When a parent, caretaker or guardian faces allegations of child abuse or child neglect, there may be a DCPP investigation, and findings of “substantiated,” “established,” “not established,” or “unfounded” will be reported. For any findings except “unfounded,” DCPP may require the parent, guardian or caretaker to undergo counseling, or engage in other activities in order to create a better environment for the child, or, in the case of a “substantiated” finding, the child could be removed from the home and placed in foster care. DCPP sometimes makes these determinations on their own, and other times files a report with law enforcement, and the case goes through legal channels. Our Short Hills DCPP attorneys could help you through this process if your case goes to court.
Litigation by DCPP is begun through the filing of a Verified Complaint and Order to Show Cause. DCPP is represented by the Attorney General’s Office, and the parent will hire their own lawyer—or be assigned an attorney from the Office of Parental Representation. A Law Guardian may be appointed for the child in questions—an attorney from the Public Defender’s Office, assigned to represent the child. The child may have been temporarily removed from the parent’s care, and placed in foster care—which can be done absent a court order when DCPP believes the child is in imminent danger. Litigation can begin before or after the removal of the child. When a child has been removed, the accused parent may be denied access to the child while DCPP completes their investigation. The accused parent may believe if he or she cooperates with DCPP, the child will be able to come home, however this is rarely the case.
Even the most seasoned attorney can find trying a DCPP case at least somewhat overwhelming, simply because DCPP is a huge government bureaucracy, filled with caseworkers who have little understanding of how the American legal system is meant to work. New Jersey DCPP cases are unique, following their own set of evidence rules and procedural requirements, and while attorneys learn valid judgements must be based on evidence rather than hearsay, this is not exactly how DCPP operates. While it is absolutely disheartening that the lowest level of proof is required for the state to “prove” a child has been abused or neglected—and unbelievable that a state agency can intrude on the lives of a family based on such little proof—the best defense to this is a strong, knowledgeable aggressive Short Hills attorney from the Williams Law Group.
One example of what an experienced Williams Law Group attorney can do for you centers around “burden-shifting.” This means that your attorney will remind the Court that the burden of proof should always remain on DCP&P. The condition of the child must be one which would not ordinarily exist but for the acts or omissions of a parent. The attorney must show that the child’s condition could conceivably exist, exclusive of the parents’ acts or omissions. For instance, suppose the child ingested a dangerous substance which was left on the bathroom floor. DCP&P will obviously say the child was inadequately supervised, i.e. neglected. The attorney will argue that statistics will show the child’s accidental ingestion of the substance could happen even in a closely-supervised home, and is not all that uncommon.
Your attorney will also ask the caseworker about DCP&P functions, to determine whether the caseworker is able to lay a foundation for what is done in the ordinary course of business during an investigation. The attorney will determine whether the documents DCP&P is offering to the court were made within a reasonable time period of the actual event. This is due to the fact that Contact Sheets are often prepared days, or even weeks after the events described in those sheets. Copies of the hand-written notes could be requested, and inconsistencies between the hand-written notes and the thorough, typed records could potentially be undermined. If there are no notes, it is even more likely that the DCP&P caseworker could not possibly have remembered every detail contained in the final report.
There are many more areas which your attorney may be able to halt the “evidence” presented by DCP&P, such as demanding that the source of information be considered. After all, information which comes from a hostile neighbor, an angry ex, or an over-zealous teacher, may not always have the strength of total truth behind it. While information which comes from doctors is generally less biased, there are certain circumstances which could lead to less-than-trustworthy reports from a doctor.
Your attorney will cross-examine the caseworker, who, in this particular case, is essentially the plaintiff. Obviously, the caseworker has a vested interest in proving his or her position. Perhaps the DCP&P caseworker had too many cases going on at the same time, or perhaps he or she took the report for your case at 3:00 a.m., when the observations could potentially be less reliable. So, while the Rules of Evidence are the cornerstone of litigation, this is particularly true in DCP&P matters.
Your attorney may question the sufficiency of the initial investigation done by DCP&P, ensure the investigative rules were properly followed and that all those who should have been interviewed, were interviewed. The caseworker is required to speak with each witness you provide who could offer evidence that you did not abuse or neglect your child, and in many cases, this is simply not done. The caseworker may have simply decided you were guilty, then neglected to follow through with a thorough, balanced investigation.
Your Williams Law Group attorney will be adept at challenging the State’s evidence through thorough cross-examination, and will always have a goal of achieving justice for parents. Having an experienced Short Hills attorney from the Williams Law Group is essential once you have been accused of abusing or neglecting your child and your DCPP case goes to court. You should absolutely not try to handle such accusations on your own.