When Your Case Is Mishandled
New Jersey’s CPS agency, the DCPP (formerly the DYFS) is responsible for responding to and investigating child abuse reports. The child abuse investigation process is fraught with complications and administrative weaknesses that, at times, can leave parents feeling as if their rights were violated. From pushy caseworkers to mishandling of evidence, the DCPP is not immune from mistakes. Employees make mistakes; have bad days, and side-step protocol to get home to their families on time. To parents under investigation, however, these small mistakes translate to more time away from their kids. Fortunately, parents have the right to submit complaints about how their case is being handled. Initial complaints made with first-line caseworkers might not make a difference. Thus, it’s important for parents to learn how to escalate their complaints within the child welfare system to ensure change is effected.
Submitting Your CPS Complaints
A good first step is to raise your concerns with your caseworker. You might not see immediate change, but it’s important to discuss the matter with your immediate caseworker first as a precaution. Make sure you get some form of proof you made the complaint, such as submitting a written grievance. If the caseworker does not resolve the issue, you can escalate the complaint to his or her supervisor. Ideally, ask for the supervisor’s information during your first contact with your caseworker.
Now, DCPP has a complex hierarchy of caseworkers and supervisors. For this reason, many parents feel they are being given the run around when they are repeatedly told to file the complaint with another person. Stay patient, and document everything including all communications with any representative of the DCPP. Typically, several people will work above your caseworker, including the supervising family service specialist, the casework supervisor, the local office manager, and the area director. Work your way up through the chain of command if your concerns are not responded to. Again, make sure you submit written complaints, even if you make your complaint in person or over the phone as well.
You may also have one or more changes of caseworkers during your case. Thus, it’s important to have documentation of all your communications with anyone from DCPP so you can trace your complaint later on if it goes unaddressed. At the same time, make sure you stay in compliance with whatever your caseworker is asking you to do. Follow up with your complaint, but don’t deviate from your case plan if you can help it.
Depending on the nature of your complaint, you could be reassigned a caseworker. Again, document everything and make sure you ask for the supervisor’s information every time you work with a new caseworker. Thorough documentation, cooperation, and persistent are the keys to results.
The Last Resort
I often have parents ask me whether they can sue DCPP for mishandling their case. Yes, parents do have a right to sue the DCPP but only under certain circumstances. The DCPP is heavily protected from liability. Historically, suing the DCPP is very difficult and often an uphill battle for parents. To successfully sue DCPP, the parent bears the burden of proof, meaning he or she has to provide evidence that DCPP was negligent, violated the law, or otherwise acted in an unethical way.
Furthermore, the parent must show that he or she has incurred damages. In other words, you can’t sue DCPP solely because you are unhappy with how they handled your case. But if you feel you have a grievance against the DCPP, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced New Jersey child welfare attorney who has handled DCPP litigation. An attorney with this specialized experience can tell you whether you have grounds for a suit and help you escalate your CPS complaints to ensure you see results.
If you are dealing with the DCPP in New Jersey, the Williams Law Group, LLC is here to help. The experienced child custody attorneys at Williams Law Group, LLC can help you defend your rights as a parent and explore all options for filing a complaint. Located in Short Hills, New Jersey, Williams Law Group, LLC provides compassionate and dedicated legal services to Union, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties, and the surrounding areas. Our knowledgeable attorneys handle divorce and family law, child custody, and child abuse/neglect cases. Call our office at (908) 810-1083, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact us through our confidential online form to schedule a consultation and ultimately get you connected with an experienced New Jersey divorce and child custody attorney.