DCP&P Lawyer in New Jersey
South Jersey DYFS Attorney Represents Clients Being Investigated by the Department of Child Protection and Permanency in Camden, Gloucester, Burlington, Atlantic, Salem, Mercer, and Cape May County, NJ
You hear a knock at the door and open it to reveal caseworkers from the Department of Child Protection & Permanency (DCP&P). They begin asking you a variety of questions regarding your children, and they want to enter your home to investigate. This can be a terrifying and extremely stressful situation for any parent or guardian. Many New Jersey residents are unaware of the important details of a DCP&P investigation and what the best steps are to take. If this happens to you, or if your children are taken away from you, getting an experienced New Jersey DCP&P attorney to help you handle the process and represent you in court can make a huge difference. Contact Jill Cohen today for a free initial consultation about your child welfare case.
Criminal Acts Involving Children Raise Red Flags When Reviewing a New Jersey Child Abuse or Crime Report
When a report initially comes to the DCP&P, workers at the agency must first screen it to determine if there are any clear red flags to indicate that a child may be being harmed or in harm’s way. DCP&P investigators look for any signs of child abuse or neglect, which can include a wide variety of different criminal acts.
Child Abuse is defined as “the physical, sexual, or emotional harm or risk of harm to a child under the age of 18 caused by a parent or other person who acts as a caregiver for the child.”
Examples of different types of child abuse that the DCP&P often finds worthy of investigating include:
- Physical – Unnecessary physical restraint, excessive corporal punishment, physical injury, etc.
- Sexual – Molestation, child pornography, rape, etc.
- Emotional – Verbal abuse (screaming, threatening, insulting), severe criticism, ignoring, terrorizing, isolating, corrupting, exploiting, etc.
- Child Neglect “occurs when a parent or caregiver fails to provide proper supervision for a child or adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, or medical care although financially able or assisted to do so.”
Examples of physical or behavioral indicators of child neglect that the DCP&P often finds worthy of investigating include:
- Physical Indicators –
- Constantly hungry, poor hygiene, inappropriate dress
- Consistent lack of supervision
- Constant fatigue or listlessness
- Untreated physical or medical conditions
- Behavioral Indicators –
- Begging, stealing food
- Extended stays at school
- Constantly falling asleep in class
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Child states they have no caregiver
For more details on certain crimes against children and their relation with the Department of Child Protection and Permanency, click one of the following:
- Child Neglect/Endangerment
- Child Abuse
- Sex Crimes
- Drug Crimes
Child Welfare Investigation Process of the DCP&P in Camden, Burlington, Gloucester, Atlantic, and Mercer County, NJ
Once a DCP&P investigation begins, caseworkers will review the report in full and do background checks on the parents. Then, personnel from the Department will visit the home in question, with the visit being unannounced, and ask to be let inside in order to interview children, parents, and roommates. DCP&P investigators will be looking for any signs of abuse or neglect with respect to the child physically and the environment where they live. Investigators will note unhealthy living conditions, any marks or bruises on the child, physical health issues of the child, signs of alcohol or drug use, behavior and physical conditions of the parents, and anything else that could pose a threat to the child’s health and safety (weapons, dangerous animals, chemicals, etc.).
It is important to note that if there are serious concerns, caseworkers may call upon law enforcement, the judicial system (for warrants), and medical professionals to help assist in the investigation where need is determined.
Investigations usually conclude within 60 days, but they can be extended in 30-day increments when considered a necessity. After reviewing all of the information gathered by investigators, a decision is made on whether there is a possible safety risk to the child.
DCP&P investigators categorize their findings into one of four categories:
- Substantiated – This category is used when it is clearly determined that a child is being abused or neglected. It is used when there is clear existence of aggravating factors, including death, sexual abuse, hospitalization, repeated acts of harm, serious violence, etc.
- Established – This category is used when it is clear that a child has been abused or neglected, or is being abused or neglected. However, the act or acts committed do not warrant a Substantiated finding after considering aggravating or mitigating factors.
- Not Established – This category is used when a child is not being neglected or abused, but the child was harmed or was put at risk of harm.
- Unfounded – This final category is used when there is neither evidence of abuse/neglect nor any indication of the child being harmed or put at risk of harm.
Determination of Child Safety Risk and Actions Taken by DYFS in Camden County, New Jersey
If clear abuse or neglect has been determined, as indicated by a categorization of Established or Substantiated, DCP&P will take action to ensure the safety of the child or children at risk. This usually involves one of the following:
- The child will be removed from the home and either placed with a relative or into a special resource home in situations were severe abuse was determined or the child is determined to be in clear danger.
- The caseworker will work with the parents to create a safety plan that can involve adjustments to the home, parenting, or behaviors. It can also involve a plan where contact with the child must be supervised.
If your case is determined to be Substantiated, your information will be permanently recorded in the Child Abuse Registry database or CARI. Once you are on the registry, you will be unable to be removed from the registry unless you win an appeal. This can impact what jobs you can apply for in the future, even though CARI is not a public database. In cases classified as Not Established, the Department may make suggestions to prevent future risk or suggest adjustments to the home or to the parents’ behavior. It is also important to note that DCP&P offers counseling and therapy to parents during investigations in order to create a safer environment for the child.
What Parents Can Do During New Jersey DCP&P Investigations and How a Lawyer Can Help When You Lose Custody
It is extremely important that parents understand their rights and what they can do when DCP&P caseworkers are investigating them. No parent can be forced to answer questions or be prevented from exercising their right to remain silent. Unless there is a warrant, the parent also does not have to allow the Department personnel into their home or onto their property. Parents can decline an interview with their children or request that they supervise the child’s interview. Parents can deny caseworkers entry into specific rooms or deny permission for the caseworker to touch their child (such as when looking for bruises).
It is important to note, however, that any resistance to an investigation can cause issues and impede the investigation. Caseworkers must be able to fully determine whether the child is safe or in harm’s way, and they can go to local law enforcement or get legal paperwork that allows them to investigate fully if there is serious cause for concern. They can also have the child immediately removed from the home when there is noncompliance and they have concern that the child could be in immediate danger.
During the investigation, there are a few things that parents should be aware of that can help avoid potential risks:
- Stand behind the child instead of in front during private interviews to avoid caseworkers making note that the child’s answers could have been influenced.
- DO NOT sign anything unless there is a full understanding of what is being signed.
- When releasing medical information, a parent can exercise the right to limit what information the Department has access to.
- Do not allow the caseworker to use their own drug/substance doctor when certain testing is requested. Ask for a third party doctor not associated with either side for non-biased results.
Finally, and most importantly, parents should be aware that they have the right to fight the DCP&P decision in court and appeal loss of custody, categorization from the investigation, the need to comply with safety plans, etc. There is a time limit of 20 days to challenge any findings or resulting actions from those findings, so it is imperative that you speak with a qualified DCPP attorney as soon as possible so you can file within the time limit.
Schedule a Free Consultation with DCP&P Defense Attorney Jill Cohen Today for Legal Help in Camden, Atlantic, Mercer, and all other Counties in South Jersey
Being investigated by New Jersey child protection services can be a very stressful and frustrating experience for any parent. The fear of losing custody, the pressure from the Department, the judgmental looks from caseworkers and neighbors, and the entire investigation process can be very difficult to handle. New Jersey attorney Jill Cohen can help advise you on what to do during a DCP&P investigation, inform you of your rights, and help you fight the Department in court if investigators reach an undesired decision. No parent has to fight the DCP&P alone, and no one deserves to unfairly lose their child. Contact our New Jersey law firm today so the experienced Jill Cohen can evaluate your claim. Jill Cohen has been representing criminal defendants for their cases against DCP&P throughout South Jersey in Camden, Cherry Hill, Gloucester Township, Winslow, Pennsauken, Voorhees, Lindenwold, Haddon Township, Collingswood and Haddonfield.