When the New Jersey Department of Children and Families Investigates
What to Know if DCFS is Making Inquiries about You
Anytime the NJ Department of Children and Families receives a complaint concerning the possibility of child abuse or neglect, the agency must investigate the claim. The Department, serving as an agent for the State, has a duty to protect the welfare of children. Many complaints stem from an individual contacting the Department through their hotline. The Department is required to maintain a telephone number open at all times to receive claims. However, there are also a large number of reports from New Jersey police officers or physicians, who are mandated to notify the Department if they believe an act of child abuse or neglect has occurred.
When the NJ Department of Children & Families Starts Investigating
Upon receipt of a call, an investigation must begin within 24 hours. During the the process of the underlying investigation, the investigator is required to interview the child, interview the parents, interview any person who lives in the house, and question any individual who may have personal knowledge of the allegations. Which means, the Department may wish to speak to the child’s physicians, counselors, and teachers. Additionally, the child may be transferred to a hospital or appropriate physician if the child needs medical attention.
What is DCFS Looking for?
The Department is also required to inspect the parent’s home to determine if the child is residing in a safe environment. When doing so, the investigator may make unannounced visits to the home and may show up more than once. While in the home, he or she will examine whether the home has sufficient food, running water, and working heat and electricity. The investigator also needs to be satisfied that there are no hazardous conditions inside or outside the home. The Department will also inspect the child’s room to determine if the child has an appropriate place to sleep and has clean clothes. Moreover, the investigator may remove the child’s clothes to the extent needed to check for injuries and if necessary, photograph any visible injuries.
During the course of the investigation, the investigator is obligated to examine the child’s needs as well as measure the strengths and weaknesses of the caregivers. As such, the investigator will review whether any prior reports of abuse or neglect were made against the parents as well as check to see if the parents have a criminal record. If the investigator has concerns, the Department may seek to implement a safety protection plan and offer the family services, such as counseling. For instance, if the parents are struggling to overcome substance abuse problems, the Department may offer substance abuse treatment. If the substance abuse issues are severe, the child may be placed with a relative while the parents undergo treatment to insure the child is safe.
DCFS is Calling Me in New Jersey, What Should I do?
If a Department investigator does show up at your door, it’s important to know that you are under no legal duty to cooperate. Parents or guardian do not have to speak to the Department or allow the investigator to interview their child. You also don’t have to allow them into your home. Plus, you have the right to retain an attorney to counsel you during the investigation and speak on your behalf. However, it’s also important to keep in mind, if the parents do not cooperate, the Department is free to petition the Court to compel the parents to cooperate.
An investigation is suppose to conclude within 60 days. Nevertheless, it can be extended an additional 30 days if more information is needed to be gathered. In either case, you have limited time to begin developing your best defense against these allegations. Keeping your children in your home with you is vital, so don’t delay in seeking skilled legal representation. If you or someone you love is being investigated by the Department of Children and Families, please contact our office at (908)-356-6900 for immediate assistance. Speaking with an experienced New Jersey DCFS defense lawyer is absolutely critical at this time.