What Triggers a DCP&P Investigation?
Created to investigate allegations of child abuse and child neglect, even prosecuting such allegations when necessary, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) was formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services. Physical abuse reports are investigated through parental reports, reports from family members, reports from physicians or teachers, and eyewitness accounts. Suspicious injuries on a child can trigger DCP&P intervention, as can allegations from the child involved. In the state of New Jersey, DCP&P also investigates allegations of unsafe living conditions, parental drug or alcohol abuse, and even when a child is left alone for a period of time which is deemed to be unsafe, according to the age of the child. Other situations which could trigger a DCP&P investigation include:
- The birth of a baby who is drug-exposed
- Law enforcement’s request of an immediate DCP&P response
- The death of a child due to abuse or neglect, when there are other children remaining in the home
- When evidence may be lost if there is not an immediate DCP&P response
- When a child under the age of 6 is found alone at the time of the report
- When a child has obviously been seriously abused at the time of the report
- When a child requires medical attention at the time of the report
DCP&P has 24 hours to begin investigating charges of abuse or neglect unless there is an immediate risk to the child.
The DCP&P Investigation Process
Once DCP&P receives information concerning child abuse or neglect, a caseworker will be dispatched to the home of the child to determine whether the child is in danger. If the child is obviously in imminent danger, the caseworker may remove the child from the home immediately, or if no immediate danger is likely, the caseworker will investigate the claims in the coming days or weeks. When the case has been thoroughly investigated, a formal finding must be made within 60 days of the original referral, however if DCP&P is continuing to investigate the issue—and has credible information to do so—they may be granted extensions in increments of 30 days.
What Do DCP&P Findings Mean?
When the investigation has concluded, the parent will receive a letter within 45 days which details the findings of DCP&P. If the caseworker has determined the child was not abused or neglected and is in no danger of being abused or neglected in the future, the report will be deemed “unfounded.” At this point, the investigation has concluded. If, however, there is sufficient evidence to back up the claims of neglect or abuse, the report will be labeled “substantiated.” In this case, further action will be taken—there may be a formal court hearing to have the child removed.
DCP&P can either take the parent, guardian or caretaker to court, charged with child neglect or abuse, or DCP&P can come to their own conclusion that the child suffered abuse or neglect. If DCP&P concludes there is merit to the allegations on their own, they will then relay this information to the police, as well as placing the person’s name in the New Jersey Child Abuse Registry. Although the DCP&P agency is a necessary one, the decisions made by the agency can sometimes be controversial, as their decisions may not always be completely fair. Even when the report is marked as “unfounded,” the report will remain in DCP&P files for three years.
In addition to “unfounded,” and “substantiated,” the case may be reported as “established,” or “not established.” A finding of “not established,” is not as good as you might think—in this case, the original allegations, the investigation notes and the findings of DCP&P remain in the DCP&P offices forever. During this “forever,” the person who was being investigated has virtually no rights as far as knowing what the investigation found, to challenge the allegations, or to have the files expunged. Unfortunately, contentious divorces and child custody cases can produce false child abuse claims. This could mean that a parent who was falsely accused of child abuse or neglect could live under the cloud of suspicion for the remainder of his or her life.
If the case is deemed “established,” this means there is a preponderance of evidence which shows the child has been abused or neglected, however when aggravating or mitigating circumstances are taken into consideration, the acts committed do not warrant the more serious “substantiated,” finding. The prospect of losing a child is terrifying to most parents, and facing a DCP&P investigation is nothing short of intimidating, due to the consequences which can result. An effective legal advocate is both knowledgeable and adept at navigating DCP&P rules as well as the New Jersey Rules of Evidence. The attorneys from the Williams Law Group have these skills in abundance. Our attorneys deal with DCP&P practically on a daily basis and are never afraid to challenge issues which arise, particularly when the evidence shows there was no abuse or neglect involved.
If DCP&P marks your file as unfounded, you may not be required to do anything, and, if your child was removed from your home, you will be reunited. A finding of not established, established or substantiated may trigger an assessment of your family, and you may be asked by the agency to do certain things to lessen the perceived risk to your child. As an example, you could be asked to undergo drug or alcohol counseling, take part in nutrition or finance counseling, or take part in housing assistance, TANF or WIC, to improve the life of your child. In order to be reunited with your child, you will be required to abide by any service plan or service deemed necessary by DCP&P. Your attorney will more thoroughly explain what the DCP&P findings mean, both in the short-term and the long-term, and can help you appeal certain decisions made by DCP&P at the end of the investigation.
Getting the Help You Need During a DCP&P Investigation
Of course, being investigated for child abuse or child neglect is extremely stressful, however, that stress can be lessened by calling a knowledgeable attorney from the Williams Law Group, LLC. Our attorneys have the necessary experience and skill-set to defend your rights as a parent while protecting your child’s best interests. We believe you deserve an advocate in your corner during this difficult time. As soon as you know you are facing allegations of child abuse or child neglect, it is extremely important that you contact an attorney from the Williams Law Group immediately. You can contact our stellar team of dedicated attorneys by calling (908) 810-1083.