Mercer County Judge Prohibits Trentonian from Publishing Information in DCP&P Document
A Mercer County Superior Court judge recently issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the Trentonian from publishing information about a confidential Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCP&P”) child abuse complaint obtained by one of its reporters.
As with all DCP&P complaints for custody, care, or supervision filed by DCP&P, the complaint outlined how the alleged child victim was abused or neglected, specifically that he went to school one day carrying heroin in his lunchbox and then did the same with crack cocaine in his folder six weeks later, among other sensitive details about the child and his family.
Trentonian reporter Isaac Avilucea allegedly approached the child’s mother outside the courtroom after the initial hearing and obtained the child abuse complaint from her. When Avilucea was confronted in the courthouse by state officials, he refused to turn over the complaint.
Avilucea later reported on the DCP&P case. The hot issue now is whether the court can prohibit the Trentonian from publishing additional stories about the information contained in the child abuse and neglect complaint.
Under New Jersey’s child abuse and neglect laws and court rules, DCP&P records are confidential and all DYFS court proceedings must take place in private. In other words, DCP&P records and proceedings remain confidential in order to protect families’ sensitive and private information. According to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10a, all record of child abuse reports, all information obtained by the Department of Children and Families in investigating such reports, and all reports of findings forwarded to the Child Abuse Registry shall be kept confidential and may be disclosed only in certain circumstances, including: upon written request to the Division by child protective agencies, law enforcement, a physician, a court that determines the records are needed to determine an issue before that court, a grand jury, legislative bodies, the Victims of Crime Compensation Board, any person appealing a substantiated finding of child abuse, employers permitted to access the Child Abuse Registry, or the legal counsel of a child, parent, or guardian when information is needed to discuss the case.
In addition, the law states that any individual, agency, board, court, grand jury, legislative committee, or other entity which receives such records and reports shall keep them confidential. Moreover, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10b, any person who willfully permits or encourages the release of the contents of any record or report in contravention of the law shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $1,000.00 and imprisonment for up to three years.
In the case involving the Trentonian, the bottom line is that there is no statutory exception that permits the press or reporters to obtain DCP&P records and then disclose the confidential information. Here, the fact that the mother chose to voluntarily provide a copy to the reporter does not change the child abuse and neglect law that criminalizes further disclosure of the contents in the document by “any person.” The complaint contains highly sensitive and private information regarding not only the mother, but also the child and the father – each of whom has their own, separate privacy rights when it comes to the information in the document.