Any time the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) receives a claim of suspected physical or sexual child abuse or neglect, the agency must investigate the claim, which includes conducting a home inspection. Investigations of this type must begin within 24 hours of receiving the complaint and concluded within 60 days. If more information is required in order to make a proper determination, the DCPP can seek an additional 30 days to investigate.
Home inspections are necessary in order to determine if the environment is safe for the children living in the home. If the inspection reveals the welfare of the children is at risk, the children will be removed from the home and placed in protective foster care while the investigation is underway.
Investigators are not required to announce home visits to the accused parents and prefer to make random visits. Doing so prevents families from hiding or correcting any signs of abuse or neglect before the investigator arrives to the home.
Home inspections can be a difficult, emotional and stressful time for many families, and understanding what to expect can help reduce those feelings and make the entire investigation process go more smoothly.
Investigations generally involve home visits and inspections, interviewing family and others, determining the factors of the alleged abuse, removal of children (if necessary), and present findings and results. Information on each step is as follows:
During the initial contact with the family in the home, investigators will:
- Conduct a thorough home inspection to see the child’s living and sleeping arrangements, cleanliness of the home, and whether the child has food, water, shelter, and clothing.
- Interview parents, guardians, or relatives living in the home with the child, discerning whether there are signs of abuse or neglect.
- Interview the child and siblings who are the subject or subjects of the investigation.
- Determine signs of physical or emotional abuse on the child.
- Investigators may request the accused undergo psychological evaluations and drug tests.
- Investigators may request the accused sign a release for medical records and other confidential records.
Investigators and anyone else associated with the investigation are also not obligated to reveal the source of the complaint to the accused but can provide general information on the accusations submitted to DCPP prompting the investigation.
In addition to family inside the home, investigators may also interview people outside the home, such as:
- Immediate family members and close friends
- Teachers and medical and childcare providers
- Others with knowledge of the child’s physical and mental health and living conditions
Investigators may also request school and medical records, along with any other records pertaining to the child, to review.
To determine their findings on the allegations, investigators will consider the aggravating and mitigation factors of the alleged abuse, which are:
- Aggravating factors: Death or near-death of a child, sexual abuse, hospitalization of a child, absolute aggravating factors, repeated incidents of physical abuse, neglect, or care deprivation
- Other aggravating factors: Age of child, the child’s lasting physical, psychological or emotional impact, the child’s isolation, institutional abuse or neglect, and parents’ failure to comply with court orders
- Mitigating factors: The accused’s remedial actions, minor harm to the child, isolated or aberrational nature of the abuse or neglect, and any stressors leading to the accused’s uncharacteristic actions
If DCPP representatives gather enough evidence to support the allegations of suspected child abuse, they can order the children be removed from the home and placed in protective foster care. In cases of immediate risk to the child, DCPP will immediately remove the child from the home and file an emergency complaint in family court and a special lawyer will be appointed to represent the child.
When children are removed from the home, DCPP is legally obligated to reunify the family through supervised visits of the children and parents or guardians, who may be ordered to undergo:
- Improvement programs on parenting skills
- Rehabilitation for drug or alcohol abuse
- Counseling for mental health or other issues and conditions
- Anger management classes
These services often require months or up to a year to fully complete. Family court judges will not reunite children with parents who do not comply with the required support services ordered by the DCPP. In cases of extreme abuse or neglect, the DCPP can request the court terminate parental rights which, if granted, removes all rights of parents and any other legal family members to the child. Once terminated, children can be legally adopted.
Present Results and Findings
Following the 60-day investigation, DCPP investigators will notify the accused of their findings and resulting actions, which are:
- Substantiated: If the claims of child abuse or neglect are found to be accurate, the claim will be substantiated. Children may be removed from the home, placed in foster care, and the accused will be required to maintain increased contact with DCPP. In substantiated cases, the accused’s names will be permanently added to the child abuse registry. While not a publicly available list, the DCPP representatives and employers do have legal access to review the list. Inclusion on the child abuse registry can prevent you from working with children or the elderly and ineligible to adopt or foster other children.
- Established/not established: If investigators determine the case was not serious enough to warrant substantiation, but there is some evidence of abuse or neglect, they will find the case either established or not established, depending on the circumstances of the claimed abuse. In cases resulting in established or not established findings, the accused’s names will not be added to the child abuse registry, however, DCPP will permanently keep the case’s information on record.
- Unfounded: If investigators find there is no evidence of child abuse or neglect, they will rule the case unfounded. The accused’s names will not be added to the child abuse registry and DCPP will erase the case and information from their files after three years, as long as no other allegations against the accused are filed.
Regardless of the findings, DCPP can require any of the accused to follow a case plan after the investigation. Additionally, DCPP can request a new court order to open another investigation or for care and supervision plan that allows DCPP to require the accused to participate in family services. Parents or legal guardians can file appeals for substantiated and established findings with family court.
All New Jersey citizens are required to report suspected child neglect or abuse of any kind. Reports can be submitted anonymously and those who report abuse are typically immune from legal actions so long as reports are made in good faith, and are not made as a vengeful act.
South Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help Parents and Legal Guardians Maintain Their Rights During DCPP Investigations
During a DCPP investigation, parents and legal guardians still maintain rights throughout the process. Hiring an experienced attorney, such as our knowledgeable and skilled South Jersey DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker, can help you understand your rights and navigate the many legal and court proceedings associated with a DCPP investigation. Call us at 856-210-9776 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. We serve clients in Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Voorhees, South Jersey, and throughout the state.