In New Jersey, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) is responsible for investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect. During the investigation, a DCPP caseworker will talk to many people inside and outside the family to uncover details. The DCPP will want to know:
- What, when, and where the abuse happened and who was involved.
- How often the abuse takes place.
- Type and severity of the abuse.
- How the child is currently, both mentally and physically, and if they need immediate medical care.
- Effects of the abuse on the child.
- Others who could shed light on the abuse, such as teachers, doctors, day care providers, friends, and extended family members.
- Whether the family is at risk and if the child has any protection.
DCPP caseworkers will almost always interview the child who is the subject of the allegation, assuming the child is old enough and mentally capable of answering. While each interview will vary depending on the situation, there are a few specific topics a social worker will generally discuss with the child.
The following are some of the standard topics a DCPP caseworker will discuss with a child in private when investigating abuse allegations.
The caseworker will ask basic information, such as the child’s name, birthday, likes, hobbies, school, friends, and family members. Afterward, the caseworker will ask questions to assess the child’s home life, including:
- Sleeping arrangements
- Working utilities
- Home cleanliness
- Personal hygiene
How many people live in the home and the nature and frequency of visitors are also discussed. The questions will center on how much time the child may spend at home by themselves, whether there are babysitters, and if the child is responsible for taking care of other children in the home.
The caseworker will ask questions to assess how often the child is disciplined and for what reasons. Questions will center on what makes the parent or caretaker upset, how they discipline the child, and how often. The caseworker will try to discern if there is physical harm to the child and if the child is afraid of their parents.
Abused children will often not be taken to a doctor because the abuser does not want anyone to know what they are doing. Neglected children may never see a doctor for routine visits or when they are sick. The caseworker will want to know the medical and health situation in the home.
Domestic Violence and Abuse
Domestic violence may be common when there is child abuse in the home. A DCPP worker will question the child about how the adults in the home treat each other and whether there is physical or mental abuse.
The DCPP caseworker will ask questions about different forms of abuse, including:
- Mental Abuse: The caseworker will try to discern if the child is subjected to demeaning words, are scared by threats made by caregivers, or subjected to other mentally abusive behaviors.
- Sexual Abuse: The DCPP worker will ask questions to determine if the child understands sexual abuse and whether it has occurred by parents, caregivers, or others.
- Substance Abuse: Questions surrounding alcohol and drug use in the home environment are common in investigations. The caseworker will try to understand if adults in the home or visitors use drugs or alcohol regularly or if their may be illicit drug activity, such as dealing.
Overall, the DCPP will determine whether the child is safe at home.
A child who is abused will often feel sad, tired, disinterested in school or activities, or may want to hurt themselves. The caseworker will ask them questions about how they feel inside in words they can understand. The caseworker will often encourage the child to talk about any problems they are having without fear of being punished.
Do I Need a Lawyer if I am Being Investigated by the DCPP?
Anyone being investigated by the New Jersey DCPP should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. An allegation of child abuse is serious. The investigation and its findings can have far-reaching effects, not only on a family, but on the accused’s reputation, standing in the community, and even employment.
A DCPP lawyer will help with the following:
- Help the accused understand their rights and what the DCPP is and is not allowed to do.
- Prevent children from wrongfully being taken away for the parents/caregiver.
- Protect the child from being unnecessarily subjected to interviews.
- Ensure compliance with the law and DCPP requirements.
- Serve as an objective third party to help defuse emotions and anger.
- Navigate legal requirements and deadlines related to the investigation and its findings.
What are the Possible Results of a DCPP Investigation?
The New Jersey DCPP completes the investigation within 60 days in most cases. There are four possible findings:
- Substantiated: There is abuse or neglect and an aggravating factor.
- Established: There is a showing of abuse or neglect, but aggravating or mitigating factors do not warrant a substantiated finding.
- Not Established: There is no preponderance of evidence of neglect or abuse, but there is evidence the child was harmed or placed at risk of harm.
- Unfounded: There is no evidence of abuse or neglect and no evidence that the child was harmed or placed at risk of harm.
New Jersey uses aggravating and mitigating factors to determine findings. Absolute aggravating factors that require a finding of substantiated include:
- Death or near-death of a child
- Sexual abuse
- Hospitalization of a child
- Repeated instances of physical abuse
The aggravating factors that help determine a substantiated or established finding include:
- Institutional abuse or neglect
- Tender age of the child
- Lasting physical, psychological, or emotional impacts on the child
- Isolation of the child
- Parent’s failure to comply with court orders
The mitigating factors used in determining findings include:
- Isolated or aberrational nature of the abuse or neglect
- Minor harm to the child
- Remedial actions taken by the accused
- Stressors that caused the accused to act out of character
Haddonfield DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Advocate for Those Falsely Accused of Child Abuse
Abuse allegations can be devastating. They affect the accused’s health, reputation, standing in the community, and possibly even employment. Those accused of abuse have rights and need to understand them. Call the Haddonfield DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker as soon as possible if you need help preparing for an investigation. Call us at 856-210-9776 or contact us online for an initial consultation. From our office in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.