Any allegations of child abuse or neglect reported to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) must be investigated. When the process concludes, the DCPP must declare the result of their investigation, known as the finding. While the investigation process can be intimidating and overwhelming for parents facing allegations, understanding the meaning of the finding is of the utmost importance. The finding determines what happens to the child’s custody situation, whether or not information about your case will be shared with others, and can also affect your right to appeal.
There are four types of DCPP findings: substantiated, established, not established, and unfounded. At the conclusion of an investigation, the DCPP must inform you by letter of their decision or finding.
This term means that investigators found absolute substantiating circumstances as proof that abuse or neglect took place. A finding of substantiated is very serious and means the abuse warrants placing the perpetrator on a child abuse central registry. Examples of absolute substantiating circumstances include:
- Death or near death of the child.
- Hospitalization of the child from severe abuse or neglect.
- Repeated physical abuse.
- Sexual abuse or exposure to inappropriate sexual activity.
- Failure to protect the child from known sources of abuse or neglect.
- Exposing a child to neglect severe enough to cause harm or the possibility of real harm.
In the absence of absolutely substantiating circumstances, the DCPP will consider aggravating factors and mitigating factors to decide the outcome of the case. Aggravating factors are those that made the abuse or neglect worse, such as:
- The child was very young.
- The child had a special need or disability.
- The child was abused or neglected in an institution.
- The child was subjected to continual abuse or neglect that left a lasting emotional or physical impact.
- Leaving the child in the home would mean their continued abuse or neglect.
Mitigating factors are positive ones that exist in addition to the abuse or neglect. Examples of mitigating factors include:
- Being involved with the DCPP for the first time.
- Having provided regular care for the child, such as medical appointments.
- Extraordinary stressors, temporary or situational, that may have caused uncharacteristic behavior on the part of the parents.
- The harm to the child was minor.
The DCPP will consider both aggravating and mitigating factors, and if the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors, the case is substantiated. If more mitigating factors exist than aggravating factors, the finding will be established.
The consequences of a substantiated finding are serious. If you are the subject of an investigation that concludes with a finding of substantiated your name will be permanently recorded in the child abuse registry. When employers check the registry during the hiring process, your name will appear and you will not be able to work in occupations involving children, such as child care, group homes, or adoption agencies. You may be prevented from adopting a child or foster parenting. The DCPP may require that you follow up after the investigation concludes with more services.
The DCPP issues an established finding in cases where there is evidence of child abuse or neglect but there are more mitigating factors than aggravating factors. In cases that conclude with an established finding, your name is not entered into the child abuse registry. Instead, the DCPP keeps your case information on file and your file is permanent and cannot be expunged.
If you accumulate a record of several established cases, the DCPP may change their finding from established to substantiated and enter your name into the child abuse registry. Having an established case finding can prevent you from being a foster parent.
Not Established Finding
This indicates that the investigation showed that the child was exposed to harm or risk without being able to prove that there was child abuse or neglect. As with an established finding, your name is not included on the child abuse registry, but your file is kept permanently at the DCPP and may not be expunged.
In cases with an unfounded finding, the DCPP investigation found there was no harm to the child and the child was not exposed to the risk of harm. Since the allegations were unfounded, your name will not be entered into the child abuse registry. After three years, your file can be erased from DCPP records if there are no further reports of child abuse or neglect during that time. The DCPP may have to keep your records for longer than three years if during that time allegations of abuse are made against another member of your household or if the court orders them to be kept.
What Should I Do if I Disagree With the DCPP’s Finding?
If you have been the subject of a DCPP investigation and receive a finding of substantiated or established, you may request additional review and appeal the finding. During the appeals process, you may present evidence against the allegations of abuse or neglect. Appeals should be made to the Office of Administrative Law within 20 days of receipt of the finding notice from the DCPP.
If you received a finding of substantiated or established, it is crucial to consult with an experienced DCPP lawyer who can review the facts of your case and help you determine your best course of action. In some cases, it may be possible during the appeal process to contact the agency or the deputy attorney general (DAG) who has been assigned to your case and ask to have the finding downgraded and your information removed from their files. Any kind of DCPP investigation and finding can significantly impact your life and your child’s life and should not be taken lightly.
New Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Can Help You Appeal the Result of a DCPP Investigation
If you have been investigated by the DCPP and need help understanding the finding, contact our New Jersey DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker. We will fight to protect your rights. Call us at 856-795-9400 or complete our online form to schedule an initial consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we assist clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.