DCPP Cases with Special Needs Children

October 24, 2022
New Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Handle Your Case with Care and Compassion .
New Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Handle Your Case with Care and Compassion .

The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) is the state agency tasked with investigating reports of child abuse and neglect. When these allegations are founded, DCPP takes appropriate measures to protect the child. Cases that involve children with special needs are especially complex.

Families of special needs children often have valid concerns their child’s social, emotional, and physical needs are not being met throughout the course of a DCPP investigation. With so many caseloads, it is easy for a child to get “lost in the system” and fall behind without these vital services.

A DCPP lawyer advocates for the child’s best interests, protects the parental rights, and fights unfounded allegations of abuse or neglect. A lawyer can also assist guardians who have custody of a special needs child to ensure the child’s needs are met and monitored by DCPP, their school, and their caretakers.

What Is a DCPP “Strengths and Needs Assessment”?

After a DCPP case is opened, the agency has 60 days to complete an initial strength and needs assessment of the child. Subsequent reassessments are required every six months after that for children in in-home placement, and every three months for children in out-of-home placement (foster placement.)

A DCPP strengths and needs assessment is used to:

  • Evaluate the child’s strengths and needs
  • Identify the child’s most critical needs
  • Formulate a service plan to address their needs
  • Provide service referrals on the child’s behalf
  • Assess and reassess the child’s progress over time

While these assessments are essential for every child involved in a DCPP case, they are especially important for children who require additional therapeutic, educational, and medical referrals and services.

The Challenge of Meeting the Educational Needs of Special Needs Children

It is common for DCPP to contact the special education department at a child’s school to request an Individual Education Plan (IEP). An IEP is a “blueprint” for a child’s special education experience.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with disabilities (who fit certain criteria) are entitled to special education and related services at no cost to the family. If an IEP is already in place, DCPP monitors or adjusts the plan as needed based on the child’s progress.

The goal of an IEP is to remove any obstacles to learning and create equal access in the school setting. It is one key tool to help children under DCPP care access the educational services they need and deserve.

Whether your child remains in the home or is placed outside of the home, it is important to know your rights as a parent. You know your child best. Do not hesitate to speak up if you are concerned their needs are not being met at school or in placement with a family member or foster family.

What Is the “Least Restrictive Setting”?

In some cases, DCPP finds it necessary to remove a child from the home if their health and well-being are at risk due to abuse or neglect. With that said, DCPP is committed to placing children in the “least restrictive setting” available to minimize the disruption to their lives. In some cases, children referred to DCPP have already been exposed to trauma and placing them in a home with a stranger can potentially exacerbate that trauma.

DCPP strives to place the child with a family member, close family friend, or neighbor where their day-to-day routine will remain as predictable as possible. The hope is to keep the child in the same school setting where they feel safe among trusted and familiar classmates, teachers, counselors.

Some factors DCPP considers when making a least restrictive setting decision include:

  • Siblings: If the child has siblings, it is beneficial to keep them together when feasible.
  • Geography: Ideally, the child will remain close to their home and in the same school.
  • Protection: The adult in the placement home must be committed to protecting the child’s health and welfare.
  • Cooperation: The adult should also be willing to work with DCPP and participate in the case plan and services.
  • Reunification: Reunification is always the goal for families where parents want and get the services they need to parent more effectively.

Again, while these factors are relevant for every DCPP case, they are critical for children who may have difficulty adjusting to a new home or school because of a disability.

I Am Being Investigated by DCPP. How Can I Protect My Special Needs Child?

If you are a defendant in a DCPP case, you may feel alone, scared, and worried about your child’s well-being.

The protection of your child is always the top priority in these situations. Yet, it is not uncommon for competent parents and guardians to be falsely accused of abuse and neglect. Well-meaning neighbors, teachers, and community members can act on unfounded suspicions or misinterpret situation, leading to a call from DCPP.

Whatever the nature and veracity of the allegations against you, you have the right to defend yourself. Unless DCPP has petitioned the Court to order you to cooperate with an investigation, you are not required to do so. You do not have to allow DCPP investigators into your home and you have the right to refuse to sign safety protection plans presented to you.

There is so much at stake, most importantly is the custody of your children. Because DCPP investigations move quickly, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to help you navigate the system and protect your family.

New Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Handle Your Case with Care and Compassion

Navigating a DCPP case while caring for a special needs child can feel overwhelming. Our experienced and empathetic New Jersey DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker understand the gravity of your situation and want to help. We protect your rights and advocate for your child throughout every step of process. Call us at 856-210-9776 or contact the firm online to schedule a consultation today. From our office in Cherry Hill, we represent clients in and around Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Voorhees, Haddonfield, and all of South Jersey.

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