The New Jersey Child Placement Advisory Council (NJ CPAC) began more than 40 years ago as a grassroots organization of concerned citizens. Alarmed by the rising number of infants abandoned after birth and children and youth languishing in foster care, members of the New Jersey Junior League began work toward changing the state’s laws affecting children. In 1976, New Jersey State Senator Alexander Menza announced support for legislation to establish a citizen review of children in foster care cases.
When the Child Placement Review (CPR) Act became effective on Oct. 1, 1978, New Jersey became the second state to enact an independent citizen review system. From the beginning, NJ CPAC has worked for the well-being of New Jersey children and youth. Today, New Jersey’s child welfare system is effectively working for the children and youth under its supervision. Children are benefitting from appropriate funding of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the passage of federal laws that ensure child welfare agencies employ best practices in servicing at-risk children, an enhanced understanding of child development and the trauma of removal, and increased judicial oversight of cases. Despite such advances, work still needs to be done to ensure that no child -- regardless of race, ethnicity or economic class -- remains in foster care any longer than necessary.
Foster care children and youth need family and a safe permanent place to call home.
What is NJ CPAC?
The New Jersey Child Placement Advisory Council (NJ CPAC or CPAC) is a board of court appointed and trained New Jersey volunteers dedicated to the timely and appropriate permanent placement of all children and youth in foster care. NJ CPAC operates under the auspices of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).
What does NJ CPAC do?
NJ CPAC advocates for the best interests of children and youth placed into foster care. “Out-of-home placement” is the term used by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (CP&P) to refer to children in foster care.
NJ CPAC collaborates with the Judiciary, Executive and Legislative branches of state government to meet the goal of safety, timely permanency and the well-being of children and youth in out-of-home placement. The board also partners with a network of state and private agencies and non-profits involved in the welfare of New Jersey children and families. Many board members are also engaged in local community efforts to connect children, youth and families with essential prevention services and resources.
NJ CPAC’s legal mandates are defined under the Child Placement Review (CPR) Act of 1978 and include the following:
NJ CPAC issues an annual report advising the New Jersey supreme court, governor and legislature on whether New Jersey is meeting the needs of the children and youth placed in its care. The report includes recommendations for system-wide improvements and data metrics on the state-wide Child Placement Review (CPR) volunteer program.
NJ CPAC regularly communicates with the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) on issues related to the smooth operations of CPR boards, such as training and recruitment.
NJ CPAC meets annually with the New Jersey chief justice and the acting administrative director of the AOC to discuss recent accomplishments, findings and recommendations.
NJ CPAC’s Legislative Committee meets with state legislators and/or legislative aides to advocate for laws, amendments to laws, and policies aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of the CPR program and on strengthening fragile families. The NJ CPAC Legislative Committee may also address legislative hearings in support of its goals and advocacy efforts.
NJ CPAC offers training at no cost to volunteers and professionals in the child welfare community. NJ CPAC workshops and conferences are opportunities for the community to learn about current evidence-based child development research and changes in methods, case practice and laws that improve the progression of children in placement and their struggling families. Nationally recognized experts are frequently featured, and NJ CPAC has a history of bringing emerging issues and new programs to the community’s forefront.
The NJ CPAC annual conference also emphasizes peer-to-peer sharing and networking.
The NJ CPAC Ambassador Program strengthens relationships and communications between NJ CPAC and CPR board volunteers. Members of the NJ CPAC executive board visit county CPR boards to observe, learn and to share best practices with all boards.
What is a Child Placement Review (CPR) board?
Every NJ CPAC executive board member also volunteers on a county CPR board. CPR boards are composed of court appointed and trained volunteers who review cases of all children and youth entering out-of-home placement. Our mission is to help ensure that no one remains in placement for an unnecessarily extended period.
There are more than 40 CPR boards operating under the Judiciary’s volunteer services’ program.
What is the 60 Day Review?
The purpose of the Initial CPR Board Review, sometimes referred to as the “60 Day Review,” is to verify that the CP&P is safeguarding a child’s best interests through adherence to policies, protocols and timing requirements. CPR boards discuss CP&P’s progress and plans for permanency. Should reunification with the birth parent(s) not be in a child’s best interests, alternative placements are explored and identified.
When the review is complete, CPR boards prepare recommendations to the judge responsible for oversight of the case. Recommendations may involve reconciling missing and/or incomplete documentation and plans and identifying issues that could impede case processing and delay scheduled court hearings. The board may bring to the judge’s attention recommended services or medical assessments not identified in the case plan. Or the board might convey that the CP&P and/or the child’s parent(s) are not meeting required actions for reunification. Based on the board’s recommendations, the judge may issue a court order requiring compliance.
What is the difference between a CPR volunteer and a CASA volunteer?
With rare exceptions, volunteers on a CPR board review all out-of-placement cases once, 60 days after a child has been placed. On completion of the Initial CPR Review, the board provides the judge with a completed recommendation form.
Like CPR volunteers, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers approach cases solely from the perspective of what is in the best interests of the child. Unlike CPR volunteers who review all cases once, who are appointed by the judge, follow a single child’s case from its opening to closing. The CASA volunteer prepares a detailed written report for the judge after interviewing all involved parties including educators, health care professionals and resource parents.
During the Initial CPR Board Review, a CPR board may recommend that a CASA volunteer be assigned to a child, particularly when there are extensive emotional or medical needs.
What is “out-of-home” placement?
The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) focuses on preserving and strengthening families and on preventing the need to place children outside of their homes. Out-of-home placement, commonly called “foster care,” occurs when a child needs to be removed from the home of a biological parent(s) or legal guardian to ensure the child’s safety and well-being. Out-of-home placement is intended as a temporary solution for children who need to be removed from their home until the home situation can be stabilized and deemed safe.
What is “reunification”?
All children need the security of growing up in a permanent family. When children are removed from the home to ensure their safety, the primary goal for most is to return home as soon as possible. The process of reuniting families is called reunification. For reunification to occur, every effort is made to build on the family’s strengths and make the home safe, healthy and stable. This journey is multi-faceted and often involves that intensive services be provided to the parent, child and/or other family members.
What is “permanency”?
Permanency in child welfare can have different meanings depending on the child, family, and circumstance. Generally, it refers to a permanent living arrangement that is in the best interests of the child, whether residing with a parent, relative or with an unrelated adult through a legal arrangement, such as adoption. In nearly all cases reviewed by CPR boards, safely reuniting a child with the child’s parent(s) is the first goal. For older children and youth, the goal may be an educational program leading to independent living.
A case plan identifies a case goal and specific requirements and/or services to be completed to allow for the reunification of a family. The aim is for a child to remain in placement for as short a time as possible.
When the primary goal is returning the child to the home (reunification), a secondary case goal, a concurrent plan, is required should permanency not be achieved within the legally prescribed timeframes detailed in the case plan.
How do I join a CPR board?
How do I join NJ CPAC?
A CPR board volunteer must be in good standing for at least 12 months before applying for a position with NJ CPAC. Contact NJ CPAC for more information.