Burlington County DCP&P Attorney

The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency is a state agency responsible for ensuring that every child in New Jersey is reared in a safe environment that encourages positive emotional, psychological, and physical growth. This agency is sometimes referred to as “the Division,” and its employees are vested with the power to investigate allegations of child abuse or unsafe environments. The Division also has the authority to remove children from unsafe environments.

Are you a Burlington County resident who is being investigated by the New Jersey DCP&P? The Division can strip you of your parental rights if they believe you have endangered or abused your child. It is also possible that Division investigations can lead to criminal charges. You have the right to a legal defense against abuse allegations and Division investigations. Call the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team at 888-535-3686 or contact us online today.

New Jersey Takes Child Abuse Very Seriously

Numerous studies have shown that providing a safe and secure home environment for children is one of the best ways to prevent them from developing dangerous behavioral patterns like substance abuse and criminal violence in adulthood. This is a big part of why the Division has been given such wide-ranging authority to both investigate allegations of child abuse and to act in what the Division believes is the child's best interest.

As part of its mission, the Division also encourages Burlington County residents to remain vigilant and report any suspicion they have about abusive environments to the Division. In many cases, this public reporting can alert the Division to abusive situations. However, it can also lead to people being investigated by the Division due to a misunderstanding or an otherwise well-meaning person who wants to “err on the side of caution.”

Something as simple as a cultural difference over how to publicly discipline children or a difficult moment between a guardian and their child shouldn't be cause for the removal of children from home, but it happens every day. The Division sees itself as defending the interests of New Jersey's children, not its parents, and it takes its duty to investigate suspected abuse seriously.

Division Investigations Are Very Different From Criminal Investigations

At its core, the Division is a social welfare agency, not a law enforcement agency. Although Division investigations can indeed lead to criminal charges, the Division can still remove your child from your home even if they don't find evidence that a crime was committed. Their focus is determining whether you have created an environment that's potentially dangerous to your child or that you pose a potential threat to the child's well-being.

That also means the Division can question or interrogate you regarding abuse allegations without advising you of your rights while also retaining the authority to use what you say against you. That legal dichotomy puts every parent under a Division investigation in a very difficult position. Your first instinct might naturally be to defend yourself or try to explain your position to a Division employee because you don't feel like you've done anything wrong.

You may also have a genuine fear that the Division employee will assume you have something to hide if you remain silent. This is part of why being investigated by the Division is so difficult. It's a legal matter being investigated by a government agency that doesn't have to advise you of your rights or charge you with a crime yet has the power to take away your children. The deck is stacked against you.

How to Defend Yourself Against Division Investigations

Your custodial rights are a fundamental cornerstone of your relationship with your children, and the Division has the power to take those rights away from you. Making matters worse, losing your custodial rights is something that will damage your reputation almost beyond repair. However, that doesn't mean you can't defend yourself against a division investigation. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can and will defend your parental rights in Division investigations.

Our fundamental mission is to guide you through the Division investigative process and come out with your custodial rights intact. An underlying premise of our criminal justice system is that it's better for nine guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to go to jail. It's almost the opposite when it comes to a Division investigation.

The Division is much more likely to err on the side of caution and remove your child if there's even a remote possibility that abuse or endangerment is taking place in your home. That's why you should call our team as soon as you discover you're under a Division investigation. We will provide you with an effective, resolute defense of your parental rights and reputation that maximizes your chances of a positive outcome.

Who Can Report You to the Division?

The Division has an anonymous reporting system, which means anyone in Burlington County who believes they've witnessed abuse or that you're maintaining an unsafe environment can make an allegation. With that said, some people, such as medical professionals, schoolteachers, and mental health professionals, are legally obligated to report suspicions of child abuse or endangerment to the Division.

Burlington County Law Enforcement officials can also report you to the Division for a variety of reasons. For example, if they were to serve a search warrant at your home on an unrelated matter and encounter an environment they deem to be unsafe, they can call the Division and initiate an investigation. Once that happens, the Division can take custody of your children even if the original police investigation doesn't lead to criminal charges.

Criminal Charges Can Spring Out of Division Investigations

One of the most difficult aspects of Division investigations is that even though they may not start as criminal investigations, they can still lead to criminal charges. If a Division investigator uncovers abuse or neglect that they believe rises to the level of a criminal offense, they can and will refer the matter to Burlington County Law Enforcement.

This is another reason it's a good idea to exercise your legal rights and reach out to the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team as soon as you find out the Division is investigating you. Your parental rights and perhaps even your freedom are in jeopardy the minute the Division begins investigating you. The sooner you get our team on board to defend those rights, the better off you are likely to be.

Remember, it's much easier to keep custody of your children and your freedom than it is to get it back after you've lost them. Do not delay or simply assume that the truth will come out because you genuinely believe in your innocence. It's up to you to prove to the Division that you're not an unfit parent. Our Criminal Defense Team has the skills and the resources to help you do that.

The Division's Investigative Process

After the Division receives an allegation of abuse, they will follow a standard process that begins with assessing whether the allegation has merit. If they believe there is merit to the allegation, they will assign a caseworker or investigator to begin a formal investigation. That investigation typically starts with an unannounced home visit. Doing the visit without notice allows the Division caseworker to get a feel for the everyday environment in your home.

From the Division's viewpoint, giving you advance notice of the visit would also allow you to remedy the dangerous or abusive conditions they are seeking to investigate. If the Division caseworker feels the environment is a danger to the child, the visit will also give them a chance to assess the degree of danger or neglect that is occurring. In extreme cases, Division caseworkers can remove children or recommend criminal charges based on home visits.

Other aspects of a Division Caseworker home visit may include:

  • Inspecting the overall cleanliness and fitness of the home environment
  • Determining whether everyday necessities such as hot water, food, and utilities are present in the home
  • Conducting interviews with you or any other adults who reside in your home
  • Conducting interviews with your child and any other minor children who reside in the home

The Division caseworker may also interview other adults outside your home who have daily contact with your child. That could include neighbors, babysitters, relatives, schoolteachers, or school administrators. Additionally, division caseworkers can ask you to sign release forms authorizing them to review your child's medical records or submit your child to medical exams. If the investigation reveals the possibility that substance abuse of any kind is occurring, they may also require drug testing.

Dealing with Division Investigations and Home Visits

Seeing a Division caseworker show up at your home unannounced is an incredibly jarring experience. Remember, they are trying to find out whether abuse or neglect is taking place, and they wouldn't be investigating if they didn't already believe something was wrong. That means you're not dealing with an impartial arbiter. They are operating strictly in what they believe to be the child's best interests, and your rights are secondary to their mission.

That's why it's in your best interest to contact our team as soon as you find out about the investigation. The Division's mission is to preserve child welfare, but that doesn't mean you can't do anything to protect yourself. The importance of having our Criminal Defense Team on your side is that we have experience defending the rights of parents under investigation, and we can help protect you from investigative overreach.

There is a fine line between cooperation and coercion. Sometimes, in their zeal to accomplish their core mission, Division caseworkers can cross that line. However, that's much less likely to occur when you have The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team on your side. We will work with the Division when we can, but we will not allow them to walk all over your rights or abuse their investigative authority.

The Aftermath of a Division Investigation

Once the Division caseworker has completed their investigation, they will examine the evidence they collected and make a final decision. Under New Jersey law, the results of a Division investigation must be put into one of the following categories:

  • Substantiated- This is the worst potential outcome for you as a parent. If the Division rules the allegations as substantiated, it means they not only believe abuse and/or neglect is occurring but that aggravating circumstances exist in your case. That means the Division will inform Burlington County Authorities of the abuse they uncovered and that criminal prosecution is a possibility. In addition to providing the Burlington County Authorities with the evidence they uncovered, the Division will also submit your name to the New Jersey Child Abuse Registry. This is a public database of known or suspected child abusers. Anyone whose name appears in it is prohibited from having contact with children, the elderly, or people with disabilities.
  • Established- This is the second worst potential outcome of a Division investigation. It means the Division caseworker discovered conclusive evidence that abuse or neglect had taken place but without the presence of aggravating circumstances. Your children can still, however, be taken away from you.
  • Not Established- This means the Division investigator has not found conclusive evidence of abuse or neglect but still believes you have neglected or abused your child in some form or fashion.
  • Unfounded- This is the ideal outcome for you as a parent. It means the Division caseworker has not discovered any evidence that you abused or neglected your child, and they don't believe you pose a potential danger.

Your ability to retain or regain custody of your children will depend heavily on which of these final determinations the Division caseworker makes. It's important to understand that even if you get an adverse result, there may be a way forward that allows you to continue being a custodial parent or restore those rights. Our team has experience working with the Division to find alternatives to the permanent termination of your parental rights.

What Are Aggravating or Mitigating Factors in Division Investigations

Cases of substantiated abuse are taken very seriously by both the Division and Burlington County Authorities because of the presence of aggravating factors. Aggravating factors are circumstances where the abuse or neglect uncovered by the Division rises to the level of criminality. If an investigation into you is ruled as substantiated, it will likely be much more difficult to restore your parental rights.

Aggravating factors in Division investigations include but are not limited to the following:

  • Cases where the child suffered severe harm or died as a result of the abuse the Division discovered while investigating
  • Cases where the child was exposed to unlawful sexual activity, images, or other material of an explicit nature
  • Cases where the adult has a documented history of abuse against any other children
  • Cases where the child suffered harm (or could have suffered harm) due to the denial of essential care (e.g., food, water)
  • Cases where the adult(s) in the home did not take reasonable steps to prevent physical abuse or neglect (including sexual abuse)
  • Cases where the adult has failed to obey court orders or a child safety plan designed to ensure the child's well-being
  • Cases where the potential exists for ongoing or long-term physical, emotional, or psychological harm to the child
  • Cases where the child (or children) in the home are at high risk of abuse due to their developmental status, age, or disability

Even in cases where the Division has uncovered evidence of abuse or neglect, they must take note of and consider any mitigating factors in their favor. The existence of mitigating factors in your case can pave the way for the restoration of your parental rights. Examples of mitigating factors include:

  • The fact that you've taken visible and concrete steps to alleviate the abusive or potentially dangerous situation (e.g., signing up for professional therapy or contracting with a licensed cleaning company to clear out the unsafe conditions noted in the Division report
  • The existence of extraordinary factors that may have elevated your stress level or negatively affected your state of mind and led you to commit an act of abuse or neglect that you otherwise would not have engaged in
  • The belief by the Division investigator (and supporting evidence) that the neglect or abuse they observed is unlikely to be repeated
  • The fact that the abuse uncovered was very limited in terms of its potential to cause physical, emotional, or psychological harm to the child

Appealing Adverse Decisions by the Division

You have the right to request an administrative appeal if you disagree with the Division's decision regarding your situation. However, you must file the appeal under the Division's rules. You only have 20 days from the date you receive the Division's final report to file an appeal. There is no guarantee an appeal will yield a favorable result, but our Criminal Defense Team can help you make the strongest appeals case possible.

Can the Division Terminate Your Parental Rights Permanently?

In extreme cases of abuse or neglect, the Division has the power to recommend that you be permanently stripped of your parental rights. Additionally, you only have one year to restore your parental rights if they are taken away from you temporarily. In either case, a Burlington County Judge must grant the Division's request to permanently terminate your parental rights.

It is an extreme step, but not one the Division is afraid to take. For their request to be granted, the Division must convince the judge of the following:

  • Allowing you to continue having a relationship with the child would hurt their physical, emotional, or psychological well-being
  • You did not alleviate the conditions that led the Division to suspend your parental rights, and you don't have the desire or ability to do so
  • Displacing the child from their current home would cause them to suffer prolonged abuse, harm, or neglect
  • The Division has endeavored to assist you in alleviating the abusive or neglectful conditions but this work has not had a sufficient effect
  • Permanently terminating your parental rights would do less harm than restoring them

You Can Fight the Division and Win

Being investigated by the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency is something out of any parent's worst nightmares. They have the power to take your children from you, and they will not hesitate to use that power if they believe it's in the child's best interests. That does not mean that you don't have the power and the right to fight back. You can seek legal representation to defend your rights in a Division investigation.

Choosing the right attorney could be the difference between keeping custody of your children and losing them. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has helped parents in your situation fight for their rights and defend their reputations successfully, and we're here to do it for you, too. We're here to help you fight and win when the outcome matters most. 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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