Families across New Jersey could be visited or investigated by the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), previously known as DYFS. DCPP/DYFS cases can be frightening for parents, traumatizing for children, and you may feel as though the state has not acted in good faith when investigating your case.
What Are the Aggravating and Mitigating Factors of a Case?
When DCPP cases are investigated, the case worker or attorney will look for aggravating and mitigating factors. You must understand what those factors are as a case is built against you.
Mitigating factors are those that could have caused the neglect and are out of the control of the family. For example, a father might work several jobs to support his children, but his wife is extremely ill. It can be difficult for the father to feed and clothe the children, get them to school, and tend to the house. A family may have a terrible landlord who has not resolved issues in the home that appear to be neglectful, or a single parent may not have any child care.
Case workers and attorneys will weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors of a case before coming to a decision. If you believe the mitigating factors of your case have not been considered, you may wish to appeal. At the same time, there may be no aggravating factors at all. In extreme cases, the DCPP is weaponized against families by angry landlords, neighbors, or relatives even though no abuse or neglect is present.
How Does DCPP Classify Cases?
When a DCPP case is opened, a case worker from the division must come to a conclusion based on the evidence gathered, interviews with the family, and other steps that may be taken to mitigate the situation. Your case will be classified as:
- Substantiated: A substantiated finding is one that has an accusation and clear evidence that the accusation is true. Not only that, but the case has been substantiated to the point that the mitigating factors do not cancel out or outweigh the aggravating factors of the case.
- Established: An established claim is one where the neglect or abuse may have taken place, but the mitigating factors far outweigh the aggravating factors. In these cases, families need help rather than an investigation.
- “Not established”: A case is often downgraded to “not established” after an appeal when the aggravating factors are determined to be inconsequential or not present. These cases may have a single aggravating factor that is not strong enough to build a case around.
- Unfounded: A case that is classified as unfounded has been investigated, and there are quite literally no aggravating factors at all.
How Can You Initiate an Appeal?
You must write a letter to the Office of Administrative Law within 20 days of receiving the letter noting the findings in your case. You should state that you are appealing, include the case number, and pertinent information from your findings notice, and include your personal information so that you can be reached.
Do not attempt to call, complain, or harass case workers and attorneys associated with the DCPP. You do not want to angrily say something that could be used against you in a hearing.
Can You Appeal a Not Established Finding??
Not established findings work in your favor, but it will be recorded. You must appeal directly to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey to have this particular decision expunged. Ask your attorney how to compose the letter and explain why the decision should be changed to unsubstantiated.
Why Should You Retain an Attorney?
You should retain an attorney because the state will send a lawyer to represent the agency. It is difficult to prepare for these hearings, and you do not want to be caught off-guard when you arrive. A lawyer can investigate the case thoroughly, and your attorney will ensure that the DCPP used the proper procedures during their investigation.
What Happens When the State Receives Your Appeal Letter?
The state may review your letter, review your case, and dismiss your case after a cursory review. This is a rare occurrence, but it can happen. Otherwise, you will receive a letter noting the date and time of your appeal hearing before an administrative law judge.
You are given the opportunity to meet the judge who will hear the case and the district attorney who will represent the state. The state might, at this point, dismiss your case if they realize there are no aggravating factors, or the mitigating factors are strong enough to warrant a dismissal.
If the case is not dismissed, you will be given a final notice for a hearing and a discovery period so that your lawyer can look into all the documentation for the case.
Can Information be Removed from the Child Abuse Registry?
You have every right to request that any investigation or judgement be removed from the Child Abuse Record Information or the Child Abuse Registry Information check system. You might not be able to get a job or housing if your name is included. You are innocent until proven guilty, and a simple request will allow you to seek employment or new housing while your case is under appeal.
How Should You Handle Your Administrative Hearing?
Allow your lawyer to handle the appeal hearing. Your lawyer will create a case that will show your mitigating factors far outweigh any aggravating factors in the case, or your lawyer may show that the case worker may have not acted in good faith. You will be prepared for testimony, but you should not speak unless your lawyer or the judge speaks to you first.
Can You Appeal a Second Time?
If you disagree with the findings of the Administrative Law Judge, you may file a petition for another hearing based on what was said or done at your first hearing. You have 13 days to submit a petition for a new decision. The head of the department investigating your case will use these comments to make a final decision. If the decision is still not in your favor, you have 45 days to request a hearing that will go to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. If you want to appeal any findings, it is advisable to seek immediate legal counsel from a professional lawyer.
South Jersey DCPP/DYFS Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Represent Families Entangled in DCPP/DYFS Cases
If you wish to appeal a finding, our South Jersey DYFS lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker are here to help. We will provide you with the comfort and representation you deserve during this difficult time. Call us at 856-795-9400 or contact us online for a private consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we proudly serve affected families throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Voorhees.