When the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formerly known as DYFS, investigates a report of child abuse or neglect it takes those cases seriously. While diligence in investigating these claims is of vital importance, it can also mean that many innocent people must endure weeks or months of uncomfortable questions and difficult situations.
DCPP does not assume that every report it receives is accurate and investigates each to determine if there is any merit to them. The agency follows a specific procedure in investigating these accusations to determine whether there is any validity to the accusations.
The agency does not need any evidence before knocking on your door and questioning you. While you want to be cooperative for yours and your child’s benefit, it is best to have a South Jersey DCPP lawyer on your side who will represent your interest and protect your rights.
When Does DCPP Consider a Case to Be Valid?
When the DCPP receives a report of potential child abuse or neglect, it must meet a certain level of conditions for the agency to classify it as valid and act upon it. There are three criteria that it must meet for the agency to move forward. Those conditions include:
- The allegations must allege to have occurred to an individual who is under the age of 18, and the perpetrator has custody of that individual. The alleged perpetrator could be the child’s parents, legal guardians, or any other adults in charge of the child’s care.
- There must be allegations the child was harmed or at risk of being harmed.
- The report must contain information that demonstrates that the parent or caregiver is the person responsible for hurting the child or putting that child at risk of being harmed.
Once a report meets all three of these conditions, then the DCPP will move forward to conduct a formal investigation.
How Does DCPP Receive a Report of Child Abuse?
Reports of potential child abuse can come from anywhere including your child’s school, their hospital, or from a random and anonymous tip. Under New Jersey law everyone who has any interaction with a child are mandatory reporters if they see something suspicious. It could be unexplained bruises on a child, or inadequate clothes for a cold day, or multiple days without bathing. These are all signs of problems at home and will prompt a teacher or school official to contact DCPP.
Neighbors, friends, and even other family members can report a concern to the DCPP hotline or offices. These individuals remain anonymous to the family being accused, and are immune from any liability, even if they are falsely accusing a person due to malicious intentions. Given the serious nature of the accusations, DCPP does not have time to go after those who make false accusations, instead focusing on the potential abuse.
If DCPP receives only one report, it is classified as a “second report” and it is sent to the DCPP office closest to the child and their alleged abuse perpetrator. If there have been previous reports about the child and abuser, that report is classified as a “subsequent report” and is sent to the DCPP caseworker already assigned to the case.
Once a claim has been verified, then the screener determines if the claim constitutes a Child Protective Services (CPS) referral or Child Welfare Service (CWS) referral. The former means the screener believes the accusations demonstrate a clear case of abuse or neglect. The latter means potential service is warranted however there is not enough evidence to justify a formal investigation.
DCPP workers then investigate the claim by speaking with all relevant parties including the parents and the doctor and visiting an individual’s hoe to determine the living conditions of the child. These investigations will begin within 24 hours of their initial referral.
Immediate action could be deemed necessary if the initial screener has determined that the case is urgent. To classify a case as “urgent,” one of the following conditions must be met. Those include:
- The police are requesting an immediate response.
- One child has died in the home and another child is still there, and is therefore in potential danger.
- Serious physical abuse has been alleged.
- A child needs serious medical attention, according to allegations.
- A child, who is under six-years old, has been left unsupervised.
- A newborn has been exposed to drugs.
Once a case is deemed urgent, the caseworker must contact the family by the end of the day.
What Are the Results of a DCPP Investigation?
After the DCPP conducts its investigation, it will decide about the allegations and classify it under four categories. Those categories are:
- Substantiated: DCPP determines that a child was abused or neglected, and sufficient evidence exists for an action to take place including the removal of the child from the household.
- Established: The investigation finds that there was evidence of child abuse or neglect however the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors. The case will not go to the Child Abuse registry, but the agency will keep a record of the report, which can never be expunged.
- Not established: The agency could not prove that abuse or neglect took place, but there was sufficient evidence to find that the child was exposed to harm. This case will also not go to the Child Abuse registry, but the agency will keep the records, which again cannot be expunged.
- Unfounded: No evidence was found that your child was at risk, nor were they in danger. The case will be closed and expunged from the agency’s records.
Upon conclusion of the investigation, you will receive a letter from DCPP within 60 days of the close of the investigation announcing the outcome. If the DCPP makes a substantiated or established ruling about the investigation, you have the right to appeal it. You can first request that DCPP take another look at the case before requesting that New Jersey’s Office of Administrative Law conduct its own review. If you choose to appeal a decision, speak with a South Jersey DCPP lawyer who can advise you on how best to proceed.
South Jersey DCPP Lawyer at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Defend Your Rights When You Face Accusations of Child Abuse
If you have been accused of abusing your children, it is a lonely feeling, and you may feel that you have already been convicted and may lose your children. The South Jersey DCPP lawyer at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker will stand with you and defend your rights as you fight to keep your family together. Call 856-210-9776 today to schedule an initial appointment. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees, New Jersey.