On May 27th, 2020, the Supreme Court of New Jersey decided on the case S.C. v. New Jersey Department of Children and Families. In their decision, the Supreme Court provided clarity on several New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) procedures surrounding administrative findings of “Not Established”. The case, which was argued by Williams Law Group attorney Victoria D. Miranda, will create changes in DCF procedures across the state.
The case of S.C. v. New Jersey Department of Children and Families arose after DCF investigated a mother (referred to as S.C. to retain anonymity) regarding allegations of child abuse. The Department investigated the matter by interviewing the child’s principle, siblings and both parents. Following the investigation, DCF concluded that the allegations of child abuse were “not established”, meaning there was not enough evidence to suggest abuse as defined by state law but there were some indications that the child was put at risk of harm.
DCF came to this conclusion without providing S.C. with an opportunity to respond or refute the allegations against her. Further, S.C. claimed that the DCF’s finding was arbitrary, as evidence to support the claim was insufficient. Currently, a finding by the agency of “not established” cannot be expunged and may have a lasting impact on a parent or guardian’s life.
The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed and remanded the findings of the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division. By remanding the case, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the procedures currently employed by the Department be revised in connection with findings of “not established” and that the case be sent back to the Department of Children and Families to reexamine their finding. Specifically, the Supreme Court outlined due process procedures wherein the Department must give a detailed written notice to parents or guardians of what they found in their investigation and the reasoning behind the finding; parents or guardians must be provided an opportunity to rebut and supplement the record; provided guidance on what rights should be made available to individuals in these situations moving forward, and changed the standard of evidence relevant to DCF in these investigations to comport with due process.
The results of a DCF child abuse investigation may have serious and long-lasting impacts on an individual’s life. Many individuals may run into complications or have questions about how they should interact with the Department. An experienced family law attorney from the Williams Law Group, LLC could advise you on your rights and guide you through your case. To speak to one of our knowledgeable family lawyers, call today.