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State in Interest of D.F.

Decided: December 22, 1976.

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF D.F., A JUVENILE


Bischoff, Morgan and E. Gaulkin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Morgan, J.A.D.

Morgan

The Division of Youth and Family Services of the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies (DYFS) appeals from the final judgment of the Camden County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, reported at 138 N.J. Super. 383 (1975), placing a juvenile delinquent under the care of DYFS pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4-61(e) and simultaneously ordering DYFS to place the juvenile in the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital for psychiatric treatment so as to impose upon DYFS primary responsibility for the cost of his psychiatric care.

The issue presented arose during a hearing directed toward determining the appropriate disposition to be made

of the 15-year-old juvenile who, following a plea of guilty, had been adjudicated delinquent for 17 acts of larceny. The trial judge's findings of fact, not challenged as evidentially unsupported, are recited in his opinion and will not be repeated here. The essence of these findings is that D.F. was suffering from a psychiatric disorder of considerable magnitude and was in need of care for that condition. Based upon these findings, and following consideration of testimony of doctors called by counsel for D.F. concerning the best facilities available to provide the needed treatment, the trial judge ordered, as a condition of probation, "that the juvenile D.F. be placed immediately in The Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, with the financial costs to be borne by the Division. These costs may be supplemented by funds from any other source, but the primary financial obligation will remain with the State." Id. at 397. Pursuant to this order, D.F. was placed in the chosen facility at a cost of $110 a day or approximately $3,300 a month. As of the date the Division's brief was submitted to this court, costs in the amount of $17,000 had accrued for D.F.'s care at the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital. The reasons given by the judge for the order were the found need of the juvenile for treatment in a structured psychiatric facility, the juvenile's right thereto stemming from the court's parens patriae obligation, and a juvenile's constitutional right to treatment adequate to his needs.

It should be emphasized that DYFS was never made a formal party to the proceedings before the Juvenile Court; rather it appeared in response to a request that it provide assistance in determining the court's choice among available dispositional alternatives. Hence, the issues raised here were never fully developed in an adversary proceeding and have only emerged with clarity on this appeal.

DYFS does not question the court's authority to place the juvenile in its care or, in the alternative, its authority to order his placement for treatment in a particular facility without the participation of DYFS. Rather, it urges that the

court is without authority to do both so as to impose upon DYFS the cost of treatment in a facility chosen by the court.*fn1 DYFS argues that to permit the court to do this would unduly hamper its ability to discharge its statutory duties and would seriously threaten its fiscal ability to function in a fair and equitable manner as to all of its juvenile charges.

The solution to the problem presented must be found in the legislation defining the scope of DYFS's responsibility and the jurisdiction of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court over juveniles coming before it for disposition. With respect to DYFS, that agency is the most recent creation of the Legislature designed to provide for the care of children who are neglected, abused or otherwise in need of nonparental supervision. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-1 et seq. In delegating this responsibility over such children the Legislature has invested DYFS with broad authority to determine the proper care and treatment of those juveniles coming within its jurisdiction. See N.J.S.A. 30:4C-3, 4. Broad supervisory control over the care, custody and guardianship of eligible children is provided for in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-11; authority with respect to maintenance and supervision of such children is granted in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-25. There is no question but that DYFS is authorized to place a child in an appropriate institution, even a private one, if it deems such care essential. See N.J.S.A. 30:4C-26; N.J.S.A. 30:4C-11; N.J.S.A. 30:4C-4(i).

Notwithstanding the breadth of DYFS's responsibility, its authority to act on behalf of the children coming under its care is limited by its available financial resources. Indeed, throughout the legislation pertaining to the authority and responsibility of DYFS runs the recurrent theme of fiscal responsibility. Only after attempts are made to refer a particular juvenile to other available sources of support should

DYFS accept custody and provide care; even then, the obligation incurred on behalf of any juvenile must be made "within the limits of legislative appropriations, to provide for all children in similar circumstances." N.J.S.A. 30:4C-13. DYFS represents that it presently has a responsibility for approximately 43,000 children, only a portion of whom are adjudicated delinquents or in need of supervision; each has to be cared for according to his or her needs. Since the resources available by appropriation are necessarily finite, that which is expended for the care of one child is unavailable to others who also may have needs as imperative. Hence, the mandate to provide care within limits of the resources available to all children in similar circumstances. By centralizing responsibility in DYFS for allocating available ...


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