Signs and Indicators of Abuse: What DCPP is Looking For in New Jersey
Wondering what Tells DYFS that a Child may be Abused or Neglected in NJ?
Before we discuss what the Division of Child Protection and Permanency will be searching for when it is conducting an investigation, it is important to first understand what constitutes child abuse or neglect in New Jersey. In our State, child abuse and neglect is governed by the Title 9 statute. The definition provided in that law is very broad and as such, it covers a wide variety of conduct. Ultimately, abusive or neglectful treatment boils downs to any conduct where the child’s physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing has been impaired or in is imminent danger of becoming impaired as a result of a parent, guardian, or caregiver’s failure to exercise a minimum degree of care. The critical question is this: was a child harmed or placed at risk of harm due to purposeful or reckless conduct on the part of the caregiver?
Depending on the nature of the allegation, DCPP will be searching for a large number of signs or indicators to try to uncover the truth. Accordingly, let’s examine the most common referrals received by the Division. If you have a case involving child protective services, you should strongly consider consulting with an experienced DCF attorney. Our team is available immediately to answer your questions in a free consultation. Simply call (908)-356-6900 or fill out our convenient online form to request assistance. If you so choose, we will put all of our knowledge and experience with child abuse and neglect legal issues in New Jersey to work on your behalf.
What Signs of Child Abuse or Neglect are DCPP Looking For?
It is important to note, if the Division receives a report concerning child maltreatment, the agency MUST open up an investigation. They do not have a choice. By law, the agency must investigate the claim to determine if there is any concern or danger. To conduct a proper probe, the caseworker will be visiting the child’s home to speak to the child and the parents. Additionally, the caseworker will also question any person who may have information about the case such as neighbors, teachers, and daycare or aftercare workers. Moreover, the Division will also seek to interview doctors, nurses, and police officers. And lastly, the caseworker will be trying to gather any relevant documents such as medical records and police reports to review. All of these will play an integral role in determining the case worker’s findings and ultimately, their course of action with regard to your family.
There are some key indicators that may reveal a child is being neglected or abused by a parent or caregiver, each of which is delved into in more detail below.
Potential Indicators that a Child is being Physically Abused
When investigating whether a child is being physically harmed, the first thing the caseworker will want to do is examine the minor for any injuries. Upon arriving at the home, the caseworker will request to see the child to look at their face, arms, and legs to determine if the child has any cuts, marks, or bruises. Moreover, the caseworker will also seek to remove the minor’s clothes, which the investigator can legally do, to examine the rest of the child’s body to make sure any injuries are not being covered up. The caseworker will also want to question every member of the house, which includes any siblings. The caseworker will be asking the siblings if they saw any abuse and will inquire if they themselves are being harmed in any manner.
Further, a crucial part of the investigation is the type of injury. Children regularly suffer bumps and bruises. It is part of growing up and it is not uncommon for a minor to have scraped up knees or bruises on their elbows. In that same vein, even something as serious as a broken bone is not irregular and does not atomically mean the minor is being abused. However, if a child is routinely coming to school with black eyes or welts on their back, injuries of that nature will raise red flags. Additionally, hospital records showing that the minor has had frequent visits or police reports depicting a pattern of domestic violence in the home will likely raise eyebrows and lead to the Division concluding that there is violence occurring inside the home.
Conversely, to successfully defend against such allegations, one must establish that the injury was accidental. Again, children, and even adults, suffer injuries. Simply because there is a mark on a child does not prove that the minor is being abused. As such, what needs to be presented is solid evidence establishing that the injury was not caused by abusive or neglectful behavior but rather, was the result of an accident.
Signals of a Possibly Sexually Abused Child
Similar to physical abuse, if DCPP receives a report concerning sexual abuse, the investigator will want to speak to the child. Also, given the very serious nature of the claim, the Division will likely request to bring the child to a hospital for a physical examination to determine if there are any signs of sexual mistreatment such as bleeding or swelling to the private areas.
In most cases, the report to the Division is received years later and therefore, there is no physical evidence. As a result, DCPP must rely on the word of the child, alongside anything else to help corroborate the claim. With that in mind, the agency will be diligently searching for other pieces of evidence to help support the allegations. To that end, not only will a member of the Division speak to the child, a trained individual from the Special Victims Unit of the local police department will likely interview the minor. Also, the child will likely be evaluated by a doctor to uncover if the minor is showing any signs that he or she was sexually abused such as, bed wedding, nightmares, changes in behavior, or exhibiting premature sexual behavior.
Additionally, the Division will also want to speak to any friends, fellow students, teachers, daycare workers, aftercare employees, or any person who has had regular conduct with the child. The investigator will want to know if the child told anyone about being molested and whether the minor has been acting differently. Since DCPP cannot directly prove the parent or guardian molested the child, the agency will likely try to show through circumstantial evidence that the child was sexually abused.
Nonetheless, the parents can utilize the Division’s investigation against them. Every time the child is questioned or interviewed about the case, a report is generated. DCPP will create a report outlining its interview, the police will draft a report, and the doctor who examined the child will write a report. In many cases, the reports conflict. The dates given by the child are different, the locations are inconsistent, the type of sexual abuse changes, the number of times the behavior occurred fluctuates. A parent or guardian can use the inconsistent reports to their advantage to help prove the claim of sexual abuse is false.
Parental Substance Abuse as a Sign of Endangered or Neglected Children
Substance abuse is probably the most common case investigated by the Division. One of the reasons why is people who truly suffer from addiction are never fully cured. It is a condition that sadly, one must live with their entire life. To that end, if a parent relapses, the Division is usually not far behind following up with an investigation to ensure the child is safe.
With that in mind, if the agency receives a report involving substance abuse, a caseworker will visit the family. Similar to all cases, the investigator will want to speak to the child and the parents. The investigator will also seek to examine the home to see if there are any drugs or alcohol inside the home. Typically, parents do not keep drugs in the home and there is nothing illegal or alarming about having liquor inside a residence. Moreover, when DCP&P arrives at a person’s home, the parents are usually not under the influence. Thus, in order to investigate a case concerning allegations of substance abuse, the caseworker will usually demand that the parent submit to a drug test and undergo a substance abuse evaluation. Additionally, the Division will also order the parents to sign a medical waiver so they can review the parents’ medical history. On top of that, the Division will also perform a background check to determine if the parents have had any prior arrests or convictions involving drug or alcohol use.
If you are asked to submit to a test, or undergo an evaluation, or asked to sign any waiver, do not do it. You are under no legal duty to help the Division. Moreover, you are not violating the law in any way by refusing to cooperate. The best course of action is to obtain your own personal test and personal evaluation to ensure the process is done fairly. Additionally, whatever information the Division is seeking from your doctor or doctors, you can obtain yourself and turn it over. DCP&P does not need, nor should they have full access, to your entire medical history.
What to do if DCF is Looking into You in NJ
Keep in mind, not every case is the same. The above material is supposed to be a guide and can be helpful if you are confronted by a caseworker. However, it does not replace sound legal advice. As such, if you are being investigated by DCPP in New Jersey, please contact our firm now by calling (908)-356-6900 for a free consultation.