There are few things more frightening for a parent than when an investigator from the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) comes knocking. DCPP is a powerful state agency with broad investigative powers, and while they play an important and legitimate role in protecting children, they can also exceed the scope of their authority and violate parental rights. The unintended consequences of these abuses of power can mean permanent and lasting damage to a family and, ultimately, the children they were meant to protect.
If you are under DCPP investigation, you are likely going to engage a complicated, confusing, and unnerving process. You need an advocate on your side who knows the process and law, and who can fight for your rights as a parent and protect your family. Bhatt Law Group’s experienced Jersey City family law attorneys can help you navigate the confusing maze created by DCPP investigations.
Call us today at (201) 798-8000 for a free consultation regarding your case.
How DCPP Investigations Begin
Typically, DCPP begins an investigation once somebody makes a report of child abuse or neglect. These allegations are usually made by phone, and under New Jersey law, a person who believes a child is being abused or neglected has a duty to report it to the authorities or be cited as a disorderly person by law enforcement. Reporting individuals are protected by confidentiality and are mostly shielded from liability. There are many kinds of allegations that may be made to DCPP, including allegations of:
- Child death
- Head and internal injuries, burns, wounds, fractures, or poisoning
- Inadequate supervision, food, shelter, or clothing
- Medical, educational, or environmental neglect
Upon receiving an allegation of abuse or neglect, DCPP must send an investigator to the home in question within 24 hours to begin an investigation.
A DCPP investigator will conduct an initial investigation by interviewing parents or guardians and other family members in the home and conducting a thorough home inspection. Upon completing the investigation, the investigator has to determine whether the allegations are substantiated, established, not established, or unfounded. Each of these categories has a complex definition under New Jersey Code, and DCPP takes actions based on these findings.
If an allegation is substantiated, then that means that DCPP has determined that the child is abused and neglected and absolute conditions exist, such as the child died or nearly died, or was inflicted with severe injuries requiring significant medical attention. If these absolute conditions are absent, but there is evidence of abuse or neglect, then DCPP’s findings will be that abuse or neglect is established. If most of the evidence does not indicate that a child died, nearly died, or was inflicted with severe injuries; however, a child was harmed or placed at risk of harm, a finding of not established will be rendered. Unfounded claims occur when there is no evidence of abuse or neglect.
DCPP will file an emergency complaint with the family court if it makes a finding of abuse or neglect. Parents, at this juncture, should be represented by counsel as these involve many legal proceedings, up to a trial. DCPP may request for immediate removal of the child if it believes there is an immediate risk of harm, which requires court approval.
If a parent is cleared of all allegations of abuse, DCPP will close the case and stop all interactions with the family. However, if allegations are substantiated or established, the Division may either try to implement a case plan aimed at eventual reunification, or, in the most severe cases, request a termination of parental rights.
Effect on Custody
If DCPP initiates an investigation, it may have consequences on child custody situations. If the allegation is made against the non-custodial parent, DCPP may ask the family court to prohibit contact between the non-custodial parent and the child pending the completion of the investigation. If the allegation is against the custodial parent, then DCPP may try to get the non-custodial parent to apply for a change in custody even if they do not believe the custodial parent committed abuse or neglect. If the non-custodial parent applies for a change in custody, then the court may decide to temporarily grant custody pending completion of the investigation.
Once DCPP issues a finding on its investigation, parties may use that finding as evidence in support of, or against, an award of custody during an ongoing custody dispute. It may also affect future visitation arrangements, depending on the nature of the finding.
Appealing DCPP Findings
If a person identified by DCPP as a perpetrator receives notice of a substantiated and/or established finding, they have the opportunity to request additional review and appeal with DCPP itself, and then by New Jersey’s Office of Administrative Law. This allows parents to challenge the findings by DCPP and present evidence rebutting abuse and/or neglect.
Experienced Jersey City Family Law Attorneys
A DCPP investigation can be a frightening time for parents who did not commit any wrongdoing but are facing the prospect of having their children removed. DCPP has wide latitude in its investigative authority and a mistaken finding can result in a child’s immediate removal.
You need a compassionate and experienced family law attorney who understands the family court system and has years of experience in the field. Bhatt Law Group has attorneys with years of combined experience helping people with family law and custody issues in Jersey City and has represented clients in appeals of DCPP findings.
Don’t hesitate to call one of our experienced attorneys at (201) 798-8000 for a free, initial consultation.