Atlantic County DCP&P Attorney

All parents and legal guardians in Atlantic County are subject to oversight by the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency. This state agency, known to many as “The Division,” is responsible for ensuring that every New Jersey child has effective guardianship and a safe home environment. Because the Division's mission is so important, it has the power to intercede in parental relationships in the following ways:

  • Investigating allegations of abuse or parental neglect
  • Assessing the quality of the home environment parents provide and the parent's overall fitness
  • Stripping unfit parents of their custody rights and removing children from unsafe home environments
  • Referring cases of extreme child abuse or neglect to Atlantic County law enforcement for potential prosecution

Are you an Atlantic County resident being investigated by the Division for child abuse or neglect? If the answer is yes, your custodial rights, your reputation, and your freedom are all in potential jeopardy. Don't take the outcome for granted. The Division's primary obligation is protecting child welfare, not you. That means it's up to you to fight for your rights. Call the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team at 888-535-3686 or contact us online today.

Why It's Important to Have Legal Defense Against Division Investigations

It is a sad truth that there are unfit parents who are abusing or neglecting their children. It's also true that children who are raised in abusive environments pose a potential danger to society and themselves due to the after-effects of the trauma they suffered growing up. That's why the New Jersey legislature founded the Division and gave them so much authority to act in the best interests of any child raised in the state.

Unfortunately, the Division's power to intercede in parent-child relationships can also conflict with your parental rights. Any Atlantic County resident can anonymously report their suspicions of child neglect to the Division. Once that's done, the Division is legally bound to get to the bottom of the report. It's scary to think that an anonymous report is all it takes to put your parental rights and entire household under the microscope, but it's true.

Your interests are secondary to those of your child in any Division investigation. The mere fact you're being investigated means the Division believes some form of abuse or neglect has taken place. It's up to you to convince them otherwise. That's where the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. We will defend your rights and reputation through every stage of a Division investigation.

Defending Your Rights During Division Investigations

The fact that the Division has so much power but so little transparency is one of the biggest challenges parents face during Division investigations. In most cases, you only find out you're being investigated when a Division caseworker shows up unannounced and informs you of who they are and why they're at your house. Since they're not police, they don't necessarily need a warrant to enter your home.

Whereas your refusal to answer police questions would be seen as the normal assertion of your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, a Division caseworker may assume it's because you have something to hide. At the same time, Division caseworkers are free to use your answers to their questions against you. They can strip you of your custody rights and remove your children from the home without having to file criminal charges.

However, Division caseworkers can forward the results of their investigation to Atlantic County law enforcement for prosecution if their caseworker believes a crime has been committed. As a parent, this dual-track authority possessed by the Division leaves you stuck between a rock and a hard place. Knowing who to talk to, what to say, and when could be the difference between keeping custody of your children and losing it. That's where we come in.

How Our Criminal Defense Team Can Help

If you think the odds are tilted heavily in the Division's favor during their investigation process, you're right. They are legally bound to act in what they believe are your child's best interests, and your rights are secondary to that obligation. However, our Criminal Defense Team has extensive experience defending parents in Atlantic County and all over New Jersey from Division overreach.

Call us as soon as you find out the Division is investigating you so that we can begin guiding you through the process. Our primary focus is defending your reputation and your parental rights. The attorneys on our team will work with you to form a comprehensive strategy that maximizes your chances of retaining custody of your children.

We can give you valuable insight into what questions to answer, how to answer them, and when to answer them. Remember, the Division is not going to investigate unless they believe something is wrong, and you do not have the presumption of innocence. Our team can help you present the best version of yourself and prove to the Division why you should be able to keep custody of your child.

The Division's Anonymous Reporting System

Because child abuse and neglect are issues that often play out in secret behind closed doors, the Division encourages anyone who suspects they have witnessed abuse to report it anonymously. On the one hand, an anonymous reporting system reduces the chance that someone who reports abuse will face retaliation from abusive parents. However, it also elevates the chances that someone might make an erroneous report or even falsely report abuse out of personal spite.

The anonymous reporting system means anyone from your neighbors to strangers can refer you to the Division. It only takes one misunderstanding for an otherwise well-meaning person to put you on the Division's radar. Other people, such as public employees or healthcare professionals, are legally bound to report instances of what they believe to be abuse or neglect to the Division.

For example, if you are arrested for DUI with your minor child in the car or drug possession by Atlantic County law enforcement, the arresting agency will report the situation to the Division. The Division investigation will continue regardless of whether you are found innocent of the original offense. School employees, such as teachers and nurses, are also required to report suspicions of abuse or neglect to the Division.

Division Investigations Can Result in Criminal Charges

Although the Division isn't a law enforcement agency, it still maintains a close relationship with all New Jersey law enforcement agencies. Division caseworkers may not have arrest powers, but they can refer extreme cases of neglect or abuse to Atlantic County law enforcement. That means there is a potential for criminal charges in any division investigation.

This is another reason it's to your advantage to get our Criminal Defense Team working for you as quickly as possible. We have experience mounting successful defenses against both Division investigations and criminal charges. Our legal team can help you prepare for all the possibilities while also giving you the continuity that comes with having the same legal team fighting for you in every arena.

The Inner-Workings of Division Investigations

Division investigations begin after they have received an abuse allegation that the Division believes to be credible. At that point, they will assign an investigator or caseworker to conduct an in-depth investigation to determine whether abuse or neglect has occurred. If the investigation reveals abuse or neglect, the investigator is also responsible for uncovering the extent of the mistreatment and whether it potentially rises to the level of a crime.

You will typically find out that you're under investigation when the caseworker makes what is known as a “home visit,” where they show up unannounced and ask to come inside to look around. The surprise visit is part of a tactic to ensure that you don't have the chance to prepare for their arrival. That way, the investigator can get the best possible feel for the everyday environment at your house.

Some of the steps Division caseworkers take during home visits include:

  • Assessing the overall quality of the home environment (e.g., general cleanliness, organization)
  • Making sure the home has basic everyday life essentials like functioning utilities, food, and water
  • Interviewing you and other adults who share your home
  • Interviewing your child and other minor residents

There is also the possibility that the Division caseworker will ask you to sign medical waivers that submit your child to physical examinations or allow your child's doctor to release their medical records. If the neglect allegation or home visit includes allegations of substance abuse, the Division may also ask you to submit to drug and alcohol testing.

The Reality of Home Visits and Division Investigations

No matter how cordial or professional Division caseworkers seem during your interactions, the reality is that they are looking for evidence that you are abusing or neglecting your child. With that in mind, Division caseworkers may be inclined to err on the side of caution by removing the child from the home, and it's very easy for your rights as a parent to be infringed upon during this process.

Child abuse is a highly emotional issue, and those high emotions can lead Division caseworkers to make mistakes or reach hasty conclusions. Remember that their legal obligation is to your child, not you. If you want someone to protect your best interests and defend your rights during Division investigations, call our team. We will do everything we can to ensure your rights are respected at every stage of the Division's investigation.

Possible Outcomes of Division Investigations

After the Division caseworker gathers enough evidence to reach their final decision, they will inform you of that decision in writing. In New Jersey, the outcome of a Division investigation must fit into one of the following four categories:

  • Unfounded- This is the best possible result for you. If the Division's final decision is unfounded, it means their investigation did not uncover evidence of abuse or neglect and that you are not a potential danger to your child.
  • Not Established- A final result of “Not Established” means the Division caseworker believes some form of abuse or neglect occurred but their investigation didn't uncover conclusive evidence of abuse.
  • Established- the Division caseworker's final decision is “Established,” the caseworker's investigation revealed evidence of abuse or neglect but there were no aggravating circumstances. Even in the absence of aggravating circumstances, a final ruling of established is sufficient grounds for the Division to remove your child from your home.
  • Substantiated- This is the worst possible conclusion in terms of your parental rights. A caseworker's determination of “Substantiated” means they have not only uncovered conclusive evidence of abuse or neglect but also the presence of an aggravating circumstance. Division caseworkers will forward all the evidence they uncovered during their investigation to Atlantic County law enforcement for possible prosecution. They will also submit your name to the New Jersey Child Abuse Registry, which is an online database of the state's child abusers. Your presence in this database, which is a matter of public record, will prohibit you from having contact with any children (not just your own), people with disabilities, or the elderly.

The future of your parental rights will hinge heavily on the Division caseworker's final verdict. You must realize that an adverse result doesn't necessarily mean your children will be taken from you forever. Our team may be able to collaborate with you and the division to chart a path forward for the restoration of your parental and custodial rights. We will exhaust every available option in this pursuit.

How Aggravating or Mitigating Factors Affect Division Investigations

Three of the four possible outcomes of Division investigations could result in you losing custody of your children. The presence of aggravating or mitigating factors uncovered by the Division caseworker will play a significant role in the Division's final ruling.

Examples of Aggravating factors in Division Investigations include:

  • Situations where a child suffered severe bodily injury or died because of parental neglect or abuse
  • Situations where the child faced exposure to sexually explicit images, unlawful sexual activity, or any explicit materials
  • Situations where an adult in the home has a verifiable history of abusing or neglecting children
  • Situations where the child was harmed (or could have been harmed) because they were denied basic life essentials (e.g., food, water, medical treatment)
  • Situations where the Division feels you failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent abuse or neglect of any kind
  • Situations where the Division is alleging you have disobeyed court orders or the terms of a Division-approved child safety plan
  • Situations where the child could suffer indefinite and long-term emotional, physical, and/or emotional harm
  • Situations where the child is at increased risk due to their age, disability, or developmental capabilities

Mitigating factors in investigations refer to evidence the division caseworker has found that works in your favor or should at least be considered when assessing your fitness as a parent. Division caseworkers are required to note the existence of mitigating factors (if there are any), which is important because they are part of the criteria the Division examines in determining whether your parental rights can be restored.

Some common examples of mitigating factors include:

  • Situations where you can demonstrate that you've undertaken a good-faith effort to remedy the conditions or behavior that led to the Division's adverse decision against your parental rights (e.g., going to therapy, finding professional daycare)
  • Situations where a collection of extremely unusual and stressful outside circumstances beyond your control led you to react inappropriately, but also in a manner that is very much at odds with your everyday character, demeanor, or parenting style
  • Situations where the Division caseworker believes that the abuse or neglect they confirmed was an isolated incident and not likely to be repeated
  • Situations where the level or severity of the abuse was very low in terms of the potential harm it caused the child

You Have a Limited Time to Appeal Adverse Decisions

No parent wants to get an adverse decision after a Division investigation, but it happens. The important thing to understand is that Division caseworkers are human, too, and they make mistakes. That's why you have 20 days from the date of the Division's adverse decision to file an appeal.

Our Criminal Defense Team can help you craft a strong, cogent appeal that gives you the best possible chance at a positive result. We will also make sure your appeal is properly filed before the 20-day deadline. Our commitment to your parental rights lasts for the duration of the Division investigative process and appeals.

How the Division Can Permanently Terminate Your Parental Rights

The Division has the power to strip you of your parental rights, but in most cases, they can only do this for a maximum of 12 months. If you don't correct the condition within 12 months, the Division can seek to permanently revoke your parental rights. However, in cases where the abuse or neglect is of an extreme or especially pernicious nature, the Division may seek to permanently strip you of your parental rights.

In either case, the Division can't terminate these rights on their own. They must petition an Atlantic County Judge and demonstrate one or more of the following criteria:

  • Your child's emotional, psychological, or physical well-being would be jeopardized by the restoration of your parental rights
  • You failed to remedy the conditions that caused the Division to suspend your parental rights and you have neither the ability nor the desire to remedy them
  • Your child would suffer long-term abuse, neglect, or continued harm if they were displaced from their current location
  • The Division has made clear and sustained efforts to help you remedy the abusive situation but those efforts have not been fruitful
  • Restoring your parental rights would do your child more harm than good

Don't Fight the Division by Yourself

The possibility of losing your custodial rights is one of every parent's worst nightmares. If the Division is investigating you, that possibility is very real. Although it may feel like you are just a spectator in the process, you're not. You can't afford to just hope the truth will come out because you're a good parent. But it's also unlikely you can fight an entire Division of the New Jersey government by yourself and win.

Call the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team. We'll defend your rights from Division overreach and help present you in the most positive light possible as a parent. The sooner you get us involved, the sooner we can begin working on your defense and putting this nightmare behind you. You're not alone against the Division if we represent you. Call our team at 888-535-3686 or contact us online today!

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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