Potential Repercussions of a New Jersey DCPP Investigation
New Jersey DCPP Legal Ramifications
New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) comprises several divisions established to provide resources to children and families. The Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) is one of those divisions. Its mission is to protect New Jersey residents and promote health, safety, and connection. This division of DCF is charged with investigations involving child abuse and neglect. They set up family resources and placement for the child if necessary. The State Central Registry offers a Child Abuse Hotline that is open 24 hours, 7 days a week and receives anonymous tips later investigated by field case workers. The DCPP services include parenting classes, foster care, substance abuse support, in-home services, and residential placement.
Potential Repercussions of DCPP Intervention
First, it is important to understand that the repercussions of a DCPP investigation depend on the findings of the specific case.
Worst Case Scenario
Four types of findings can result from a DCPP investigation. The most serious is a substantiated finding. It means that there is direct evidence as to the claims of child abuse or neglect. This result requires the parent or guardian to be placed in the Child Abuse Registry. This permanent record is referred to by employers and agencies where children, the elderly, or other vulnerable people are present. If a prospective employer must check the registry before hiring you and finds you registered, they cannot hire you. You are also excluded from the home care of a disabled relative, becoming a foster parent, or an adoptive parent.
Second-Most Serious Result
A finding of established signifies that through a preponderance of the evidence, it can be suggested that the child was abused or neglected. The parent or guardian is not placed in the Child Abuse Registry. Your records will be kept in their files and if you have several established cases, DCPP may change their findings to substantiated. If that occurs, the parent or guardian would be exposed to all the penalties a substantiated determination entails. Getting an established result isn’t as serious as a substantiated one, but it could still affect your employment opportunities and foster parenting.
Third Ranking Outcome
A finding of not established means there is no preponderance of evidence to infer that there is child abuse or neglect, but there is a possibility the child was hurt or endangered. DCPP keeps the file open, even while not actively investigating the case. There is no way to remove the file.
Best Case Scenario
When the investigation results in an unfounded determination, the evidence shows that the child was in no way harmed or neglected. One would consider finding complete relief and going back to life as usual, but a DCPP investigation can cause anxiety and stress for the whole family. Additionally, the claims, however unfounded in this category, are eligible for expungement after three years.
Potential Consequences of a DCPP Investigation
Immediate Temporary Removal
Depending on the allegations you are facing and the observations of DCPP investigators, they may decide to remove your child. because they believe there is imminent danger of harm. If they remove your child, DCPP officials must request a civil court proceeding to have the court confirm the removal within two business days. Thereafter, a judge makes a determination about whether child removal from your custody is warranted. You should be present at the hearing. DCPP can place your child with a family member (which is preferred) or with a temporary foster family. It is in your best interest to have legal representation during this process. Your attorney can present your case and may stop the removal of the child when you are permitted to offer your side.
When DCPP identifies child abuse or neglect, the first stage is a Title 9 filing. DCPP must demonstrate by a preponderance of evidence that you committed child abuse or neglect and a Family Division judge must agree. It is imperative to have a skilled DCPP lawyer on your side to dispute these allegations.
Supervised Parenting Time
If your child is removed from custody, you will probably have restrictions regarding when you can contact them. Supervised visits are a way for DCPP to allow you to continue to see your child but in a controlled environment. The supervisor may be a family member, foster care provider, or case worker. During these sessions, it is of utmost importance that you arrive on time and interact with your child.
Counseling and Classes
DCPP may recommend that you receive counseling or attend parenting classes (or both) to have your child returned to your home. You may suggest to the court to take parenting classes voluntarily. Receiving therapy for anger issues, depression, and substance abuse, as well as courses in nutrition and family relationships, could shorten the time you and your child are apart.
Removal For Placement
If the allegations against you are substantiated, what was a temporary placement could be exchanged for long-term or permanent placement. Removal for placement is a potential consequence of this finding. The child may be placed with a family member who is qualified and committed to caring for them long-term. If no family members are available, a foster care agency will assign a family to the child. The foster care agency may require payment on your part as they must pay the foster family for your child’s care.
Civil Contempt Penalties
When the civil court issues its orders at the behest of DCPP, you are legally bound to follow them to the letter. The orders may restrict how and when you can contact your child, when and where you can visit them, and for how long. For example, if you want to take your child to get ice cream, but they are not allowed to ride with you in your car, you cannot go. But other conditions are not as frequently considered, such as paying for medical insurance, placement expenses, or sending items necessary for your child’s care, such as clothing, hygiene products, and personal items. Failing to comply or doing something the court has forbidden can put you in contempt. Contempt charges can lead to your arrest, possible jail time, and fines. Why pour gasoline on a burning fire? You and your attorney should consider the steps you can take to prove your interest and concern regarding your child’s welfare.
Child Abuse Registry
If DCPP investigators assign your case a substantiated rating, they will put your information in New Jersey’s Child Abuse Registry. While the public cannot access this database, New Jersey authorizes a Child Abuse Registry Information (CARI) check for police, prosecutors, the courts, and government agencies to review your information. Your presence in the registry could negatively affect any opportunity you have to work in daycare, participate in foster care, adoption, or similar areas.
Termination of Parental Rights
When it becomes clear that the parent neither can nor will make the necessary changes to keep their child safe, DCPP can move toward further action. Prior to this, conditions and services can be provided to give a parent a second chance at meeting the terms to have their parental rights reinstated. However, if there continues to be a determination by DCPP that a parent refuses to remove the hazards that their child is being exposed to, although able, a guardianship action may result. Guardianship cases can lead to termination of your parental rights, which would mean your child could be adopted. If a family member is qualified and willing to take legal guardianship of your child, DCPP may allow it. This is called Kinship legal guardianship. It would give your parental rights to the guardian, but as they are family, it would offer you a better chance at having a relationship with your child.
Criminal Abuse and Neglect Charges
DCPP proceedings are held in civil court. If your case is given a substantiated rating it can potentially lead to all of the consequences mentioned earlier, but a DCPP decision is not a criminal conviction. Based on that determination, you won’t go to jail unless you violate court orders and are in contempt of court. Nonetheless, the DCPP investigation may provide evidence for the prosecutor to file criminal child abuse charges against you. Depending on the gravity of the abuse and the specific charges that have been filed, the charges vary from a four to a first-degree crime. The penalties are as follows: a fourth-degree child abuse and neglect conviction can carry a sentence of up to 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. A second-degree crime carries 3-5 years imprisonment and a $15,000 fine. A second-degree crime can carry 5 to 10 years in jail and a fine of $150,000, while a first-degree conviction means a sentence of 10 to 20 years and a fine of up to $200,000.
How are Family Dynamics Altered by DCPP Investigations in NJ?
Depending upon the level of disruption of the DCPP’s investigation and its decisions after that, a family may experience several adverse effects. The emotional turmoil, confusion, and outright fear you and your child may experience could last for a long time. Studies have shown that children may experience psychological trauma and anxiety as a result of being removed or fearing removal from their parents.
In an article published by Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, a study determined that 74% of young parents who had been removed temporarily or permanently from their parent’s custody as children have cases with DCPP as parents. Parents who temporarily or permanently lose custody of their children distrust any government agency and often shy away from requesting assistance from health clinics, wellness centers, and other family resources offered by the state. Even families whose investigations result in an unfounded determination must wait three years to expunge their record when no evidence was found against them, so they are still affected.
Get Trusted Legal Guidance when You Need it Most
Dealing with DCPP can be worrisome and fill you with anxiety. An investigation is serious, and you shouldn’t go through it without legal representation. The stakes are too high for you to try to go it alone. The penalties resulting from an investigation can be severe. You need someone who can guide you through the hearings and requirements placed on you. Our attorneys know what your family means to you. We have helped countless families deal with DCPP investigations and related civil and criminal matters in Millburn, Cranford, Paramus, Warren, New Brunswick, Fort Lee, Jersey City, and elsewhere in New Jersey. We can help you with your child abuse and neglect case, no matter the circumstances. Our seasoned team of attorneys is ready to work with you during this troubling time.
Contact us today at (908)-356-6900 or online to receive a complimentary and confidential consultation to review your case.