When DCPP gets involved with a family and their children, the relatives of the parents are placed in a unique position. New Jersey intake workers will often extend their DCPP investigations to the rest of the family shortly after contacting and questioning the parents. And, if circumstances dictate, relatives may find themselves placed squarely in the middle of court proceedings and plans for placement of the child or children.
A DCPP investigation of child welfare begins with direct contact with the parents at their place of residence. This is the first course of action for the state to make findings about the veracity of a complaint or report of potential abuse and initiates an investigatory process that will result in a formal finding within 60 days. If there is any evidence that the alleged abuse or neglect is substantiated or established the investigation will quickly move to a more serious stage, where any or all of the following may happen:
At this stage, DCPP will involve other members of the family for identifying support, household factors (which can either substantiate or mitigate the allegations of abuse or neglect), and potential child placement and permanency. As such, it’s important for all parties to know the rights of the relatives of the accused in Short Hills DCPP cases, regardless of whether the allegations are legitimate or unfounded. Our attorneys have the experience to assist any family members caught in the middle of a DCPP investigation or corresponding court case and counsel them on how to make decisions within their rights.
Most pressing among relatives is what happens when a child is removed from the household via court order or Dodd hearing. At all times – whether in the case of temporary or permanent child placement – federal law prefers to place a child with relatives over putting them into foster care or in the care of a non-relative. New Jersey, in particular, is a state that requires DCPP to search for close kin within 30 days of when a family is first contacted by intake workers. As such, relatives are immediately involved in the investigatory process and may be a large part of any proceedings thereafter.
Relatives aware of DCPP’s contact with a family member under investigation should be prepared for eventual contact by the department, which will involve questions about the household being examined for abuse or neglect as well as inquiries into their own willingness to take care of the child or children should removal be justified. It is imperative to participate openly, as these findings can help to quickly resolve allegations initially found to be “not established” or justify the quick removal of an endangered child.
That said, relatives still hold the right to decline placement in Short Hills with them if they feel unable to provide care for any reason. CPP prioritizes keeping children within the biological family whenever possible and finding any plausible routes to reunification of the family. As such, there may be pressure from the agency or court to take custody of the child, but they will move to other foster care options should a relative feel unfit for the responsibility.
Relatives active in becoming the child’s caregiver – either on a temporary or permanent basis – should know what their part in the process requires of them, as should the parent or guardian being investigated by DCPP. For a relative to take placement of the child, they must take steps toward becoming a licensed resource family. In essence, the relative is subject to the same screening process – including a home inspection and background check – as any other foster family household. After placement, the relatives have the right to pursue assistance programs and services provided to other foster care families through New Jersey’s Foster and Adoptive Family Services.
Placement with relatives is meant to be a temporary solution before family reunification but, should circumstances merit the termination of parental rights, relatives can move toward gaining kinship legal guardianship of the child. Whereas temporary placement with relatives is subject to constant examination by and reporting to DCPP case workers, achieving kinship legal guardian status allows the caregiving relatives to be the primary arbiters of the child’s continued care and upbringing, including educational and medical decisions. However, relatives often only gain this guardianship after a long process in court where permanent placement is determined as necessary and the qualification of the relative or relatives for permanent stewardship is examined.
Understanding the rights of other relatives in Short Hills DCPP cases can be complex. Therefore, it’s crucial to have an experienced, helpful law firm to help you navigate this process. These cases are complicated, can drag on for long periods of time, and don’t always present available options clearly. Williams Law Group can ensure family members involved with DCPP will maintain their rights throughout the ordeal while also counseling on the course of action at every stage.