Many areas in the state of New Jersey are among the worst COVID-19 hotpots in the nation. The pandemic has affected many aspects of life, including the risk of child endangerment. Child endangerment carries serious penalties in New Jersey. If you are a parent or are otherwise responsible for the care of a child, it is important to understand those penalties as well as COVID-19 scenarios in which you could potentially be charged with child endangerment. An experienced lawyer can help protect your rights regarding investigations by the Division of Child Placement and Permanency (DCPP) and any accusations of child neglect that you might face during these unusual and difficult times.
COVID-19 Has Upended Familiar Routines
Children thrive when they are comfortable with a familiar routine. Attending school, going to daycare, playing soccer, and going to birthday parties are types of activities that are central to a happy childhood. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a stop to many of these familiar routines, creating tension within the family. Parents and caregivers may be at risk of facing charges of abuse if they violate lockdown rules and allow children to do any of the following restricted activities:
- Attend large family gatherings.
- Go to weddings, funerals, or church services where there are more attendees than allowed by law.
- Use playgrounds or other facilities that are off limits.
There have already been several high-profile cases in which parents were charged with endangering the welfare of their children by hosting large family gatherings on their property. Going forward, some churches have indicated intentions of opening their houses of worship to church service and Sunday Schools. Although New Jersey is beginning to ease coronavirus restrictions, another spike in COVID-19 cases could prompt the governor to return to stricter lockdown measures, making many familiar activities illegal again.
Is Child Abuse on the Rise During the Pandemic?
Some experts believe that there have been more instances of severe child abuse since the middle of March 2020. The closure of schools, daycare centers, summer camps, and other activities have kept children at home with parents who may be facing new financial pressures. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and many others are working from home or experiencing reduced hours. There is evidence that children are bearing the brunt of this added strain. According to USA Today, hospitals in Pennsylvania began seeing an uptick in severe child abuse injuries that coincided with the stay-at-home orders.
The parents who were recently charged with child endangerment for allowing their children to attend a large family gathering in defiance of lockdown orders likely did not believe they were committing child abuse. Though they may not have intended to commit a crime, they ended up getting arrested anyway.
The same can be said for many other parents and guardians charged with child endangerment for other reasons. While they may have had no criminal intent, due to their lack of understanding about how the system works, they end up losing visitation rights or even facing jail time and a criminal record.
New Jersey Laws Governing Child Endangerment
New Jersey Statute § 2C:2-4 describes two distinct types of child endangerment. The first involves sexual conduct, and the second involves causing the child harm. The wording regarding harm or abuse is as follows:
Any person having a legal duty for the care of a child or who has assumed responsibility for the care of a child who causes the child harm that would make the child an abused or neglected child is guilty of a crime of the second degree. Any other person who engages in conduct or who causes harm is guilty of a crime of the third degree.
Crimes of the second degree carry penalties of up to 10 years in jail as well as fines. Jail may be imposed, even if it is the person’s first offense. Crimes of the third degree carry lighter jail sentences and do not contain a presumption of jail time for the first offense.
Harming a child can take many forms. In addition to hitting a child or other physical harm, abandoning or isolating a child may be considered a crime in the state of New Jersey. Failing to provide adequate medical care, food, or clothing may be viewed as abuse and neglect. It can also include driving under the influence (DUI) with a child in your car or leaving a child in a locked car.
The Role of DCPP
Formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). DCPP investigates allegations of child neglect and child abuse. If you are a parent or guardian who has been charged with the crime of child endangerment, DCPP will likely intervene as well and investigate your home. The consequences of being investigated by DCPP are not criminal but they are potentially serious, and may include the following:
- Removing the child from your home.
- Suspending parental visitation rights.
- Requiring supervised visits if parental visitation rights are not suspended.
- Mandated therapy or counseling sessions.
- Including your personal information on the New Jersey Child Abuse Registry list.
The New Jersey Child Abuse Registry list is viewed by DCPP, adoption agencies, foster care agencies, and employers who work with children. In essence, if your name goes on this list, you may be forever denied job opportunities that involve caring for children.
The work of the DCPP is important, however, there are times when families are falsely accused. Reports of abuse filed by doctors, teachers, neighbors, or police may misinterpret circumstances. Unless the DCPP has first petitioned the court, you are under no obligation to let their investigators inside your home, regardless of the nature of the claims made against you. If you are accused of child neglect or abuse, contact a knowledgeable lawyer to learn about your rights, and the steps you should take to defend yourself.
New Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Continue to Defend Your Rights During the Pandemic
It can be difficult and unnerving to navigate the DCPP system when you have been accused of child endangerment. The stress of dealing with COVID-19 only adds fuel to the file. If you are being investigated by DCPP, do not show your anger in front of investigators; rather, contact one of our New Jersey DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker immediately. We will handle your legal issues with calmness and skill to obtain the best possible outcome for you and your family. Call us at 856-795-9400 or fill out our online form to arrange a confidential consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve families throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.