Reports of child abuse and neglect in New Jersey are investigated by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), known until 2012 as the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). A DCPP/DYFS investigation may have lasting impacts on you and your children. Here are some frequently asked questions regarding the Division’s procedures.
Will I be told the name of the person making a report to DCPP? The names of individuals reporting suspected abuse and neglect are kept confidential. A person making a report in good faith is generally protected from liability.
How long does an investigation take? DCPP’s goal is to complete an investigation within 60 days. If there is any possible merit to the accusation, expect DCPP to take the full period of time. If DCPP determines there is some legitimate basis for the allegation, involvement with DCPP may well continue past the initial 60-day period.
What will happen at a first meeting with DCPP? An intake worker will visit you and your family at home. The worker will conduct separate interviews of you, children and other adults in the home. The worker will want to interview any people witnessing the alleged abuse or neglect or who have knowledge of the circumstances. The worker will likely inspect the home and may take photos or video.
Can DCPP take a child from my home without a court order? Yes. If, on first contact, the Division worker believes a child has suffered actual harm or is in imminent risk of harm, the child may be removed from the home without a court order. Otherwise, DCPP must first obtain a court order to remove a child.
If DCPP/DYFS takes a child from home, a conference must be held within 72 hours involving the parents, caseworker and supervisor. Participants will discuss what changes are required for the child to return home and what alternative caregivers, including relatives, may be available if the child cannot return home.
What are the chances that DCPP will remove a child from the home? Under DCPP guidelines a child is to be removed only in extreme cases. The law embodies a strong presumption that children are best cared for by their parents.
How quickly can I get a court to review my case? If DCPP removes a child from the family home without first getting a court order, the parent may request a court hearing to be held within 3 days.
If a child is removed from home, can I request the child be placed with a specific person? At the initial court hearing following removal of a child, if the court orders that the child should remain outside the home, DCPP will ask you for a list of names of people with whom the child could live while the investigation continues.
What other hearings will be held once DCPP begins an investigation? Generally, the first court hearing is called a Show Cause hearing. DCPP will present the reasons it is seeking an order to remove a child from the home or require the family to engage in specific services. This is not a trial, but you or your attorney may argue against DCPP’s request. Another hearing will be scheduled 10-21 days later. At this hearing the court will decide if the case should go to a full fact-finding hearing.
Is a trial held where I can challenge DCPP’s action? If you wish to contest DCPP’s actions, a formal fact-finding hearing will be set within four months if the child was removed from the home or six months if the child remained at home. In effect, this is a trial. You will have an opportunity to tell your side of the story and present witnesses.
What level of proof does the court require? For the Division to prevail it must prove that, more likely than not, abuse occurred and, if you are the target of the investigation, that you were the person responsible for the abuse or neglect. Conversely, you only have to prove that your level of care and supervision was more likely than not appropriate to protect your child’s health and safety.
What are the possible dispositions from a fact-finding hearing? The court may decide the allegations are unfounded and dismiss the action. The court may require the family to cooperate with DCPP and engage in counseling or other services the court feels will improve the family situation. The court will determine with whom the child shall live while DCPP’s involvement continues.
If the court requires the child or family members to engage in services requested by DCPP, the court will hold a compliance review every two to three months. At these hearings the court will review progress being made to reunite the family and whether DCPP’s further involvement is warranted.
What happens if the child is unable to return home within a reasonable time? If DCPP take custody of a child, permanency hearings must begin within 12 months. These hearings require the court to decide whether the child may be able to return home in the near future and whether DCPP has made reasonable efforts to reunify the family. The goal is to find a permanent solution that is in the child’s best interest.
Can I appeal DCPP findings? Yes. If DCPP has determined you committed abuse or neglect, you are entitled to review by DCPP as well as the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law.
What happens if I cannot afford an attorney? Based on your finances, you may qualify to have an attorney appointed to assist you through the process. However, given the potential stakes of DCPP involvement, hiring an attorney experienced with challenging DCPP actions is highly recommended whenever possible.
DCPP/DYFS wields substantial power to involve itself in family matters. The best chances to terminate an investigation are often at its beginning. If you or your family is facing an investigation by the Division, prompt consultation with an attorney should be a priority. If DCPP/DYFS has contacted you, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free initial consultation.