How do I get records from DCP&P in New Jersey?
Hackensack Lawyers for Child Protective Services
Parties involved in criminal cases and/or custody disputes generally want to review any records maintained by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. Neverthless, such parties are not automatically entitled to review the material, even if the information concerns them personally. However, there is a way to obtain the information. The DCP&P defense lawyers at the Tormey Law Firm, LLC are ready and able to assist you. We can protect your rights, your family, and your future. Please contact our experienced DCP&P defense lawyers today for immediate assistance at (908)-356-6900. The initial consultation is always provided free of charge.
Records maintained by DCP&P are deemed highly confidential and as a general rule cannot be disclosed, unless the requesting party can demonstrate an acceptable reason why disclosure is necessary. If the requesting party can show that disclosing the protected material is necessary, the records will be first forwarded to the Court for it’s review. Thereafter, after the material is examined by the Court, the information will be disseminated to the parties alongside an Order of Protection.
The statute governing this process is found under N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10 a, which reads in pertinent part as follows:
a. All records of child abuse reports made pursuant to section 3 of P.L.1971, c. 437 (C. 9:6–8.10), all information obtained by the Department of Children and Families in investigating such reports including reports received pursuant to section 20 of P.L.1974, c. 119 (C. 9:6–8.40), and all reports of findings forwarded to the central registry pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1971, c. 437 (C. 9:6–8.11) shall be kept confidential and may be disclosed only under the circumstances expressly authorized under subsection b. herein.
b. The division may release the records and reports referred to in subsection a., or parts thereof, to: …
(6) A court, upon its finding that access to such records may be necessary for determination of an issue before the court, and such records may be disclosed by the court in whole or in part to the law guardian, attorney or other appropriate person upon a finding that such further disclosure is necessary for determination of an issue before the court.
Accordingly, based upon a plain language of the statue, information connected to abuse and neglect investigation are generally considered confidential. However, the Court is vested with the power to compel disclosure upon a finding that disclosure is necessary to determine an issue before it.
In addition, to ensure the protected information is safely releases, our courts implemented a procedure based upon the seminal case of Commonwealth v. Ritchie, 408 U.S. 39 (1987). In that case, a criminal defendant sought access to the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Services’ file in order to potentially obtain information about a possibly favorable witnesses. The United States Supreme Court held that the defendant’s right to discover exculpatory evidence does not include unsupervised authority to search through the Child Welfare Services’ file. The defendant’s interests, as well as the interest of protecting confidential material, is best served by requiring the file to be submitted to the Trial Court for an in camera review.
Relying on the Ritchie case, the New Jersey Appellate Division in State v. Cusick, 219 N.J. Super. 452 (1986), interpreted the disclosure mandates of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10 identically. In Cusick, the defendant sought access to the Division of Youth and Family Services’ file in order to obtain information concerning the credibility of the State’s witnesses. The Trial Court reviewed the material in camera and concluded the information contained in the file was available elsewhere and also held the information was not determinative of any issues before the court. Consequently, the Appellate Division affirmed the Trial Court’s ruling and stated “in our judgment, the trial court meticulously followed the procedures set forth in our statutes and properly refused to permit defendant to inspect the files.”
Based upon the plain language of the statute alongside the Court’s rulings in Ritchie and Cusick, our courts follow a three-part test when deciding whether to release confidential information concerning child abuse and neglect records. The Court starts with the presumption that the sought after information is otherwise confidential and will only be released if: (1) the information is not available from an alternative source, (2) the information is material to the matter; and (3) the information may impact the outcome of the case.