The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) is responsible for investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect. When a report of abuse or neglect is made, the DCPP is obligated to open an investigation within 24 hours. The child and parents or caregivers must be interviewed, as well as any person who may have personal knowledge of the allegations. A risk and safety assessment must also be performed to ascertain the fitness of the parents and the home environment.
When protecting children at risk of abuse and neglect, speed is of the essence, and so many of the reports are recorded statements of hearsay, something that would not normally be considered as reliable evidence. A typical case file contains quite a number of reports, and anyone involved in a child abuse or neglect case needs to understand the reports that will be presented to the court and how to counter them.
The investigation summary details the entire investigation, and its conclusion is also contained in the report. It includes everyone the investigator spoke to and what they said. If the parents had any past cases, they will also be included.
The investigation can yield four types of findings: substantiated, established, not established, and unfounded. Understanding these terms is crucial, as they determine whether a child will be removed from a parent’s custody, whether the parent has a right to appeal the finding, and what kind of case information can be shared.
A finding of substantiated child abuse or neglect means the DCPP has found evidence to support the reported allegations. The child may be removed from the home, and the parent’s information is permanently recorded in the Child Abuse Registry. A substantiated finding may be appealed.
An established finding is one where the DCPP finds evidence of child abuse or neglect, but with mitigating factors that make the case less serious. The parent’s information does not go on the Child Abuse Registry, but it is kept in the DCPP files and cannot be expunged. An established finding may also be appealed.
A finding of not established means the DCPP feels the child was exposed to harm or risk, but the abuse or neglect has not been proven. The parent’s information is kept in the agency records and cannot be erased, but the name will not be added to the Child Abuse Registry. This type of finding is harder to appeal.
An unfounded finding means the DCPP found no evidence that the child was harmed or placed at risk. The parent’s name is not added to the Child Abuse Registry, and after three years, in most cases, the information is erased from agency records. If another report of child abuse is received, the agency may keep the record for long that three years.
The verified complaint is a report that details the allegations facing the parents and describes why the DCPP finds it necessary to intervene. Like the investigation summary, the verified complaint outlines past matters the parents were involved in and the ongoing investigation.
Contact sheets are reports generated by the caseworker, who is required to document every discussion and interaction with the family. Many child welfare cases can last one year or more if the case goes to court. During that time, there are many interactions between the caseworker and the family of the child.
Compliance Review Hearings
As the case moves through the court process, regular hearings are held to review and gauge any progress being made in the matter. These are known as compliance review hearings, and a report is drawn up for each one. These court reports are made by the caseworker before each court date and sent to the judge and all parties. The court report details the DCPP’s efforts to assist the family and summarizes the progress made since the last court hearing. If the family needs further services from the DCPP, that is also included.
All the other support documents gathered by but not prepared by the DCPP are referred to as collateral reports. These include medical reports, drug and alcohol tests, background checks, police reports, and evaluations. For parents undergoing substance abuse treatment, reports from the treating physician on their progress are also part of the collateral reports in the case file.
How are DCPP Reports Used at Trial?
All of the reports listed above will be submitted as evidence to the court should a child welfare case go to trial. The law permits that any records or reports by DCPP staff personnel or professional consultants relating to a child in an abuse or neglect proceeding are admissible as evidence. Once the contents of the case file are admitted, the judge will review and consider everything in the reports.
The problem with many DCPP reports is that they are filled with unreliable accounts based on hearsay. Many are stories related to the allegations that are second or even third-hand knowledge of the alleged abuse or neglect. Even when the chain of communication is through law enforcement officers who spoke to one another, these kinds of statements are generally unreliable. Most often, child abuse is reported to the police after it has happened, so the police officer did not witness the alleged act firsthand. When such a report is successfully removed from evidence, the judge may not consider it at all.
Reports made weeks or months after an alleged event are also questionable in their accuracy and should be excluded from consideration by the judge. The passage of time can affect a person’s memory of an event and allow for influence by outside factors. Other types of reports that should be removed include any that were not made by DCPP staff personal and professional consultants. Police reports, school records, or day care documents should not be admitted through the caseworker.
Thorough knowledge of the DCPP system and its methods of investigating allegations, filing reports are necessary to be able to protect your rights as a parent. If you are facing an investigation by the DCPP, you are encouraged to seek experienced legal counsel.
Haddonfield DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help Clients Understand Reports in an DCPP Investigation
If you are facing allegations of child abuse or neglect, contact our Haddonfield DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker immediately. Our lawyers have the knowledge and experience you will need on your side to navigate DCPP proceedings and hearings. 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.