Understanding the Services that DCPP Provides to Parents & Families and Your Responsibilities
Since DCPP is a family agency focused on the best interests of the child, the Division may provide a variety of services to parents and families in NJ
It is important to understand your responsibilities and child protective services’ options for providing or requiring you to use certain services after opening an investigation. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) is the State agency responsible for protecting vulnerable children from possibly abusive homes and other environments such as schools and day care facilities. If DCP&P receives a report that a child is potentially being abused or neglected, an investigation must be opened within 24-hours. The Division’s investigator is obligated to interview the parents, speak to the child or children, and interview any other person who may have personal knowledge about the claim. Keep in mind, this is not a criminal case. Meaning, DCP&P is not there to prosecute you for a potential criminal offense. That is the duty of the Police and Prosecutor’s Office. The Division’s responsibility is to protect children. As such, in addition to conducting interviews and gathering information about the report, the investigator is also obligated to perform a risk and safety assessment. In other words, the Division must evaluate the fitness of the parents and the welfare of the home environment. The overall purpose of the assessment is to determine if there are any parental issues that need to be addressed and if so, what services should be implemented.
What Types of Services does DCPP Provide?
Services is a term used to describe assistance or help offered by the Division. Again, DCP&P’s duty is to protect children. That undertaking can be accomplished in a number of ways but typically, the most common and preferred method to help the family is to provide services. The type of services may vary from parent to parent and child to child. Every family is slightly different and the circumstances surrounding the case will also vary. As such, services can cover a wide range of issues, including parenting classes, mental health treatment, therapy, and substance abuse counseling. In addition, services may also include childcare, housing assistance, and transportation.
Not every family will receive this exact help but rather, the services need to be specifically tailored to address the particular needs of the home. On top of that, it is incumbent upon DCP&P to monitor the services and modify them accordingly. For instance, if the Division receives a report that a parent was under the influence of drugs at a school event. An investigator will contact the parents and decide whether the family needs services. It is likely that the accused mother or father will be asked to submit to drug tests and engage in substance abuse counseling. As the case progresses, the Division should receive an update from the counselor. If the update is positive, the case should be closed. If the counselor recommends further counseling, then the services will be adjusted in accordance with the counselor’s recommendation.
Can I Request Child Welfare or Protective Services in New Jersey?
Absolutely. If a parent believes he or she needs help, the parent can ask for assistance. Under our Administrative Code, specifically, N.J.A.C. 3A:11-1.4, any person who currently resides in New Jersey shall have the right to apply for any child welfare services or child protective services provided by the Division. Also, under N.J.S.A. 30:4C-11, whenever it shall appear that any child within this State is of such circumstances that the child’s safety or welfare will be endangered unless proper care or custody is provided, an application may be filed with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency by a parent, relative of the child, any person standing in loco parentis to the child, any person or association or agency or public official having a special interest in the child or by the child himself, seeking that the division accept and provide care or custody as the circumstances may require. Accordingly, not only can parents request assistance, they actually have a right to services.
Can I say NO to DCPP Services, Refuse to Comply or Cooperate?
The simple answer is yes. There is no statute, code, regulation, or case that mandates full cooperation with the Division of Child Protection. Therefore, if an investigator or caseworker visits your home and asks you to engage in services, you are legally allowed to say no. However, the more appropriate question to ask is whether you should say yes or whether you should cooperate. The answer to that question is, “it depends.” Every case is different and therefore, no attorney can simply advise a client that you should always cooperate or conversely, you should never comply. The circumstances surrounding the investigation must be considered and furthermore, the conditions of the family should also be weighed heavily when determining the best course of action.
The reason why a parent cannot simply say no is the Division may proceed to Court. During the investigation process, the assigned investigator or caseworker has no authority. Meaning, he or she cannot order or otherwise force a parent to engage. However, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12, the Division may petition the Family Court if a parent is interfering with the investigation. The controlling statute reads as follows: “if the parent, parents, guardian, or person having custody and control of the child refuses to permit or in any way impedes an investigation, and the department determines that further investigation is necessary in the best interests of the child, the Division may thereupon apply to the Court for an order directing the parent, parents, guardian, or person having custody and control of the child to permit immediate investigation.” The statute further reads, “the court, upon such application, may proceed to hear the matter in a summary manner and if satisfied that the best interests of the child so require, may issue an order as requested.”
Your Options when Accepting or Refusing Services from the Child Protection Agency in NJ
Accordingly, if a parent refuses to cooperate, DCP&P may obtain a court order mandating cooperation. In light of the statute, many would say, “I have to comply. If I don’t, then I will be taken to court.” Not necessarily. First, simply because child protective services petitions the Court, does not mean they are going to obtain a Court order. They still need to establish that the parents are impeding the investigation, and the interests of the child are best served by entering an order. Please note, in most cases, the Court will enter an Order, however, it is not automatic. Second, sometimes proceeding to Court is a better option and for some matters, it’s the only option. For instance, if a parent has a companion criminal case and he or she is facing serious criminal charges, that parent should not be giving any statements about the case and should not be undergoing any evaluation or drug screens. A Family Judge may enter an Order but a parent’s constitutional right to remain silent trumps the order.
Lastly, a parent can cooperate with the Division but does not have to comply with every request or directive given by DCP&P. There is a middle ground that can be reached wherein, the parents are not impeding the investigation and, at the same time, are not overwhelmed with services and sharing too much information. This is where retaining an experienced attorney really comes into play. Typically, the Division will ask parents to sign medical releases, submit to drug tests with their own doctors, and undergo evaluations using their own hired evaluators. Not surprisingly, the results tend to confirm what the Division is looking for. As a result, the investigation lasts longer than needed and the parents have to comply with more services. Also, even if a parent fully complies, the child protection agency may still proceed to Court. However, through an attorney, a parent may not have to sign any release. Instead, certain documents and other relevant material can be turned over so the caseworker does not have full access to your confidential and private information. Further, through an attorney, private evaluators can be utilized to ensure the results are fair and unbiased.
Getting Legal Help and Representation
It is each parent’s prerogative to retain a lawyer when dealing with a DCPP proceeding of any kind. You can choose to hire an attorney from the moment you find out you are being investigated, which puts you in the best position, or you can wait until further down the line to get legal help and representation. Please keep in mind that protecting yourself from the very beginning against probing caseworkers from child protective services is extremely important and highly advised, since a single misstep can lead to parental rights challenges and you may need to aggressively challenge your child’s removal from your home.
With that in mind, if you are being investigated by DCPP anywhere in New Jersey, contact a dedicated attorney at our firm for immediate assistance. We can help you understand and zealously protect your rights. Simply call (908)-356-6900 or contact us through our online form today.