DCP&P is Contacting Me, What Are My Legal Rights
Contacted by DCP&P in New Jersey? You Need to Know Your Rights
If DCP&P has contacted you, you are likely wondering what this means and what your rights are if the state is investigating you. To begin, let’s discuss what DCP&P can and cannot do. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P or the Division) is the agency in charge of investigating referrals of child abuse or neglect in New Jersey. Anytime DCP&P receives a referral, it is required to investigate the claim, no matter how frivolous it may appear. It is very common for ex-partners or aggrieved neighbors to wrongfully contact the Division to retaliate against a parent. Nevertheless, even it seems obvious on its face that the complaint is baseless, DCP&P must investigate the claim. If you or someone you know is under investigation by DCP&P in New Jersey, please contact our office at (908)-356-6900 for immediate assistance. Below provides a better understanding of your rights during a child abuse or neglect investigation in NJ.
What Happens when DCP&P Investigates?
The investigation is supposed to conclude within 60 days. However, it may be extended an additional 30 days if DCP&P needs to gather more information. During the investigation time period, the Division must interview the parents, speak to the child, and question any person who may have personal knowledge concerning the complaint. As such, the Division may speak to doctors, teachers, or neighbors. Please note, with respect to physicians, the Division does not have an absolute right to speak to them. The Division must obtain the parents’ consent or have them sign a release authorizing DCP&P to question any doctors. Also, DCP&P will insist that it speak to your child alone. The parents have a right to be present. As the child’s parents, you have the authority to decide who can talk to your child and under what circumstances. Lastly, DCP&P is prohibited from disclosing the identity of the person who made the complaint. In order to encourage individuals to notify the Division if they see or hear something alarming, their identities must remain anonymous.
In addition to interviewing any individuals who may have knowledge about the referral, the Division must also inspect the home where the child is residing. The Division needs to be satisfied that the home is a safe environment. Meaning, the home has running water, heat, electricity, and there are no hazardous conditions. Further, the home must have sufficient food and the child must have a suitable place to sleep. Also, if there are firearms present, the weapons must be safety stored. On top of that, the Division must also be satisfied that other members of the household do not pose a safety concern. To that end, DCP&P can demand that the parents or any other household members submit to drug tests and evaluations to insure there are no substance abuse problems.
What can DCP&P do if they Believe Something?
Safety Protection Plans
If the Division does find some concerns while investigating, it may proceed in several ways. First, it may execute a Safety Protection Plan. A Safety Protection Plan is an agreement between the parents and the Division wherein, the Division identifies its concerns and provides a set of conditions and steps the parents must comply with. For instance, if DCP&P receives a domestic violence complaint and upon investigation, the Division confirms that an act occurred. The Division may submit a protection plan that requires the parents to attend counseling and requires one of the parents to stay out of the home. The Protection Plan is a temporary measure and is only suppose to last for 10 days. However, it may be extended if needed.
Complaints DCP&P can File
Another course of action the Division may take is to file a complaint with the Court. A complaint may be submitted to the court for a few reasons. One, if the Division believes an act of child abuse or neglect has occurred. Under those circumstances, DCP&P can petition the Court to prosecute the matter and request that the parents engage in services such as counseling and therapy.
Two, the Division may also file a compliant if it believes there are child welfare concerns that need to be addressed. The concerns do not have to rise to the level of abuse or neglect but nevertheless, the concerns impact negatively on the child and must be addressed in order to promote the best interests of the child. For example, the parents have ongoing substance abuse problems but their issues may not be abusive or neglectful towards their child. Nevertheless, their addictions may create some parenting difficulties that negatively impact the child. As a result, the Court can intervene and direct the parents to engage in counseling to serve the child’s best interest.
Third, the Division may also petition the court if the parents impede upon the investigation. Under the last scenario, DC&P may file a complaint with the Court requesting that it compel the parents to cooperate with its investigation. It’s important to acknowledge, the Division does not have to prove the allegations or concerns when it files its complaint. At the early stages of the litigation, DCP&P is only required to show that if the claim was proven at a later date, the claim would result in a finding of abuse or neglect or a welfare concern. The parents do have a right to a hearing to challenge the accusations but the hearing date will not be scheduled until a few months later. Therefore, during the preliminary proceedings, the Court will almost always rule in favor of the Division.
If the Court accepts the complaint, it may enter orders compelling the parents to cooperate with the Division. A typical order demands that the parents submit to drug and alcohol tests as well as undergo evaluations. Following the evaluations, the evaluator will generally submit treatment recommendations that must be followed. The Court will also likely order that the child be placed either with a relative or into foster care. On top of that, the parents will also be required to be supervised when they see and interact with their child.
Removing the Child from the Home
The final option the Division has is to immediately remove the child from the parents’ care and control. This option is referred to as a Dodd Removal. A removal can occur without a court order and over the parents’ objection. A removal is permissible if the Division determines that the child is in imminent danger and there is no time to petition the Court for assistance. If a removal occurs, the parents do have the right to a hearing within 48 hours to challenge the Division’s course of action and demand the return of the child.
DCP&P is Investigating Me, What are my Rights?
Now that we have discussed what DCP&P can and cannot do, let’s move on to what parents can and cannot do. If the Division shows up at your house, you are under no legal duty to speak to the investigator or allow him or her to enter your home. You are under no legal duty to cooperate at all with the investigation. Moreover, you have the right to refuse drugs tests, evaluations, and requests to sign releases. It is common for investigators to threaten parents and and place them in fear that if they do not comply with their demands, they will loose their child. This not true. Again, the Division has no authority to force anyone to speak to them or comply with their demands.
DCP&P Contacted Me, What Should I do?
If you have been contacted by the Division of Child Protection & Permanency in New Jersey, you have a right to retain an attorney to assist you during the investigation and you should invoke that right. Your attorney can speak on your behalf and insure your rights are being protected. An attorney can be very helpful because the Division cannot compel compliance, however, they can petition the Court for assistance. It’s important to balance the potential risks against the possible rewards. In some instances, it will not serve the parents’ interests the comply. On the other hand, there may be times when refusing DCP&P’s requests will be detrimental. For the legal guidance you need during this stressful time, contact our New Jersey DCPP defense attorneys today at (908)-356-6900.