The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) is responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect allegations. They must begin investigating a claim within 24 hours of receiving it and conclude their research within 60 days. A 30-day extension is available if needed.
Anyone with a reasonable cause can bring a complaint to the DCPP, which remains anonymous. The DCPP must respond to every complaint. A typical DCPP investigation includes the following:
- Private interviews with the child.
- Interviews with the parents and others who live in the home.
- Interviews with people outside the home that may know about the allegations.
- Reviews of prior abuse or neglect reports and criminal behavior.
- Home inspection.
- Talks with the child’s physician, counselor, and teachers if needed.
- Possible contact with police and prosecutor’s office for immediate removal of the child if needed.
- Transfer to a hospital or medical provider if the child needs medical attention.
If the DCPP has contacted you about an upcoming home inspection or if a caseworker comes to your door without prior notice, you have both rights and obligations. It is a good idea to engage a lawyer before the visit to help you understand what you should do and your rights.
What Does the DCPP Look for in a Home Inspection?
The DCPP must inspect a child’s home to determine if the child is residing in a safe environment. The caseworker may make unannounced and one or more visits. They do not need a warrant to enter a home, however, they must:
- Provide general information about the report they received. They are not obligated to tell you who made the report.
- Provide the investigator’s name and phone number and a supervisor’s name and phone number.
- Tell you if you are the target of the investigation and provide details about the allegations.
As a parent or guardian, you have no legal duty to cooperate with a DCPP investigator. You do not have to let them in your home, speak with them, or allow them to interview your child. You can ask them for identification. Do keep in mind, though, that if you do not cooperate, the DCPP can petition the court to force you to cooperate or turn to local law enforcement for help. It is advisable to talk with a lawyer as soon as possible to understand your rights thoroughly.
The investigator in the home inspection will look for a variety of items, including but not limited to:
- Adequate food and access to food; evidence child is being fed regularly and nutritiously.
- The child has enough shoes and clothing in good condition.
- The child has a safe and comfortable place to sleep.
- Home is clean and free from insects, wild animals, and toxic or harmful substances.
- There is clean running water and sufficient working toilets, baths, and showers.
- Home has working electricity and heat.
- There are no hazardous conditions inside or outside the home, such as falling roofs or damaged and broken windows.
- The home can be adequately secured from intruders.
- The house is free from safety or health hazards.
Will the DCPP Interview My Child?
During a home inspection, the investigator may talk with parents and legal guardians and interview the child if at home. The DCPP may ask the child questions related to the following:
- Background: Birthday, likes, dislikes, hobbies, school, friends, family members. They may ask to see the child’s toys, homework, bedroom, closet, and drawers.
- Home environment: Sleeping arrangements, food, personal hygiene, meals, attention from parents.
- Abandonment: Questions will center on how much time the child spends at home alone, whether there are babysitters, and if the child is responsible for taking care of other children.
- Discipline: The caseworker will ask questions to assess how often the child is disciplined and why.
- Medical: Investigators will ask questions to determine the child’s medical and health situation. They may also ask the child to undress to look for evidence of physical abuse.
- Domestic violence: The investigator may question the child about how the adults in the home treat each other.
- Mental abuse: The caseworker will try to discern if the child is subjected to derogatory words, is scared by threats, or is subjected to other mentally abusive behaviors.
- Sexual abuse: The DCPP will ask questions to determine if the child understands what sexual abuse of their body is and whether it has occurred.
- Substance abuse: The caseworker will try to understand if adults in the home or visitors use drugs or alcohol regularly or if there is illicit drug activity in the house.
- Safety: The DCPP will determine whether the child feels safe at home and what makes them feel unsafe, including parental actions.
- Feelings: An abused child will often feel sad, tired, disinterested in school or activities, or may want to hurt themselves. The caseworker will try to determine the child’s state of mind. The caseworker will encourage the child to talk about any problems they have without fear of being punished.
If there is direct evidence of sexual or physical abuse, the DCPP caseworker can immediately remove the child from the home. They can also remove the child from a dangerous or unsafe environment.
They cannot arrest you or charge you with a crime, but they work in conjunction with the police and prosecutors. Anything you say to them can be used to potentially bring criminal charges against you.
Also, understand that answering DCPP’s questions is automatic consent to be interviewed. To protect your rights, you may want to discuss what is happening with a lawyer before talking with the DCPP.
What Else Happens in a DCPP Investigation?
In addition to home visits and interviewing the children involved, the DCPP will try to get a bigger picture of the family unit and living situation. They will analyze:
- Strengths and weaknesses of caregivers.
- Whether financial assistance or other social services are needed.
- Whether single or family counseling would be beneficial.
- If there is substance abuse by caregivers, they will recommend treatment plans and can petition for removal of the child to a relative or other person’s home.
Depending on their final findings, the DCPP will recommend a variety of actions.
New Jersey DCPP Attorneys at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Can Assist in Child Abuse Investigations
Every child deserves to have a safe and permanent home. Our New Jersey DCPP attorneys at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker help parents understand and exercise their rights. Our skilled and knowledgeable lawyers work with parents and guardians every day to navigate the protective services and court systems to ensure a child’s well-being. Call us today at or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.