The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) is the agency that investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect. The DCPP will usually investigate any allegation referred to the division within 24 hours, but in cases where harm is feared to be imminent, it could be within just a few hours.
While many referrals are made out of genuine concern for the well-being of a child, it is also common for referrals to be made out of spite by ex-partners after an acrimonious break up or by hostile neighbors. Regardless of the source or frivolity of the claim, the DCPP must investigate, so parents must be aware of their rights under New Jersey law.
The DCPP does not have to give notice about an investigation. They may show up at your home to inquire about the child in question, and you have the right to refuse to speak with them, to refuse them entry to your home, and to refuse to cooperate with the investigation. Parents are also not legally obligated to take drug tests, sign releases, or take part in any evaluations.
The investigator might make demands and threaten you with the possibility that your child will be taken from you in order to make you comply. However, the DCPP does not have the authority to force you to comply with an investigation. Parents have the right to have a lawyer represent them when the DCPP wants to investigate an allegation of abuse or neglect.
By law, the DCPP must tell you the details of the allegations if you are the one named in the report as the alleged child abuser, but the person who called to report you always remains anonymous. This is to encourage people to report instances of child abuse and neglect without fear of retaliation.
The DCPP is also required by law to make reasonable efforts to preserve the family before deciding to remove a child from the home. This may include utilizing measures, such as a safety protection plan, to protect the child from the alleged abuser.
If a child is indeed removed, the DCPP is required to make reasonable efforts to assist the parents in remedial measures so that the family can be reunited. This usually means developing a case plan that outlines the return date of the child after services have been provided to the parent to enable the reunification of the family. The DCPP offers services that include parenting classes, substance abuse treatment, help for survivors of domestic violence, and mental health services. Parents have the right to know about these services.
What Authority Does the DCPP Have?
The DCPP itself cannot force you to cooperate with an investigation, but they can ask a court to compel you to cooperate. When the DCPP believes an act of abuse or neglect has likely occurred, they may file a complaint with the court to prosecute the matter, intervene with the parents, or compel cooperation.
If the court accepts any of these complaints, it can order you to submit to drug and alcohol testing and undergo an evaluation. The court can also order a child to be placed in foster care or with a relative and require supervision over a parent who is visiting and interacting with their child.
When the DCPP believes a child is in imminent danger, it does not need a court order to remove a child from a parent’s home and care. Known as a “Dodd” removal, a child can be removed from the home immediately if the DCPP determines that the child is directly in harm’s way and petitioning the court for assistance with removal would take too much time.
When this type of removal occurs, the parents have a right to defend themselves in a hearing that must take place within 48 hours of the removal. In the hearing, the parents have the chance to contest the action of the DCPP and insist that the child be returned.
What Happens During a DCPP Investigation?
If you are the subject of a DCPP investigation, it may be confusing, stressful, and frustrating. Remember, you do not have to talk with investigators who show up at your home or contact you. This stops the investigation, but it does not mean the case is closed. If you do start talking to them, this will be taken an indication that you agreed to be interviewed.
The DCPP is given 60 days to conclude an investigation but is allowed 30 additional days if needed to gather more information. An investigation consists of some or all the following components:
- Interviews with the parents.
- Interviews with the child. The parents have a right to be present, although the DCPP will likely insist on interviewing the child alone.
- Interviews with anyone who may have personal knowledge regarding the complaint, such as teachers, neighbors, and doctors. To speak with a family doctor, the parents must give their consent to the DCPP or sign a release form.
- Inspection of the home where the child lives to ensure the home is safe and without hazardous conditions. There must be adequate food, a suitable place to sleep, heat, electricity, and running water. Any firearms present must be safely stored.
Never sign a release form without fully understanding the conditions contained in the document. The release could be asking for access to all your medical records or only certain parts of them. It could end on a certain date or have no stop date at all for collecting information. Always be careful when giving access to your private information, and know that you have the right revoke a release after signing one.
If you have questions or concerns about your rights or the DCPP investigation process, contact an experienced lawyer immediately. Getting legal counsel could help protect your family.
Moorestown DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Provide Experienced Counsel to Families Dealing With DCPP Investigations
If you are the subject of an investigation by the DCPP, it is important to know your legal rights. Our compassionate Moorestown DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker are thoroughly familiar with the DCPP and can advise you of your rights. Call us at 856-795-9400 or contact us online for an initial, private consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.