Complete Guide to a Child Safety Protection Plan in New Jersey
How Child Safety Protection Plans Work in NJ
When a child abuse or neglect report reaches the Division of Child Protection Permanency (DCPP), case workers begin investigating the child’s safety in the home. They may visit the house and interview the parents, children, and anyone else living there. They then may talk to others associated with the child, such as teachers, doctors, babysitters, or friends and relatives who engage with the child regularly. After an investigation, the agency may determine whether the allegations of abuse or neglect are unsubstantiated or substantiated. When the agency determines a child is in immediate danger at home, they may file an order to show cause with a complaint in the family court to remove the child and place them with a relative or in foster care. Several hearings follow the initial removal order to show cause and complaint to determine the child’s placement. Alternatively, DCPP may leave the child home but file a complaint of abuse or neglect in court while establishing a child protection safety plan with the child’s parents or caretakers. By law, DCPP is obligated to try and keep a family together, if possible, and work with the family to help make that happen. A child protection safety plan is the framework for family unity or reunification.
Fundamentals of a Child Safety Protection Plan in New Jersey
A child protection safety plan is a legal agreement between the agency and the parents, guardians, or other caretakers of a child the agency believes needs protection. It establishes the roles of the agency and the parents or caretakers and outlines the requirements to care for the endangered child safely in the home to avoid the child’s removal. The plan, developed after a risk assessment, identifies the reasons for the agency’s determination (the charges of abuse or neglect) that the child is unsafe and how best to protect the child at home.
Family Implications After a Child Protection Safety Plan is Put into Effect in NJ
A caseworker develops a plan with the family to address what they believe is dangerous to the child, meaning what subjects the child to abuse or neglect. So, a caseworker’s assessment that a child’s father is violent and combative, thereby endangering a child’s safety, may require the parent to stay away from the child, leave home, and enroll in anger management or substance abuse treatment or counseling, for example. DCPP takes an extra cautious approach to child protection, which may require the parents to comply with numerous conditions before the family can reunite or DCPP closes their case.
In other words, the plan is DCPP’s requirements and goals for the family to meet within a specific timeframe to keep their family together and get out of the court system. DCPP requires the parents or guardians to agree to and sign the plan. By signing the plan, the accused parent or parents agree to all in the document, including DCPP’s claims of abuse or neglect and the compliance conditions. As a result of signing the plan, the safety plan information may later haunt the consenting parents who agree to the allegations. Thus, the document language is essential. An attorney can help protect parents from future problems due to signing the plan.
Negotiating an Enforceable Safety Plan with DCPP
More importantly, the plan must be reasonable, or the parents may not be able to comply with it. Failure to comply with the agreement could lead to lost parental rights. Most parties in the plan may need to realize that they can negotiate the terms they believe are not feasible to fulfill. Desperate parents may confuse cooperation with concession. Most parents want to cooperate with DCPP to keep their children home, but the truth is that they can negotiate terms and do not have to concede to everything DCPP sets forth in the plan. A DCPP defense attorney can help parents negotiate and sign a plan that makes sense for their situation.
What Comes After an Agreement with the Child Protection Agency on a Safety Plan?
Once the family agrees to the plan, DCPP caseworkers work with the family and monitor their progress in completing the plan. To assist the family’s compliance, DCPP finds family resources to help the family caretake safely. Thus, when a nearby relative can help safely caretake the child when needed, DCPP will use those resources. Otherwise, the agency uses its resources or other resources to assist the family, such as counselors, treatment centers, and visitation monitors.
What Occurs if the Child Protection Safety Plan is Not Carried Out as Expected?
The plan comes with specific goals and timelines to reach plan milestones. The child stays with the family so long as the parents or caretakers stick with the plan. Once they do not comply, DCPP may seek court assistance to remove the child from home. It may also request the court terminate parental rights. Once DCCP removes a child, the parents may want to work with DCPP for a visitation schedule if that is appropriate. Knowing what is proper or reasonable may not be within the sole discretion of DCPP, so parents should consult with an attorney and have them review the safety plan and help keep the family together in their home.
Let Us Advise You Through the Child Safety Protection Plan Process in New Jersey
Since plan compliance and completion are crucial to keeping their family together, parents accused of neglect or abuse by DCPP should obtain counsel to help them through the process. With knowledge of the laws DCPP and the court must follow, a DCPP defense attorney can help a family move through each step of the process, from initial complaint, investigation, child protection safety plan negotiations, and first to final court hearings. Ultimately, DCPP decides where the child resides and what it takes to keep the family together or reunite the family.
If DCPP contacts you regarding a child abuse or neglect report, contact one of our skillful DCPP defense attorneys for a free consultation as soon as possible. The DCPP process moves quickly, so you do not want to feel pressured to comply with the agency’s wishes before an attorney has reviewed their proposed child protection safety plan. Without a knowledgeable DCPP lawyer to review the plan and ensure it meets the needs of the family, assure DCPP of child safety, allow the family to complete the plan successfully, and accomplish the goal of family reunification, parents may unfairly suffer the breakup of their family. Don’t hesitate to contact our offices at (908)-356-6900 if you have questions about a child safety protection plan in a child abuse or neglect matter in Millburn, Paramus, Fort Lee, Warren, Cranford, Jersey City, Mount Olive, and elsewhere in New Jersey. Call us to receive a confidential free consultation as soon as possible.