The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect and may arrange for child protection and family support services as needed. The DCPP must begin an investigation of child abuse or neglect on the same day it is reported or within 24 hours. In New Jersey, doctors and police officers are mandated reporters. They must make a report to the DCPP if they observe signs of child abuse and/or neglect.
If an investigation needs to be done during off hours, such as evenings or weekends, then a Special Response Unit (SPRU) may be assigned to investigate. DCPP and SPRU investigators are not required to provide advance notice, and they have a right to speak to family members without a search warrant. Rules for conduct of investigations have been adopted by the DCPP. They detail when an investigation is required, evidence needed to support a finding, and more.
Whether or not an investigator can speak to a child in private depends upon where the investigation is conducted. If an investigator wants to interview a child at the home, then they may interview the child in private. However, a parent may request being in the room when the child is being interviewed. It may be difficult for an investigator to refuse the request even if it appears the parent will try to exert some sort of overt or covert control over the child’s response.
An investigator is legally permitted to speak to a child directly and in private at their school or a childcare provider location. This can happen without knowledge or permission of the caregiver. The concern is that caregivers who are abusive may attempt to hide the abuse by coaching the child to answer in a way that conceals or denies the abuse. This is a particularly pernicious act as it destroys trust and compels a child to act against their own best interests out of fear.
What can I Expect from a DCPP Investigation?
The purpose of DCPP investigations is to evaluate the merit of an allegation made of abuse and/or neglect. The intent is to protect the child’s well-being. A DCPP investigation addresses conduct that may be crimes and other conduct that, although not technically crimes, may be placing a child in jeopardy. Investigators seek to determine if the child is at risk and determine a path forward that can protect the child. They have access to resources available to families and can help arrange for a response that will litigate danger and address issues and concerns that are discovered.
When a DCPP investigator arrives, they are required to state that they are investigating a report of child abuse or neglect, the general information contained in the report, and their name, their supervisor’s name, and their contact information. If the report identifies you as a person who allegedly committed abuse or neglect, then you are entitled to know the details of the allegations.
The investigator arriving at a child’s home will want to interview the parents and others in the household, including the child. A parent can agree to speak to an investigator, refuse to speak to an investigator, or begin speaking and then discontinue speaking at any time during the investigation.
If an investigator believes the report has merit and the investigation cannot be completed due to refusal of a caretaker to cooperate, the investigator can request an order to investigate from a court. A hearing will be scheduled, and the caretaker will be notified of the hearing date. A judge at the hearing will consider both sides and decide whether to grant or deny the request for an order to investigate. If granted, the order directs the parent or guardian to permit immediate investigation.
What Authority Does a DCPP Investigator Have?
A DCPP investigator is not a police officer. They do not obtain search warrants and cannot initiate an arrest. However, if an investigator discovers evidence that a crime has been committed, they can contact a prosecutor to refer the criminal act to the police. If a time-sensitive situation is ongoing and a crime may be imminent or ongoing, an investigator can call the police.
The DCPP does have authority to take steps to protect children. Concerns over DCPP’s authority to remove a child from their home have made removal the choice of last resort. That authority is therefore limited. The DCPP can remove a child from the home in severe cases of abuse or neglect or if the child is in imminent danger even without a court order. If the DCPP pursues this path, it must follow up and obtain an order for removal after the fact at a hearing. The hearing is an opportunity for the parent or caregiver to present its side of the case.
The DCPP may remove a child at the conclusion of its investigation after reasonable efforts have been made to help make the home a safer place for the child. The DCPP must first work with the caregivers to negotiation terms of a safety plan designed to keep the child safe in the home. If the plan is not followed, then the DCPP has authority to remove a child from the home.
Haddonfield DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help Clients with DCPP Investigations
Child abuse and neglect cases are sensitive and require trusting and compassionate representation. Parents or other caregivers may be misunderstood, misinterpreted, or there may be flaws in reasoning when a DCPP investigator concludes child neglect or abuse has taken place. If you have been the subject of a DCPP investigation, our Haddonfield DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker can help. Call us at 856-795-9400 or complete our online form to set up an initial consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.