What Is a Substantiated Finding of Child Abuse?

July 25, 2022
South Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help to Uphold Parental Rights.
South Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help to Uphold Parental Rights.

Child abuse ranks among the most heinous criminal acts. When one or more parents use physical or mental abuse to cause harm to a child, a multitude of bad things could occur, including the death of a child. As it is such a heinous act, when the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) receives a report of potential child abuse, it must investigate the matter. The investigation could result in the agency removing one or more children from the household.

The initial report might be wrong and cause distress for the parents of a well-loved child. If the report is correct and the child abuse is substantiated, the state likely will remove one or more children to protect them from harm.

Many People Might Report Suspected Child Abuse

Many people might report suspected child abuse to the DCPP. Another parent or family member might witness child abuse or suspect it is happening, so might a teacher or another school official if a child shows signs of child abuse. A medical doctor who regularly cares for a child or who provides emergency trauma care might find medical evidence of child abuse. Mended broken bones, scars, or unusual bruising. A child might tell a psychologist about an abusive situation. The same might happen with a worship leader or maybe a coach or individual who assists with extracurricular activities.

Just about anyone who has regular contact with a child or provides a child with medical care might have cause to suspect a child is subject to abuse. When one or more people report their suspicion, the DCPP usually will investigate.

Four Potential Findings from a Child Abuse Investigation

When the DCPP investigates a report of child abuse, it likely will interview the child and any siblings, the parents, and others involved in the child’s life. A visit to the home is a virtual certainty and might not be done with advance notice. A surprise visit helps to get an authentic view of the child’s home environment.

The DCPP investigation will result in one of four potential findings. Those findings range from “substantiated” to “unfounded.” The following gives you a closer look at each of the four potential findings.

“Substantiated” Finding of Abuse

A substantiated case of child abuse or neglect has ample evidence and places one or more children in an unhealthful and potentially dangerous situation.

Examples of what might lead to a substantiated finding of child abuse or neglect include:

  • Failing to protect a child against abuse or neglect of which a parent should have been aware
  • Injury or the near-death of a child
  • Neglect that causes a child to suffer serious harm
  • Repeated instances of physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse

Many other instances also might result in a substantiated finding of child abuse or neglect. The DCPP almost certainly will remove children from the home when a substantiated finding occurs.

“Established” Finding of Abuse

Things start to get pretty serious when the DCPP investigation concludes that child abuse or neglect is established. An established case of child abuse or neglect means there is evidence to support the accusation, but it does not rise to the level of immediate action.

Mitigating circumstances might have contributed to the abuse or neglect, but it is not what normally occurs. A mitigating circumstance might include a sudden change in family structure that overwhelms one or both parents. It might include a sudden change in employment that greatly impacts a family’s financial situation and causes extreme aggravation.

It even is possible for an abusive parent to be diagnosed with a mental health issue that greatly contributes to the problem. Therapy and medicinal remedies might make it possible to correct the situation.

Whatever the cause might be, an established case of child abuse does not necessarily mean children are removed from the household. It likely will mean the DCPP closely will monitor the situation.

“Not Established” Ruling of Abuse

A ruling of “not established” is similar to an unfounded ruling but might have more corroborating evidence that shows the complaint at least had some merit. If the DCPP investigates and determines there is no clear evidence of child abuse, it will conclude the matter is not established.

That evidence might include a healed broken bone that a medical doctor thought might have reason to suspect was caused by child abuse. Maybe a neighbor saw a parent yelling at a child or punishing the child in a manner that gave rise to concerns that child abuse might be occurring.

“Unfounded” Claim of Abuse

An “unfounded” claim of child abuse has no evidence to support it. The complainant might have good reason to suspect child abuse has or is occurring, but there is no way to show it.

The DCPP investigation could show that the complaint has no merit and there is no reason to believe a child is suffering from child abuse. The investigation might even show that the child is well cared for in a loving home.

An unfounded case of child abuse might arise from a disgruntled former spouse or another person who is looking to cause trouble for one or both parents. Regardless of the reason, when the evidence shows there is no abuse, the DCPP will declare the alleged child abuse to be unfounded and close and end the matter.

You Can Appeal DCPP Findings

When the DCPP determines a child has suffered from established or substantiated child abuse or neglect, you will receive a formal notice. You also likely would lose custody of your children in substantiated cases, but you could appeal the finding.

An experienced DCPP attorney could help you to learn your parental and legal rights to challenge false findings. Your attorney could help you to file an appeal and possibly regain custody of one or more children.

The state will review your appeal and determine whether the original finding was correct or if it was flawed and incorrect. A reversed finding could expunge the record and restore your full parental rights.

South Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help to Uphold Parental Rights

If you are subject to a DCPP investigation or finding, the South Jersey DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker can help. You can call 856-210-9776 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation at our law office in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. We serve clients in Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Voorhees, South Jersey, and throughout the state.

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