you become incapacitated and are not able to make decisions. 

Life ebbs and flows, so if you change your mind about who should be named to take care of you and your finances, it is always possible to update. Updating your Power of Attorney and Living Will allows you to ensure that wishes will be honored by someone you trust and who shares your values.

Reasons why someone may update may include:

  • If someone predeceases you and they were named 

  • If there is a falling out or other issues arise where you no longer feel comfortable having the relative or friend you named. For instance, during or after a divorce or separation, documents should be reviewed and updated.

  • If you named someone and they moved across the country, but another trusted family member or friend is now nearby it would be best in case an emergency arises.

Abuse & Neglect Hearings

What happens at a fact-finding hearing?

Think of a fact-finding hearing in a child welfare case as a trial. Majority of the time a fact-finding hearing is more like a mini-trial, lasting only an hour. Although, in highly contested cases a trial or hearing can last longer than a week. The purpose is for a Judge to decide whether a child was harmed or placed at risk for abuse or neglect. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.44. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP, formerly known as DYFS) must prove to the judge whether this occurred. DCPP is New Jersey’s child protection agency and is represented by the Office of the Attorney General. The Deputy Attorney General assigned to the case will rely on evidence and proofs leading up to why litigation was filed against the child’s caregivers, typically the parent(s). The Law Guardian and defense will be able to use evidence as well to either support the claim or oppose DCPP. Evidence may include:

  • Medical records
  • EMT records
  • Drug screens
  • Police reports; Police testimony
  • Expert reports and evaluations; Expert testimony
  • DCPP investigation reports
  • Photos (often times used in physical abuse cases)
  • Caseworker testimony
  • School records, including attendance records (often used in educational neglect cases)
  • Others may also be subpoenaed to testify, including parents, children, neighbors, and other family members

Will the case be dismissed before a fact-finding hearing?

Majority of the time cases are not dismissed prior to a fact-finding hearing. Though this does differ by county and by judge. It is rare for a case to be dismissed prior to a fact- finding hearing. However, there are times this could occur such as when a child is already reunified and the parents or caregivers from whom the child was removed have already remedied the situation for why DCPP and the Court became involved. Typically, the caregivers are also not being asked to complete any services such as substance abuse treatment or parenting classes.

Thankful for an Unforgettable Year

I can’t believe it’s been a year! As I reflect upon my firm, Roth-Gutman Law, LLC, being open for a year, I can’t help but feel goosebumps. I am thankful for all the support over the year. Thankful to my clients, colleagues, mentors, friends, and family. I hope by utilizing my services, my clients feel confident when testifying in court, understand options when working with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP, formerly DYFS), were able to celebrate after an adoption was granted, felt a sigh of relief when they were granted guardianship over their now adult child, and so on. The love my clients have for the children they are calling about is real and substantial and well, there’s no other way to put it other than, it’s truly beautiful and inspiring. They often represent the community voice of what’s good in the world around us, reminding everyone that life is worth the journey along the way.
Launching a firm, especially after spending my career as a government employee, was a daunting task. I am grateful to everyone who has offered words of encouragement along the way, especially those who understand my vision to assist more families. With your support even when my courage wavered from time to time, my commitment has been steadfast. I don’t know where I would be today without all of you.
I want to take this opportunity to pass along valuable lessons I’ve learned in hopes that if anyone is reading this and thinking about opening their own firm, they can be a bit more prepared.
  1. Build your business around something you are passionate about.
  • I always enjoyed helping other people. In fact, I could have easily gone down the road of social worker or educator. But my life experiences led me to become a lawyer, focusing on child welfare, adoption, guardianship and being appointed as a GAL in child custody disputes.

  1. Done is better than perfect.
  • I’m still learning this one every day. It’s ok to not be a perfectionist at times. I say “at times” because there are some legal documents where being a perfectionist is important!

  1. Ask a lot of questions and ask for advice.
  • Asking for help can save hours of time and asking for advice from others can be mutually beneficial. Who knew I would find a mentor by listening to a trusted colleague and picking up the phone? Lately, every day I tell myself how lucky and grateful I am for those two people in life.

  1. Be patient and just breathe.
  • It takes time to build a business and being patient is hard. I try to meditate about 10 minutes a few days a week and I will continue to meditate for my sake and those around me, especially on the days where I am not quite as patient with myself as I should be.

  1. Timelines
  • Everyone is busy, especially coming out of the pandemic and making up for what feels like lost time. People will respond when they are ready.

  1. Exercise a couple days a week.
  • I finally understand why people say exercise provides them with a stress relief or outlet. Sometimes I go for a 20–30 minute walk to clear my head or to work out a complicated legal or business issue. Usually, when I sit back down at my computer, I’m able to focus better. It’s a shame it took decades to learn this lesson.

  1. Know your numbers
  • It’s important to review your finances before you leave a job and often. Building a business takes time and is an investment. If you need a good accountant or Certified Financial Planner, I’m happy to refer.

  1. Accountability is key
  • Some people have work spouses, I have an accountability partner. (Shout out to Asha Paulose We started our firms around the same time. We try to meet weekly to discuss firm life- marketing, outreach, organizations, finances, time management, family, etc. Find someone you trust to check in with regularly.

  1. Don’t let fear control you
  • The fear of opening my own firm was greater than actually doing it. Sometimes we just have to be brave.

  1. Schedule time for yourself, family and friends.
    There are three main reasons why people launch their own businesses:
  • They want to help people
  • They believe they have a great product or service to offer
  • They want to spend time with the people they love… so don’t forget the last one!

This year has been incredible. It’s been full of successes and challenges but that’s what makes a business worth growing. I am so thankful for the opportunity to practice law in an area I am passionate about and can’t wait to continue to learn more as my firm grows. If I can be of assistance to anyone, please don’t hesitate to reach out.


Filing for Guardianship is important for many families. This article will focus on the specific importance for adults with disabilities. 

As a loving, caring parent you spent all your time on top of medical, education, extracurriculars, therapies and financial decisions while your child was under 18 years old. Now that they are about to turn 18 or are over 18 years old, the law treats them as an adult that is able to make all those decisions. Not all people over 18  have the capacity or ability to pick up all those responsibilities. It’s only natural to want to continue to protect and take care of your child, especially if they need you to continue to make all or some of those same decisions for them. 

This can be a difficult transition for both you and your child, but filing for Guardianship can help ease the process. 

What is Guardianship?

  • The power to legally make medical, legal and financial decisions for another person who is incapable of administering some or all of those decisions on their own

  • The Court will determine a person’s mental competency 

  • Legal relationship that is enforceable via a Court order

Why is it important to file for Guardianship?

Once an individual turns 18, they are legally considered an adult and have the right to make their own decisions, even if they are not capable of doing so. It is important to file for Guardianship to ensure that they are protected and that their needs are met. Doing so closest to 18 years old will provide continuity and stability of care. Prior to filing for Guardianship, the potential guardian (often times parent) should consider:

  • Day to day assistance needed for daily living activities:

    • Eating

    • Mobility - walker, wheelchair, transferring in and out of bed

    • Bathing, Dressing and Grooming - unable, assistance or needs to be reminded

    • Shopping, Cooking, Cleaning, Managing Finances

  • Medical

  • Legal 

  • Education

  • Vocation

  • Financial exploitation by others

  • You are concerned about your child’s understanding of the world around them

What is the process to file for a Guardianship?

Filing a Guardianship in each state varies. In New Jersey, the process of filing for Guardianship is through the local Surrogate’s Court. In general, it involves filing a petition know as a Complaint with evidence. Attached there are many documents, including certifications of two medical professionals, certification of assets, and certification for background checks. If an IEP exists, attaching it may be beneficial as well. The Court requires the potential guardian to watch a training video, serve notice to family members and possibly other government offices as well as send the court a proposed order along with a $200 filing fee.  

Once the Surrogate’s Office receives the filing, the court will appoint a lawyer to represent the individual’s interests. There may be a cost for the court appointed attorney. That attorney will meet with the individual and interview family members about whether the proposed Guardianship should be granted. A hearing will be held, where the court will consider the evidence, as well as the court appointed attorney’s report. the The judge will make a decision about whether to grant guardianship. If  granted, the Surrogate’s Office will issue a Court Order and Letters of Guardianship can be ordered for a $50 fee. 

If you have concerns about your child's ability to make decisions, it's important to seek advice from their teachers, medical professionals, therapists, and an attorney. A Guardianship is not a catch all for everyone, sometimes another type of legal document called a Power of Attorney may be more appropriate. Please make sure to seek legal advice regarding which is the most appropriate option for you and your family. This article is not intended to give legal advice rather to serve a general overview of Guardianship.

Untangled: Teen Transitions

I recently read the book Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour, PhD. Though I am not a therapist, as a result of my previous position, working on Department of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCPP”) cases representing numerous teens, I was and am frequently asked for advice on young adults. I seek out possible books to recommend and found this one at the recommendation of a lawyer mom to better understand teens. After reviewing numerous psychological assessments, therapy reports, and parenting skills evaluations over the years, this book is a valuable resource. It is geared towards teen girls, but the book could be helpful for preteens, all genders, and any parent or caregiver with a child 9 and older. The author, Dr. Lisa Damour, is a psychologist with insight and practical advice about navigating young adults as they move towards adulthood and growing their emotional intelligence. She touches upon seven main areas:
  1. Moving from being a young child into adolescence
  2. Gradually parting with the traditional family nest and finding a new circle
  3. Managing feelings
  4. Confronting caregivers
  5. Teens taking charge of their own lives
  6. Dating and romance
  7. Embracing independence and self-care

As adults, we know each of these areas is accompanied by unique challenges and opportunities. The book provides guidance on how to support children through each stage. The anecdotes and research are comprehensive, informative, and accessible. She provides tips on how to have open and honest conversations surrounding obstacles that most parents or caregivers (such as foster parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and adult siblings) will face. The book emphasizes how to create a supportive environment to build a child’s resilience and confidence as they become more independent.


There are many days children come home wanting to vent to the adult in their life. Naturally, the adult gets worked up and wants to “fix” the situation, only to find the teen moved on immediately after unloading their feelings. Instead of instantly becoming enmeshed in the situation, Dr. Damour recommends validating their feelings and figuring out:

  • whether the child wants to vent and wants you to listen,
  • is asking for advice, or
  • wants the adult to take action.
(Good advice for adults, too). How tricky it can be to figure out which path is the correct one! She gives examples of how to ask non-judgmental open-ended questions so your relationship remains strong and not a power struggle.


In addition to this example, the book covers a wide range of topics starting with pre-teen years of their outlook on family and friends to heavier topics, including body image, relationships, sexuality, and mental health. While most topics in the book are geared towards children in middle and high school, the book could provide helpful foreshadowing on how to approach topics as they come up for parents, caregivers, teachers, or mentors of 9–12 year-olds. I find the title to be a bit narrow considering the true audience for the book.


It also confronts the idea that no matter how much control an adult wants over their child’s development, friends, dating relationships and experiences, helping children move into independence is based on empowering them to make responsible decisions. Though, I do want to warn that teens taking the lead on protection and moderation could understandably be controversial to some adults reading this book as there is a divisive outlook on certain topics particularly in the last two chapters of the book. Nevertheless, Dr. Damour illustrates the reasons behind teen behavior, explaining the teenage mind-set so even if a progressive approach is counter intuitive it is certainly worth a read.


She tells the reader when to worry with concrete examples. In a society of over-medicated children, Dr. Damour explains that a decent amount of “acting crazy” during teen years is perfectly normal and shows how a strong relationship along with a couple of therapy sessions could be helpful.


One of my favorite parts of the book is the continuous discussion regarding adults managing their own stress and emotions when approached with thorny topics or attitudes. Some of the real-life examples were humorous, such as a series of panicking messages sent by a parent to the teen’s therapist over the course of hours with the last one ending with never mind everything’s okay. It makes me wonder how often therapists, social workers and psychologists like Dr. Damour encounter this in their practices. I know as a child welfare family lawyer and guardianship attorney, this can happen quite often in my field as well, especially when it comes to child custody cases.


After reading this book, I can see why it’s a New York Times Bestseller as it helps caregivers, guardians, and parents know when it’s time to worry about a teens behavior. It’s interesting to see the advice on how to parent in today’s world verse more “old-school” parenting which might be particularly helpful to grandparents, parents with their oldest approaching the teen years, and resource parents (foster parents). If you are going to grab a book at the library or want to order a parenting advice book, this is a good one to start with as it covers testing boundaries, appropriate behavior, how to address a rough patch, and much more. Happy reading!

Intuitive Eating: A New Year’s Resolution

This article is cross posted on Intuitive Psychotherapy NYC.

New Year’s resolutions often revolve around diet, body image, losing weight, exercising, and eating. Wanting to be healthy is important: making sure one attends a yearly physical or well-visit, eating fruits and veggies, drinking plenty of water and moving our bodies. Intuitive eating is based on physical and emotional health and I urge you to consider making it this year’s New Year’s Resolution. Intuitive eating is about having a healthy outlook towards food and body image, satisfying hunger, and making peace with food. At the end of this article are the 10 guiding principles of Intuitive Eating.

Obsessively worrying about counting calories, what someone eats and looks like is not healthy and can cross the line between being healthy and having an eating disorder. The concept of dieting is not new, some would argue it’s been around for centuries, but the phenomenon of the impact on tweens and teens has escalated significantly in recent years. Per the National Eating Disorder Association, almost 30 million individuals in the United States will suffer from an eating disorder during their lifetime. Eating disorders are serious, but oftentimes overlooked when children are in Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCPP” formerly, DYFS) care and custody. After all, it is impossible to tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. Eating disorders among children in the child welfare system are often overlooked because other alleged abuse and neglect issues are at the forefront of everyone’s minds when speaking with foster children. Yet, eating disorders manifest in different ways depending on an individual, and should not be disregarded in foster children. It is also important to point out that eating disorders affect all genders, not only girls. Please seek out an eating disorder specialist who is a licensed social worker or psychologist if necessary.

What I learned working as a child welfare lawyer is that there are three recurring themes. The first is children who hoard food. They bring home a backpack of extra food from school lunch, then hide the food in their rooms or they go to a friend’s home and bring home food. Food might be found in drawers, closets or under the bed. Empty wrappers or spoiling food may also be found. Children who fit into this category might have experienced food insecurity, meaning a lack of food in their home. According to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, 175, 000 children face hunger. There are a myriad of reasons consisting of lack of transportation, lack of finances, living in an area considered to be a food desert, with no grocery stores nearby, or an adult who has difficulty leaving the home. It is very important not to punish this behavior but rather to be patient and teach the child food is available and should remain in and near the kitchen. 

Also concerning is binging and/or starving oneself. Eating disorders occur in all sized bodies. Though these appear to be opposite in nature, they are both about control and feeling vulnerable about a lack of power over one’s life. Foster children or children who have open DCPP cases often voice wanting more of a say and control over their lives, regarding living circumstances, placement, visitation and school. They are unable to control the actions of their biological parent or guardian, unable to control where DCPP is placing them and unable to control a judge’s ruling. I urge caseworkers, resource parents, grandparents and other family members to emphasize things children can control. Children can speak to their Law Guardian, attend a court hearing and speak directly to a judge, they can make recommendations as to where they wish to live, they can request and recommend services and activities such as family therapy, individual therapy, anger management, or an extracurricular activity to participate in. Caregivers can place emphasis on children’s ability to control who they are friends with, the order to complete their homework assignments in, chores for the week, haircuts or styles, clothes and decorating their room.

A child might not be ready to speak about the reason why they feel a lack of control in their lives, therefore their eating habits might paint a picture of their trauma. Children physically or sexually abused might be triggered by certain foods if those foods remind them of the abuse endured. Food may also be a conscious or subconscious way to reduce unwanted attention. 

Remember that commenting on weight is not just about weight. Without additional information, eating, weight, perfectionist tendencies, and body image, might also encompass trauma, medical conditions, grief and loss, or mental health. If a child is telling an adult they are hungry, per Intuitive Eating guidelines, they should eat. Having them go to bed hungry could impact their growth and development as well as cause unhealthy eating habits. 

Emotional eating can be healthy but caregivers should notice if there are clues as to whether a check-in conversation needs to happen. For instance, if a child is coming home every Tuesday and Thursday after their biological parent visits and is emotional eating, that child is using food to cope with feelings surrounding their visit. And, that’s ok! It is normal to be emotional around a visit day. In fact, it may be of concern if there are no emotions going on surrounding a visits ever. Certainly, I am not proposing to grill a child about their visit as this would be highly inappropriate but you can casually ask about the visits. Visits are personal. If you notice a trend, it would be best for a therapist or the Law Guardian to speak with the child about how they feel about visits. 

Below is a list of the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating per Stephanie Roth-Goldberg, LCWS-R, CEDS-S, founder of Intuitive Psychotherapy of NYC

  1. Rejecting a diet mentality (avoiding trends and fad)
  2. Honoring hungry cues (by eating)
  3. Making peace with food (stop labeling. For example: too many calories, junk food, etc)
  4. Challenge food rules (food is not good or bad)
  5. Find satisfaction (eat satisfying foods)
  6. Listen to your body to determine if it’s full
  7. Be kind to your emotions (with and without the use of food)
  8. Respect your body
  9. Movement and exercise
  10. Health and nutrition (science exists and it’s okay to consider it as fuel for your body)

Showing consistent support and creating a non-judgmental household as a caregiver are the most beneficial actions you can take to show compassion.

An Intro to the LGBTQIAP+ Community and What You Need to Know as a Family Member & Foster Parent

The purpose of this article to is provide a warm, welcoming environment and some basic information.

What does LGBTQIAP+ stand for?

L= Lesbian- someone who identifies as a woman attracted to another person who identifies as a woman. Lesbian is a sexual orientation term.

G = Gay- someone who identifies as a man attracted to another person who identifies as a man. Gay is a sexual orientation term.

B = Bisexual- someone who is attracted to both their sex and others. Also, known as “Bi.” Bisexual is a sexual orientation term.

T = Trans – an inclusive term for someone who is gender non-conforming to conventional or cultural expectations or who identifies as non-binary or genderfluid. An example is someone whose sex at birth is female or male yet identifies as the opposite sex. Trans is a gender identity term.

Q = Queer or Questioning – someone who knows they are not heterosexual (straight) but is exploring their identity or do not want to identify themselves as anything more. (Please be aware the term “Queer” can be used is a powerful, positive way for someone to identify or it can be used as a hateful slur. Tone and context are extremely important.) Queer is a sexual orientation term.

I = Intersex- people who were born not fitting into the conventional definitions of female or male and may possess both sex characteristics (hormones, chromosomes, etc.).

A = Asexual- someone who may feel attracted to others but not in a sexual way, more of a friendship or can feel attracted, in a romantic manner but minimally. Asexual is a sexual orientation term.

P = Pansexual- someone who is attracted to another based on their personality; someone who is romantically, physically or emotionally attracted to any person, regardless of gender. Pansexual is a sexual orientation term.

+ = And more – there are over 100 sexualities such as androsexual, aromatic, graysexual, bicurious, and so much more.

Now that we have had a quick introduction to the LGBTQIAP+ community let’s talk about the child welfare system.

There are families looking to foster or adopt who might not want to open their homes and hearts to those who identify themselves as part of this community. If foster children is placed into a resource home with a non-accepting family, this can lead to further trauma by treating the child differently, bullying, ostracizing, humiliating, and abuse. 78% of LGBTQIAP+ children run away or are removed from unsafe, unhealthy or unwelcomed homes because of their identity. 56% end up homeless because they felt safer than in the home they were placed in the foster care system such as DCPP. The hostility faced in the home can lead to depression, anxiety, the juvenile justice system and sexual violence. Twice the amount of LGBTQIAP+ children report being treated poorly in the child welfare system.

As a foster or resource parent, it is important to show representation to make everyone feel welcome. Around 30% of youth in the system identify as LGBTQIAP+. Keep in mind, a child might even be placed into your home due to unaccepting parents. You don’t need to paint your walls rainbow to do this (but if you do and everyone in the house feels comfortable, go for it!) But asking your family if they would be comfortable with a hate has no home here flag or sign, a ceramic rainbow on the mantle, reading/displaying books like Rick by Alex Gino or Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins, and subtle touches to make your house feel accepting is a great idea. Or, if the child you are fostering isn’t comfortable (because they might feel overwhelmed or have faced trauma in the past) then that is totally fine. Maybe buying rainbow shoelaces is all your child needs or maybe they just want a pride flag in their room.

Coming out

If someone comes out to their family or the child you are fostering comes out, it is important to be supportive but not overwhelming (It is important to note that although at the moment, only LGBTQIAP+ people are told they are the ones that need to come out, whether you are straight or part of the LGBTQIAP+, it might be radical to say this but it might make things easier on a child if everyone in the household is verbal about how they identify).

For example, if your foster child comes out as bisexual and says, “I need to talk to you. I’m bi.” Your reaction should be something like saying you are proud of them. Or, you will love them no matter what they decide to identify themselves as. Or giving them a hug is also a great way to show love and make them welcome. Adding they can always talk to you will make them feel more comfortable and making sure they know that they will be treated the same as everyone else is important. You should also ask them important questions such as, do you want your biological parents, caseworker, and school to know? Or, do you want me to share the information with your caseworker? If a child comes out as non-binary or trans, you might want to ask if they are keeping the same name and pronouns. Make sure to always refer to the child’s identify in the same way they describe and see it.

Speaking of reactions, saying “Are you sure this isn’t a phase?” can make others feel uncomfortable. This is highly inappropriate to say because when someone figures out they are not heterosexual, they have gone through a lot of thought. They already have had the struggle of having to figure out who they are, which is a lot.  Someone asking them “Are you sure this isn’t a phase?” may close to the door to them being open and will not help them.

If the child is religious, they might feel there is no longer a safe place for them while worshipping. There are segments of many religions that are inviting and accepting of the LGPTQIAP+ community.

Hopefully, this little article helped you learn more about the LGBTQIAP+ community and how you can help make those that identify with this community more welcome. The concept from this article stems from the bipartisan passage and new law, the Respect for Marriage Act, requiring all states to recognize same-sex marriages and interracial marriages as well as and in response to the backlash and discrimination happening all over the country against LGBTQIAP+ community.

Roth-Gutman Law is an ally to all.

The following websites helped create this article:

By A.G. & Jill Roth-Gutman