Child Neglect in New Jersey
Child Neglect Attorneys Serving Essex, Passaic, Middlesex County, and throughout NJ
If you or someone you know are under investigation by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) for child neglect in New Jersey, you should know what you’re in for and the possible consequences. Knowledge, in this case, helps prepare your family during a difficult time. Though extremely common, child neglect is not as recognizable as physical child abuse. Neglect doesn’t often leave visible bruises and scars, but the damage is just as significant if not more. More importantly, the degree and level of care required to effectively and safely parent is not a straight line that is crossed. Childcare and rearing standards are not absolute and what may be neglect to some may not be considered neglect by law. Parenting philosophies differ and many factors influence the existence or degree of neglect, for example, poverty, mental health, education, age, or other factors that bear on families, making it difficult to pin down a set of behaviors that constitutes neglect. Nevertheless, it is absolutely vital to understand the definition of neglect in New Jersey and how it may affect you and your family if your child is suspected to be neglected by DCPP.
To get immediate assistance with a child neglect case in New Jersey, contact our experienced team of child neglect attorneys today at (908)-356-6900. We are here to answer all of your questions in a free consultation and if you so choose to retain our firm, we will vigorously defend you against neglect allegations. Contact us anytime for a confidential consultation free of charge. Our esteemed New Jersey child neglect defense lawyers handle all phases of DYFS cases in counties statewide, including in Bergen County, Morris County, Essex County, Passaic County, and Middlesex County. Regardless of where you are accused of neglecting a child, our team has the knowledge, forethought, and practical experience you want and need during this critical time.
NJ Child Neglect Defined
DCF defines neglect as a caregiver or parent failing to properly supervise a child or to provide adequate shelter, food, clothing, medical care, or education to that child even though the caregiver or parent has the financial means to provide those necessities. One definite factor of neglect is substantial harm or risk of harm to the child, according to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). Substantial or serious harm includes physical, emotional and psychological harm, whether due to action or inaction of the caregiver, characterized as mild, moderate or severe. Only moderate and severe neglect warrant DCPP intervention. For example, sending a child to school unsuitably dressed for the weather may be moderate neglect, while failing to give the child life-saving or preventative medication for a medical condition may be severe neglect.
Patterns of actions or omissions over time constitute chronic neglect. However, one-time events, like leaving a toddler unattended by a swimming pool or in a bathtub, may constitute actionable neglect if such omissions have occurred before. The accumulative effect of neglect in small incidents, themselves not qualifying as neglect, may amount to neglect measured by the effect on the child.
The standard for neglect cases is the minimum degree of care to supply the child with enough means to thrive, such as food, shelter, clothing, education, medication, healthcare, safe and clean home environment, and financial support. Social isolation and improper or lengthy placement of a child in an institution, leading to physical or emotional harm, as well as willful abandonment are also neglect. Responsible persons are parents, guardians, such as adoptive parents, foster parents, stepparents, parents’ significant others, or any other person legally caring and in control of a child. It also includes institutional teachers, employees or volunteers responsible for the child’s welfare.
Types of Neglect in New Jersey
In New Jersey, the law defines a neglected child as a child under 18 with physical, mental or emotional impairment or endangerment due to the failure of a parent, guardian or other caretaker having custody and control. Types of neglect that may occur include physical, medical, environmental, emotional and educational. In other words, neglect refers to a failure to provide shelter to the child from the elements, medical care when necessary to treat illnesses or injuries, failing to take a child to school or address special educational needs. Inadequate supervision and newborn addiction are also types of neglect.
Child neglect poses safety risks to children, and one form of neglect is abandonment, which is when parent behavior shows purposeful relinquishment of their parental rights or claims to their child. Abandoning parents or caregivers show no interest in, concern for, or responsibility for the child, for example, leaving a child with someone with no intention of retrieving them or leaving a baby in a dumpster or on a doorstep. Abandonment occurs when a child is not picked up after two days, kicked out of the house without regard for the child’s destination, turning away a runaway or leaving kids in others’ care repeatedly or for a long time.
Inadequate supervision is yet another form of neglect. This occurs when a child is placed in circumstances requiring the intellectual capacity and emotional maturity of an older child, making the child’s lack of adequate judgment or unsafe actions a hazard. Perhaps a caregiver leaves a very young child alone in the residence or the caretaker is physically or mentally unable to care for the child; inadequate supervision includes children left in dangerous conditions, bad weather, dangerous neighborhood, and other hazards.
DCPP also considers failure to thrive due to medical neglect and malnutrition as neglect, especially dangerous to a child under a year old. If the child’s height and weight and motor development fall well below the average growth rates of a normal child due malnutrition or an unaddressed medical condition, this is serious neglect. Nutritional neglect is leaving children hungry or undernourished. Likewise, when a parent or caretaker withholds adequate food, water or medication from a disabled infant with a life-threatening condition, creating near fatality or crippling effects is considered extreme neglect. Equally severe are failure to obtain medical, dental or psychiatric treatment for conditions that can become severe enough to cause permanent hardship to a child, as well as failing to get a child help for substance abuse.
Other Types of Neglect
Subtler forms like educational neglect occurs when a parent allows their child to be truant, is responsible for their truancy or fails to take steps to enroll children in school. Under-dressing a child in cold weather is clothing neglect. Emotional neglect is not providing adequate affection and nurturing, exposing a child to domestic violence, ignoring or indifference to the child, constantly telling the child they are worthless or bad, blaming the child for all bad things happening in the family, permitting repeated truancy from school or underage substance abuse. Socially depriving children of outside interaction with others may also be deemed neglect.
Risk Factors for Child Neglect
Neglect may be due to many reasons, including poverty, single parenthood, social isolation, mental illness, poor communication skills, family stress, substance abuse, domestic violence, family dysfunction, lack of resources, or repeated patterns of childhood abuse, in part or whole. Sometimes situations cause neglect. For example, a single mother who leaves a child home alone when the babysitter doesn’t show will lose her job if she doesn’t go to work but will be accused of neglect if she leaves a young child home alone.
Signs of Neglect
Depressed parents who appear apathetic and disinterested in their child, behave erratically, abuse drugs or alcohol or appear defensive about the child’s behavior in school, blaming the child or putting the child down in front of others are signs that parents may be neglectful. However, child neglect is easier detected in the child who wears dirty or improperly-sized clothing or inappropriate clothing for the weather, is always hungry, steals or begs for food at school, comes to school tired and listless, reports taking care of younger siblings often, smells of poor hygiene or urine, or has dirty teeth or untreated sores. Homelessness, however, does not necessary qualify as neglect, unless the parents’ homelessness is due to reckless behavior, such as buying alcohol instead of paying rent.
Consequences of Neglect
Neglected children suffer detrimentally in health, academic performance, and physical, intellectual, cognitive, emotional and psychological development. Some neglect leads to lifelong disability. Malnourished children suffer from development delay, failure to thrive (falling below the growth and development norms for their age), and brain impairment, while emotionally and psychologically neglected children suffer poor attachment, self-esteem or social relationships.
Cognitive delay may impair language development, and social neglect may cause children to have poor impulse control. Poor coping abilities has been attributed to trauma induced by neglect due to accumulated or isolated neglect incidences. Sometimes a child dies of neglect, for example, drowning in a bathtub due to inadequate supervision. All these effects are related, overlap or influence other areas of development, damaging the overall well-being of the child, especially young children (infants fare worse than older children), depending on the severity of the neglect and the relationship between child and caretaker.
Child Protective Services Investigation of Neglect in NJ
If someone has reasonable belief a child suffers from neglect, they are required to report their suspicions to law enforcement or Department of Children and Families. Once reported or suspected, DCCP is responsible for evaluating reports of neglect or suspected neglect to determine if the facts reported rise to the level of maltreatment under statutory and agency rules. They further determine whether immediate action is necessary. DCPP investigates to verify the neglect and assess the urgency, and if substantiated (usually by demonstrable harm, meaning unmet basic needs and resulting harm), DCPP intervenes and investigates. If not, no investigation occurs.
If the child is in immediate danger, DCPP devises a plan to protect the child within the family or with relatives, if appropriate. They must also assess the risk of future neglect and whether continuing intervention on their part is necessary. The initial assessment identifies the risks and problems, readying the caregivers to make necessary changes, while the future going assessment addresses those risks and problems to prevent further maltreatment, given the child’s environmental, familial, cultural, community and societal interactions. Eventually, the plan shifts from addressing problems to a partnership with the family to work on development of healthy behaviors and practices. The aim is to keep families together, but, if not possible due to child safety, then to permanently place the child or children with families.
A family assessment plan comes about after interviewing all household members and other interested individuals participating in the caretaking of the child, consulting with professionals and analyzing information and issues needing to be addressed. In an initial assessment meeting with the family, DCPP acquires the picture from the parents’ perspective as to what they perceive are the strengths and weaknesses in their family, how much of parental history, family support, habits and needs contribute to patterns of neglect and who and what will help the family prevent future incidences. Part of the assessment is recommended resources, such as parenting classes, therapy, rehabilitation services, financial counseling and the like. The family and caseworker devise goals and outcomes for necessary changes. If possible, family education and reunification is the goal.
Get NJ Lawyer Help with Child Neglect Case
Child neglect is a fourth degree crime punishable by possible jail time, fines, and removal of your child from your care in New Jersey. With such severe consequences on the line, you need counsel from an experienced child neglect attorney who knows the ins-and-outs of DCPP investigations and the court process. Our attorneys can help you navigate any and all difficulties along the way when you or a loved one has been accused of child neglect in NJ. Call (908)-356-6900 for a free legal consultation and find out how we can assist with your child neglect case. We have offices in Morristown, Hackensack, Newark, New Brunswick, and Middletown, so we can advise and assist with cases throughout the state.
Child Neglect: A Guide for Prevention, Assessment and Intervention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau Office on Child Abuse and Neglect