The Child Welfare System in New Jersey: What Happens When DCPP Intervenes?
A recent article discusses 12 instances where children tragically died after the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) began monitoring their families. In the reported cases, the deaths of the children were caused by the parents despite the Division investigating and, later, intervening.
The national nonprofit Children’s Rights had previously sued the Division, claiming that the agency was failing children. The group demanded better funding and numerous changes to the way that DCP&P handles these types of cases.
The current child welfare system in New Jersey is complex. Child welfare proceedings are guided by two parallel statutes: Title 9 and Title 30. The statutes are intended to balance the competing interests of parents’ constitutionally protected right to maintain a relationship with their children and the State’s interest in protecting the welfare of children. To that end, the NJ legislature directed the Division of Child Protection and Permanency to enforce those laws and protect children.
Title 9 governs acts of abuse and neglect against a child and further provides interim relief for children at risk. Title 30 controls guardianship proceedings in which the Division seeks to terminate parental rights and also empowers the Division to seek temporary care and custody of a child who is part of a family in need of assistance.
DCPP proceedings generally start with the filing of a complaint and an order to show cause on very little notice. Once the matter is opened to the court, the court may enter preliminary orders for the protection of the child. A few months later, a factfinding hearing or trial is held to determine whether a child has been abused or neglected.
If the court finds abuse or neglect, it may order further relief and direct the Division to provide needed services such as therapy and counseling to protect the child and to rehabilitate and improve the family’s life. If the offered services are not effective, or if the parent refuses to cooperate, the Division can then file another complaint seeking to terminate the parental rights. A hearing or trial will be held, and the court will determine if the parent’s rights should be terminated.
If tragic events, like the ones described in the cited article, occur, then parents are free to take action against DCPP and file a wrongful death claim. In New Jersey, a claim can be pursued under the Wrongful Death Act. The statute was passed to allow individuals to file a lawsuit when a person’s death was caused by the wrongful or negligent act or acts of another.
To establish a case, the party must file suit within two years of the decedent’s death and must be able to show the following four elements: (1) the party owed a duty of care to the victim, (2) the party breached that duty, (3) the breach caused the victim’s death, and (4) the party bringing suit suffered a loss.
Further, please keep mind that state agencies and their employees are immune from lawsuits if their conduct was performed within the scope of their employment and done in good faith.
If you are currently being investigated by NJ DCP&P for child abuse or child neglect, you need to speak with a qualified attorney at the Tormey Law Firm. Our legal team has handled DYFS cases throughout New Jersey, including Essex County, Bergen County, and Morris County, NJ. Contact us now to schedule a free initial consultation.