Man Charged with Aggravated Manslaughter in Newark NJ Was Previously “Established” Child Abuser
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office recently upgraded criminal charges against a mother and her boyfriend in connection with the death of a seven-year-old boy.
According to authorities, Essex County prosecutors initially charged the couple with endangering the welfare of a child, but the charges have since been upgraded to aggravated manslaughter because the young victim tragically died. On October 2, 2016, Newark police responded to the couple’s home in Newark New Jersey and found the child to be unresponsive, with injuries caused by multiple blunt force traumas.
It was later revealed that the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCP&P”), formerly known as “DYFS,” had previously determined that the child was abused or neglected at the hands of the mother’s boyfriend. Specifically, DCP&P disclosed that a prior investigation had “established” an allegation of child abuse.
Under New Jersey’s child abuse and neglect law, there are four possible investigative outcomes of a child abuse and neglect investigation: substantiated, established, not established, and unfounded. The threshold question during an investigation is always whether or not the alleged child victim has been abused or neglected, as defined in Title 9 (N.J.S.A. 9:8.21, et. seq.). Then, if DCP&P determines that the child has been abused or neglected, the Division will apply an analytical framework of aggravating and mitigating factors to decide if the allegation of child abuse or neglect is “substantiated” or “established.” If the factual scenario does not fit the statutory definition of child abuse or neglect under Title 9 but there was still some harm to the child, then the Division will “not establish” the allegation and will find that the allegation is “unfounded.”
This unfortunate case in Newark NJ brings to light the fine line between preserving a family unit and subjecting a child to the trauma of being taken away from their family. When DCP&P responds to an allegation of child abuse or neglect, two important issues to address are (1) whether the child has actually been abused or neglected to such an extent that the child’s safety, health, and well-being are in immediate danger and (2) whether it would be contrary to the best interests of the child to remain in the home. In other words, there is an important distinction between determining if a child has been abused or neglected in the past versus assessing if the child should be removed from his family now. In many situations, any instance of past abuse is relevant to determining whether a child is in immediate danger, but the fact remains that there is a difference between the analysis of whether a child has been abused or neglected versus the determination of whether a child should be removed from the family’s home.