New Jersey Enacts Siblings’ Bill of Rights for Children Being Placed Outside of the Home
At the start of 2023, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed S1034/A1357 into law. The law, commonly known as the Siblings’ Bill of Rights, adds provisions to existing New Jersey law to strengthen sibling bonds when one or more children are placed outside of the home. The goal of the new law is to support children who wish to maintain relationships with their siblings following an out-of-home placement. The law also allows siblings to have a voice in the permanency planning process for their siblings.
Read on to learn more about this important new law. For help with child custody matters during or after divorce or for unmarried couples with children in Union, Middlesex, or Essex County, contact the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro to speak with a knowledgeable and compassionate Union, New Jersey, family law attorney.
New Law Gives Siblings a Voice in the Out-of-Home Placement or Their Brothers and Sisters
This law grew out of a Department of Children and Families Youth Council convened in January 2020 to identify issues and priorities for children involved in the child welfare system. One consistent refrain from the council emphasized how important sibling relationships were for maintaining stability and ensuring future success. The recommendations of the council led to dual pieces of legislation – S1034 and A1357 – that were introduced in January 2022 and finally approved a year later in January 2023.
In New Jersey, children can be removed from the home upon a finding of parental abuse or neglect. In most cases, CP&P will serve children without removing them from the home, except when necessary to prevent a child from harm. This may include placement with other family, friends, or foster care. Removal can occur without going to court in emergencies, but court approval is generally required either before removal or within a couple of days after an emergency removal has taken place.
The Sibling’s Bill of Rights supplements and adds to the Child Placement Bill of Rights which already put in place guarantees for children placed outside of the home. The new additions put in a host of protections that speak directly to the importance of the sibling relationship for children removed from the home. These provisions include:
- To be placed in the closest proximity possible to other siblings who are not in out-of-home placement or if placement together is not possible, when it is in the best interests of the child;
- To be allowed to participate in the permanency planning decisions of the child’s siblings, whenever appropriate;
- To be allowed to invite siblings to participate in the child’s own permanency planning decision;
- To know or be made aware of expectations for continued contact with the child’s siblings after adoption or transfer of permanent physical and legal custody to a caregiver, subject to the approval of the adoptive parents or caregiver;
- To be promptly informed about changes in sibling placements or permanency planning goals;
- To be actively involved in the lives of the child’s siblings, including planning and attending celebrations, birthdays, holidays, graduations, and other meaningful milestones, to the greatest extent possible;
- To not have sibling visits, including phone calls and virtual visits, be denied as a result of behavioral consequences when residing in a resource family home or congregate care setting; and
- To be provided updated contact information for all siblings at least annually, including a current telephone number, address, and email address, unless not in the best interests of one or more siblings.
New Law Builds on Existing Laws, Rights, and Protections
As noted, the Sibling’s Bill of Rights supplements and adds to existing legal protections for children placed outside of the home. Provisions of the Child Placement Bill of Rights which were already in place before the addition of the Siblings’ Bill of Rights require DCF to use its best efforts to provide children with the following, as appropriate:
- Placement outside the home only after every reasonable effort has been made to keep the child in the home
- Placement with a relative
- Placement in the same community
- Placement in the same setting as a sibling who is also being placed outside the home
- Regular visitation with parents or legal guardian
- Regular visitation and contact with siblings if separated upon placement outside the home
- Placement in the least restrictive appropriate setting
- Freedom from physical and psychological abuse and repeated changes in placement before a permanent placement or being returned home
- Regular contact with the child’s caseworker
- A placement plan that reflects the child’s best interests and is designed to facilitate a timely and appropriate permanent placement or return home
- High-quality services designed to maintain and advance the child’s mental and physical well-being
- An educational program that will maximize the child’s potential
- Adequate, safe and appropriate food, clothing and housing
- Adequate and appropriate medical care
- Freedom from unwarranted physical restraint and isolation
Contact the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro for Help With Child Custody Matters in Union, Middlesex, and Essex Counties
In a press release announcing the signing of the New Jersey Siblings’ Bill of Rights, Governor Murphy was quoted as stating that one of the goals of his administration has been to make sure the children and families in New Jersey’s welfare systems are treated with “compassion and empathy.” The new law has been roundly applauded by youth council members and child welfare organizations in New Jersey as a positive step toward improving the lives of children in the child welfare system. We join this chorus and congratulate the New Jersey Legislature and Governor’s office for enacting this important, family-friendly law.
At the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro, we work every day with families in crisis who are struggling to make sense of difficult family matters and craft solutions that make sense for parents and children alike. For help with issues related to divorce, child custody, or other family law matters in Union, Middlesex, or Essex counties, call the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro at 908-964-0102 to share your concerns with our experienced New Jersey family law attorney.