What is Considered Child Abandonment in NJ
Determining Abandonment of a Child in a DCPP Proceeding in New Jersey
The New Jersey Department of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly known as Department of Youth and Family Services, DYFS) is responsible for responding to allegations of child abuse and neglect, and ensuring that children are currently residing in, or placed into, a safe home environment. When these investigations and subsequent legal proceedings arise, there are various actions or failures to act that constitute child abuse and neglect. One form of child neglect is abandonment.
Interpreting Abandonment According to N.J. Rev. Stat. Section 9:6-1
The definition of child abandonment is set forth in N.J. Rev. Stat. Section 9:6-1. Under this law, abandonment occurs when a child is willfully or purposefully given up or forsaken by anyone with custody or control of the child. Abandonment may also occur when someone with custody or control of the child fails to care for the child or exercise control over the child so that the child is exposed to physical or moral danger without protection. Finally, child abandonment may also occur when an individual having control or custody of the child fails to exercise control or custody over the child so that the child must be supported at the public’s expense or by a third party who does not have custody of the child.
Identifying Signs of Child Abandonment in NJ
In many cases, child abandonment may be clear. Depending on the age and abilities of a child, determining whether a child has been abandoned may require very little investigation. The sad yet infrequent old stories of babies being left outside of churches or fire stations clearly indicate that the child has been abandoned. However, in the case of an older child or one who is more capable of functioning on their own, signs of abandonment may be more subtle.
In New Jersey, any person who has knowledge or reason to believe that a child has been abused is required to report it to the DCPP. If a relative, friend, teacher, doctor, bus driver, neighbor, or anyone else with an opportunity to observe a child sees signs that the child is frequently suffering from hunger, is unkept, has poor hygiene, is constantly tired, seems unstructured outside of school, has a physical problem that is not being attended to, states that they are alone at home or have been abandoned, stays at school for an excessive amount of time, or observes any other indication that the child does not have adult supervision, the individual must contact DCPP to report an allegation or concern of abandonment or neglect.
DCPP Looking into Allegations of Child Abandonment
When an allegation or concern over potential child abandonment is reported or referred to DCPP, this prompts an investigation. An initial screener will consider the information provided by the reporter and determine whether, if true, the allegations would constitute child neglect or if the information is insufficient for such a finding, but the child and family may need a potential service. If the screener believes it may be an instance of child neglect including abandonment, the case will be referred to Child Protective Services (CPS). Otherwise, the report may be sent to Child Welfare Services (CWS).
If the matter is referred to CPS, they will respond within 24 hours or by the end of that day. After an investigation, DCPP will determine if the report is substantiated or established, which results in a finding that the child was neglected or abused, or if the report is not established or unfounded. Only unfounded reports to DCPP can be expunged. DCPP typically has discretion in making their determinations, however, if the investigation finds that the child was deprived of necessary care and that deprivation caused them serious harm or put them at risk of serious harm, then they are required to conclude that the child was neglected or abused.
If an Abandonment Report to Child Protective Services Escalates, It can Lead to Termination of Parental Rights
Substantiated and established reports of child abandonment may lead DCPP to file a motion to terminate parental rights if, after a period of 12 months, the issues between the parent and child cannot be remedied. In the case of child abandonment allegations and any other allegation of child neglect or abuse, DCPP must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the parental relationship has or will continue to endanger the child, the parent is unwilling or unable to provide the child with the care they need, reasonable efforts to avoid termination of parental rights and provide the family with services necessary to fix the problem have been made, and terminating the parent’s rights will not cause more harm than good. The judge must base their decision on the best interests of the child. Parents have the right to be represented by a lawyer and those who cannot afford representation will be provided with an attorney from the NJ Office of the Public Defender’s Office of Parental Representation (OPR).
Discuss Your Case with a New Jersey Child Abandonment Defense Lawyer
Parents make mistakes and sometimes even find themselves facing false allegations. Regardless of your circumstances, if you are facing allegations of child abandonment, yet you are reading this article, that probably means that you care about your child and want to restore the relationship and situation. The number one priority in these cases is the best interests of the child, and when a child can be with a parent in a safe and supportive environment, that is the best place for them. Allegations of child abandonment are serious and may lead to termination of your parental rights. Once your parental rights are terminated, it can be nearly impossible to restore them.
If you are facing allegations of child abandonment and are under investigation by DCPP or at any other phase of this process, it is crucial that you have an experienced DCPP defense lawyer by your side. Now is not the time to take a passive role. Regardless of how your family ended up in this situation, you have a right to be represented by a qualified lawyer and demonstrate to the court that it is in your child’s best interests to remain in your care.
Do not wait any longer, and contact our experienced DCPP defense lawyers to help you respond to the allegations of child abandonment in towns in Monmouth County, Bergen County, Essex County, Ocean County, Middlesex County, and elsewhere in New Jersey. For a complimentary consultation about your case, contact us today at (908)-356-6900 or reach out to us online and we will connect you with a member of our firm.