I think that parental substance abuse is a form of child abuse.
I think that what is needed in New Jersey is a structured, quick, efficient, and effective system for a parent who believes that the other parent is abusing substances to have immediate access to the Court.We do this when there's violence. In New Jersey, we have the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act which allows someone to go to Court with no notice and immediately obtain an Order of Temporary Protection, under appropriate circumstances.
There are judges, hearing officers, social workers, and related professionals in the Monmouth County Family Court in Freehold NJ from 9 AM to 4:30 PM daily, and the municipalities take it from there overnight, on weekends, and on holidays.
There is a detailed statutory framework for how domestic violence cases are handled.
The system works, and it works consistently and relatively predictably.
There's always some place for someone who feels that their life or safety is endangered to go when threatened by someone who they are or have been in a relationship with.
It wasn't always that way, though. The court system and legislature had to, over the decades, create a mechanism for immediate, forceful, and predictable action to right the awful wrongs that constitute domestic violence.
I suggest that we need to same type of system when a parent is abusing substances and thereby putting a child at risk. We have what used to be known as the "Division of Youth and Family Services" (DYFS), now known as "the Division of Child Protection and Permanancy," but their assistance, as good as it can be, is somewhat limited. Clearly they respond to serious emergencies.
But many cases involve substance abuse in scenarios that are inappropriate but don't quite rise to the level of what DCPP might consider an emergency.
Of course, we do have a provision known as an Order to Show Cause, which can be used in some limited circumstances, but in my experience, judges over the last five years have become reluctant to consider most Orders to Show Cause, thereby leaving the vast majority of people who feel that they have a crisis involving the other parent's substance abuse in a very difficult position.
The concerned parent must file a motion, which takes usually at least a month for a judge to decide, often more time than that.
Meanwhile, the child is at risk while the concerned parent is waiting usually a month or more for his or her day in Court.
That is way too long in many of these cases.
We need to modify the way that our New Jersey Family Court treats these situations. We need to develop a system for a concerned parent to have immediate access to a New Jersey Family Court judge for proper handling of alleged parental substance abuse cases.
I believe that we need to come up with a system that is similar to the way we handle restraining orders, so that a parent can come to court with little or no notice and get immediate protection for a child through a statutorily created agency.
This agency would be empower to immediately hear cases and, when appropriate, take immediate protective action when it is alleged that one parent is putting a child at risk by abusing alcohol or drugs.