Can the DCPP Mandate a Psychological Evaluation?

December 1, 2021
psychological evaluation
psychological evaluation

The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) exists to support families and ensure the well-being and safety of their children. The DCPP is required to investigate any allegations of child abuse and neglect that are reported to them. In the course of an investigation, the DCPP may mandate a psychological evaluation of one or both parents and sometimes the child.

Reports made to the DCPP remain anonymous and can come from teachers, doctors, and school nurses, as well as a lay person, such as a family member or neighbor. The DCPP must respond to every report they receive by the end of the day the report is received or within 24 hours. While some reports are malicious and spiteful, often made by an ex-spouse who did not receive child custody rights, the majority are made out of concern for a child’s well-being.

A DCPP investigation must be thorough and can include any or all of the following:

  • Interviews with the parents or caregiver as well as ex-spouses.
  • Interviews with teachers or the family doctor.
  • Home visits.
  • School visits.
  • Urine screening.
  • Substance abuse evaluations.
  • Psychological evaluations.

The DCPP can also prescribe parenting classes and domestic violence counseling if they feel they are necessary. If you decide not to follow some or all of these parts of the investigation, the DCPP can request the court for an order to force you to comply.

If you are the subject of a DCPP investigation, it is highly recommended that you seek legal counsel rather than try to deal with it on your own. DCPP investigations are complicated, and although they have a timeline for completion of 60 days, if the circumstances warrant it, they can be extended in 30 day increments, and cases can sometimes drag on for as much as a year if the courts are involved.

What Is the Purpose of the Psychological Evaluation?

Psychological evaluation may be called for at any phase of a child protection case for differing purposes. The court or the DCPP may order an evaluation. If the child has a lawyer or has been appointed one, that lawyer may call for an evaluation. The parents of the child may also decide to retain a psychologist to support their case.

A psychological evaluation is used to determine if any maltreatment of the child has occurred and how it has affected the child’s psychological well-being. The evaluation can suggest what type of therapeutic intervention is necessary or recommended for both the child’s recovery and for the parents to prevent future harm to the child. The evaluation must also consider the psychological effect upon the child if they were to be returned to or separated from the parents or if the parents’ rights are terminated.

A psychological evaluation of the case may be made with the family together or separate, depending on the specific needs of the situation. Some factors that help determine the outcome of an evaluation include:

  • Family history.
  • Health status of family members.
  • Nature and quality of the parent-child relationship.
  • Evidence of trauma.
  • Existence of a substance abuse or chemical dependency problem.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Family, cultural, educational, religious, and community factors.

Reviewing the Psychological Evaluation

After undergoing a psychological evaluation, it is important to review the psychologist’s report, including how long the psychologist spent with you and how long they spent making the report. The DCPP can set limits for the among of time the psychologist has to accomplish the task for which they have been hired.

Ask how much time was allotted to administer testing, do the clinical interview, and prepare the report. Check the date of the evaluation against the date the report was prepared and sent to the DCPP to see if everything was done in one day or in the space of only a few days. Evaluations done under expedited conditions per the request of the DCPP should be questioned, as the psychologist sometimes has little to no time to thoughtfully consider all the information gathered in the interviews.

When reviewing the psychologist’s report, be mindful of wording. Often, multiple parents evaluated by the same psychologist receive reports with identical wording that is clearly copied and pasted from a form. Diagnoses made in the report should also be checked against the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to ensure they meet the criteria set forth there.

You should also do your own investigation of the psychologist who did the evaluation and prepared the report. What credentials does this person? Are they competent? Only a psychiatrist can make a psychiatric diagnosis. A psychologist must consult with a psychiatrist and cannot make such a diagnosis on their own.

What is the psychologist’s relationship to the DCPP? How often are they hired to perform psychological evaluations for the DCPP? If most of the psychologist’s income is related to work for the DCPP, there is a good chance they could be swayed to report findings sought by the DCPP.

Moorestown DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Provide Experienced Counsel to Those Involved in a DCPP Investigation

If you are the subject of a DCPP investigation, you should not try to face the DCPP on your own. Contact our Moorestown DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker immediately for legal advice on how to best comply with requests, including a psychological evaluation. Call us at 856-210-9776 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.

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