Unfit Living Conditions for Children in NJ
Your child’s teacher contacted DCPP, or someone else reported you for child abuse or neglect, and now a case worker wants to visit your home to investigate. What should you do? You should be prepared for what the case worker considers unfit living conditions that may constitute a danger to your child in New Jersey. To discuss how unfit living conditions may apply to your specific situation, contact an experienced New Jersey DYFS attorney on our team today. You can reach us online or call (908)-356-6900 for a free and entirely confidential legal consultation regarding your case. We are poised to defend you against any child protective services allegations that you may be facing in Essex County, Bergen County, Morris County, Passaic County, Union County, Somerset County, Sussex County, or anywhere else in New Jersey.
What are Considered Unfit Living Conditions for a Child in New Jersey?
The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), the state’s child protective services, deems unfit living conditions for a child those that pose a substantial risk of physical injury, meaning an environment that is likely to injure the child’s health and well-being. For example, unfit living conditions may apply to parents who commit violence, abuse substances, have mental illness that threatens the safety of a child, or pose another risk of harm to their children. Under these four categories of harmful environments are specific behaviors that are considered potentially harmful to a child.
For instance, failure to provide food, clothing or shelter falls under the category of failing to provide basic needs. It may also include locking a child out of the home; under-dressing a child in cold weather; living in unsanitary conditions or in dangerous conditions, such as housing with exposed wires or without heating in winter; or feeding children insufficient amounts of food for their age or nutritionally deficient foods.
Exposing a Child to a Risk of Harm
Risk of harm occurs when a parent or caregiver places a child in harm by the caregiver’s behavior, such as exposing the child to criminal activity, for example, producing illicit drugs, selling weapons, harming one child with risk to another, violating court protective orders or other conduct that poses serious danger to a child. Risk of harm includes acts, such as leaving a child in a car unattended, driving while intoxicated with child in tow, or denying a child medical or dental attention when needed. All these factors are age dependent. Obviously, leaving a teenager waiting in a car unsupervised is not the same as leaving a toddler in the same place, or leaving a six-year old to babysit a two-year old is not the same as leaving a fifteen-year old with a young child.
Parental substance abuse endangers a child physically or emotionally by the parent’s impairment, thereby threatening the child with neglect and exposing the child to risk of harm. Substances like alcohol, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, sedatives, hypnotics, stimulants, and the like that affect the caregiver’s ability to provide adequate supervision or which causes an infant to be born addicted to drugs pose significant risk of harm.
Family Violence in the Home
Under the category of abuse and violence comes family violence that causes a child to witness physical violence inflicted on one parent by the other or one parent on another person in the household or on the child. Verbal and sexual abuse, as well as patterns of threats, intimidation, economic control, torture and isolation are forms of family violence, whether witnessed or suffered by the child. Adults committing violent criminal behavior, such as assault on another adult member of the household, domestic violence, which may also harm a child, is considered to pose a substantial risk of physical injury.
Parent Reported for Unsafe Living Conditions, What Happens Next?
When a report of unsafe living conditions reaches DCPP, the division opens an investigation to substantiate the abuse or neglect to the child, and if substantiated, a complaint is filed against the offending caregivers to get the neglect or abuse to stop and to protect the child. If appropriate, DCPP will consult with the accused caregivers in attempt to resolve the unsafe conditions and avoid the necessity of removing the child from the dangerous conditions and the caregiver creating them. If not possible or obviously futile, the child may be removed from the custody of the offending caregiver and placed in foster care or kinship care, for example, a close relative or family friend, until a permanent solution is found through the joint efforts of DCPP, the courts, parents and interested others that consider the best interests of the child.
In the interests of protecting the child and attempting to maintain family unity, DCPP can help families stay together by co-creating a plan with the family—parents, children and other household members or involved persons—to create a safe and healthy environment for the child or children in question. The plan includes commitments by all parties to make the necessary changes to fulfill the goals of protection, safety, and well-being of the child through services and resources provided to the family, such as therapy, financial counseling, substance abuse recovery, education, parenting classes, and other services and resources to effectuate the plan.
The case worker assigned to the family’s case must make careful determinations each step of the way calculated to negotiate the paramount concerns of child safety, best interests of the child, and family unification, with the help of enlisted professionals providing services to the families, personal interviews and observations of the involved parties, division rules, policies and regulations, and the help of advisory personnel like the Deputy Attorney General. Even outside of individuals and Boards that oversee child placement review, the actions of DCPP must ensure they make reasonable efforts to keep the child home, either by vigorously working toward helping the family resolve their issues, to supervising the child in the home situation.
Accused of Unsafe Living Conditions for a Child in NJ?
Before you sit down with a case worker, consult with a knowledgeable attorney experienced in dealing with DCPP, who can help you navigate the court system and know your rights. Contact us (908)-356-6900 for a free consultation with a lawyer who can provide more information about what it means to face allegations of unfit living conditions and other aspects of DCPP investigations, court proceedings, and matters that may affect your case.