New Jersey's Division of Child Protection and Permanency, or DCPP, may have something to say about whether you vaccinate your child or children. You'd doubtless like that decision to be yours as a responsible parent who knows the most about your child and has the greatest interest in your child's welfare. You have parental rights to do what you discern is best for your child's individual medical health, notwithstanding a community interest in seeing all children vaccinated with all available vaccines. You also have religious rights with which the state is not to unduly interfere, to bring your child up according to your faith commitments.
But you should also know that if you decide not to vaccinate your child, DCPP may investigate child abuse and neglect allegations against you. The chances of an abuse allegation and finding can substantially increase if your child contracts the disease against which you declined to vaccinate your child. In the worst case, you could face not only a protective order requiring your child's vaccination but also the removal of your child from your care and even criminal child abuse and neglect charges. Retain our premier Criminal Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm if you face a DCPP investigation. Call 888.535.3686 or chat with us.
Your child's welfare is your concern. But when it comes to vaccinations, New Jersey shares that concern. The state's stance is generally that one parent's refusal to vaccinate a child can threaten the health and welfare of other children. The state generally wants all children vaccinated with all recommended vaccines, never mind your child's individual health needs and concerns, nor your parental or religious rights. In short, if you decline to vaccinate your child, you will be going against the recommendations of both federal and state officials. New Jersey DCPP investigators will take those recommendations into account when investigating child abuse allegations.
Federal Vaccination Recommendations
The Centers for Disease Control recommends more than a dozen different vaccines in a child's first year and a half. Federal vaccine recommendations become state vaccine requirements for school attendance. The CDC's recommended vaccines include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rotavirus, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, haemophilus influenzae, pneumococcal conjugate, poliovirus, COVID-19, influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella. You won't have long to decide whether to vaccinate your newborn child. Half of the CDC's recommended vaccines come within the first two months after you have your child.
New Jersey Vaccination Recommendations
New Jersey's Department of Health maintains a Vaccine and Preventable Disease Program recommending a long list of vaccines not only for early childhood but right into adolescence. New Jersey's recommendations cover all of the above diseases plus human papillomavirus, meningococcal conjugate, and pneumococcal polysaccharide. The recommendations group the vaccinations into age ranges beginning at six weeks through four years of age and including two months to five years, age six months and above, age one and above, ages four through six years, seven years and above, and ten years and above. To comply with all of New Jersey's vaccine requirements, takes regular trips to the doctor's office for frequent vaccination.
New Jersey School Attendance Vaccination Mandates
While New Jersey recommends many child vaccinations, the state compels parents to vaccinate their children for certain diseases by making those vaccinations a requirement for school attendance. New Jersey is not unique in this regard. All states have school attendance vaccination requirements.
New Jersey's school attendance vaccination requirements are in New Jersey Administrative Code Sections 8:57-4.1 et seq. Section 8:57-4.2 requires the school principal to prohibit attendance of any child not vaccinated according to the state's regulatory requirements: "A principal, director, or other person in charge of a school, preschool, or child care facility shall not knowingly admit or retain any child whose parent or guardian has not submitted acceptable evidence of the child's immunization, according to the schedules specified in this subchapter." New Jersey publishes a summary schedule of the following vaccinations for school attendance:
- diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, including four doses with the final dose administered at or after age four or any five doses;
- poliomyelitis, including three doses with the final dose administered at or after age four or any four doses;
- measles, mumps, and rubella with two doses;
- hepatitis B with three doses;
- meningococcal at no earlier than age ten; and
- varicella or chickenpox.
Other New Jersey Administrative Code sections require schools to collect and maintain immunization certificates and report to the state on immunization compliance. New Jersey does permit conditional school admission while parents get their children up on all required vaccinations. And as discussed below, New Jersey also permits medical and religious exemptions for some students. But if you resist these school attendance vaccination requirements, you may face DCPP investigation, especially when other abuse and neglect factors are present.
DCPP officials investigating alleged child abuse around your refusal to vaccinate your child will claim to rely on substantial vaccination science. Vaccines trigger your child's body to produce antibodies to fight the disease. Vaccines may use dead, live, or live attenuated disease material to trigger those reactions. While dead material may be sufficient to immunize your child, live vaccines can produce antibody reactions in others who have not received the vaccination, adding to the generally beneficial effect of vaccination programs.
Vaccinations have a long history going all the way back to the early 1700s. Public health officials call that history a spectacular success in preventing deadly diseases. Jonas Salk's polio vaccine virtually eradicated a disease that crippled and killed many. Stanley Plotkins' rubella vaccine had similar success. Of course, vaccinations have since then proliferated to address less deadly and less debilitating diseases, making parents face more choices and decisions about whether to vaccinate. But DCPP investigators won't necessarily be thinking of anything other than those spectacular vaccination successes when considering your refusal to vaccinate.
Vaccine Development and Experimentation
Public health officials generally tout the benefits, not the risks, of vaccination. But the pandemic proved again that the rollout of vaccines involves a delicate dance of disclosure versus non-disclosure. And public health officials don't have any individual child's interest in mind. They instead focus on the general benefits of vaccination. But your interest isn't general. Your interest is in your child, not the overall success of a state vaccination program. And unfortunately, public health officials haven't always been forthcoming in sharing information suitable for individual consent. The public has generally heard, for instance, of the infamous Tuskegee Institute syphilis study inflicted on unconsenting servicemen. The federal government has admitted to other medical experimentation, killing and injuring other unsuspecting citizens. DCPP investigators won't be questioning public health officials who recommend or mandate vaccination. But as a parent responsible for your child's individual health, you have the right to do so.
COVID-19 Child Vaccination Mandates
The pandemic brought new vaccination mandates for adults and children. Adults lost access to medical care, access to travel and transportation, and jobs and careers for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. Children also faced COVID-19 vaccination mandates. The National Academy for State Health Policy reports that the District of Columbia continues to require children to have the COVID-19 vaccine to attend the District's schools, although daycare for unvaccinated children under five remains available. But state legislators heard the public opposition to pandemic mandates. According to the same report, no fewer than twenty-one states prohibit schools from imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
New Jersey's legislature hasn't taken any action prohibiting or imposing COVID-19 vaccination mandates for students. A New Jersey Department of Health FAQ acknowledges that "[c]urrently, COVID-19 vaccination is not a requirement for school attendance in New Jersey." New Jersey is not currently considering adding COVID-19 to the list of diseases against which students must accept vaccination. But the same document continues that "NJDOH strongly recommends that everyone should be up to date with age-appropriate vaccinations, per CDC's ACIP recommendations." A DCPP investigator could still potentially consider your refusal to vaccinate your child against COVID-19 contrary to CDC recommendations.
New Jersey Parental Rights Against Child Vaccination
New Jersey, like other states, recognizes your right to intervene on your child's behalf against not only recommended but also mandated vaccines. New Jersey Statute Section 18A:61D-10 authorizes an exemption from a vaccine when you can prove that the vaccine is "medically contraindicated" for your child. Vaccine mandates do, after all, infringe on individual rights and liberties, including a parent's critical right to raise, care for, and protect their child in the manner that they see best. Vaccines, after all, aren't perfect. Vaccines can benefit many but kill and injure some. And parents may know that their child has a peculiar health condition that makes a vaccine more dangerous for their child than for other children. Allergic reactions to certain vaccines may be rare, but they do happen. Even the CDC recognizes that in the worst case, an anaphylactic reaction and shock can kill a susceptible person who shouldn't have taken the vaccine.
New Jersey articulates its medical contraindication exemption in New Jersey Administrative Code Section 8:57-4.3 the first part of which states simply, "A child shall not be required to have any specific immunization(s) which are medically contraindicated." The code, though, requires that you obtain a written statement from a physician or advanced practice nurse that your child should not have the specific vaccine. The exemption ends if and when your child's special condition ends, after which your child must have the vaccine to attend school. And the school may exclude your student during an outbreak of the disease or a threatened outbreak. Thus, beware relying on the medical contraindication exemption. DCPP investigators may question your decision when not backed up by medical documentation.
New Jersey Religious Rights Against Child Vaccination
New Jersey, like forty-seven other states, also recognizes your religious rights not to vaccinate your child with recommended or even mandated vaccinations. New Jersey Statute Section 18A:61D-10(4)(b) grants parents an exemption from child vaccination requirements when "the vaccine conflicts with the bona fide religious tenets or practices of the student, or the parent or guardian…." New Jersey Administrative Code Section 8:57-4.4 carries that exemption into effect, beginning, "Each school, preschool, or child care center shall exempt a child from mandatory immunization if the child's parent or guardian submits to the school, preschool, or child care center a written, signed statement requesting an exemption…."
Religious objections to vaccine mandates may not prove as easy as they sound. DCPP investigators may be suspicious that your religious claim does not represent a sincerely held belief and is instead an excuse for neglect. A medical article in the National Library of Medicine indicates that neglectful parents do abuse religious rights claims. You must prepare to articulate and document your religious objections if you hope to satisfy the DCPP investigator of your sincerely held belief. The same medical article suggests that religious objections are clearest when based on the destruction of embryonic human life to develop or produce the vaccine. But religious objections may go well beyond that limit. Just be prepared to articulate the religious basis and prove by devotion, attendance, or other means that you sincerely hold that belief.
Other Moral or Ethical Objections to Vaccination
For a proper exemption from New Jersey's school attendance vaccine mandates, you must rely on either your child's medical contraindications or on your firmly held religious beliefs. In New Jersey, you cannot rely on a general moral or ethical objection. According to a physician's college summary of school vaccination requirements, twenty states "allow exemptions for philosophical reasons." New Jersey is not among those twenty states. New Jersey Statute Section 18A:61D-10(4)(b) states that "a general philosophical or moral objection to the vaccination shall not be sufficient for an exemption on religious grounds." You must ground your objection either in your religious beliefs or in your child's medical contraindication.
New Jersey's Child Abuse Definition and Vaccination
No matter your objection to child vaccinations, whether based on your child's individual medical condition or on your religious beliefs, DCPP investigators must still prove that your failure or refusal to vaccinate your child constituted abuse. To evaluate your risk of a DCPP abuse finding, you need to know New Jersey's abuse definition. DCPP investigators must connect your failure to vaccinate your child with that child abuse definition if they are to proceed with an abuse finding. New Jersey Statute §10:129-1.3 defines an "abused or neglected child" as a child under eighteen years of age who has suffered one of seven different forms of abuse. Only three of those seven abuse forms potentially apply to your refusal to vaccinate your child.
Allowing Infliction of Physical Injury
The first form of abuse that a DCPP investigator may try to find relating to your refusal to vaccinate your child involves infliction of physical injury. New Jersey Statute §10:129-1.3 defines an "abused or neglected child" to include one:
i. Whose parent or guardian inflicts, or allows to be inflicted upon such child, physical injury by other than accidental means, which causes or creates a substantial risk of death, or serious or protracted disfigurement, or protracted impairment of physical or emotional health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.
Your refusal to vaccinate your child does not directly inflict injury on your child. But DCPP investigators could argue that you have allowed physical injury if your child contracts the disease against which you refused to vaccinate your child and your child suffers a qualifying injury such as protracted impairment of physical health. That argument may be a stretch, but it may also be tenable, depending on your child's disease and injury.
Creating or Allowing a Substantial or Ongoing Risk of Injury
The second form of abuse that a DCPP investigator may try to find relating to your refusal to vaccinate your child involves creating or allowing a substantial or ongoing risk of injury. New Jersey Statute §10:129-1.3 defines an "abused or neglected child" to include one:
ii. Whose parent or guardian creates or allows to be created a substantial or ongoing risk of physical injury to such child by other than accidental means which would be likely to cause death or serious or protracted disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.
Depending on the disease risks, DCPP investigators could argue that your refusal to vaccinate your child either creates or allows a substantial or ongoing risk of your child's physical injury. That, after all, is the nature of vaccinations: to protect against substantial or ongoing risk of serious injury. To meet the abuse definition, the disease risk must be substantial or ongoing, and the disease must be one that could cause death or protracted impairment of bodily function. But under this definition, your child need not actually catch and suffer from the disease. The risk of disease could be enough to fit the definition.
Imminent Danger of Impairment Due to Inadequate Medical Care
The third form of abuse that a DCPP investigator may try to find relating to your refusal to vaccinate your child involves imminent impairment due to inadequate medical care. New Jersey Statute §10:129-1.3 defines an "abused or neglected child" to include one:
iv. Whose physical, mental, or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as the result of the failure of his or her parent or guardian to exercise a minimum degree of care[ i]n supplying the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, medical or surgical care, though financially able to do so, or though offered financial or other reasonable means to do so....
Depending on the disease risk, a DCPP investigator could argue that your careless failure to vaccinate your child against the disease risked your child's imminent impairment. If your child has contracted the disease resulting in impairment, the DCPP investigator's abuse case gets easier. In that case, the DCPP investigator need only prove that a minimum degree of care required vaccination. Otherwise, if your child hasn't caught the disease, the DCPP investigator must prove that the disease is imminent.
New Jersey Exclusion From Abuse Definition
The above discussion shows that in the worst case, you could suffer a DCPP charge and abuse finding for failure to vaccinate your child. The chance of a DCPP charge and abuse finding substantially increases if your child contracts the disease against which you failed or refused to vaccinate your child and if that disease causes your child a serious injury or protracted impairment. But even if a DCPP investigator finds abuse, the investigator may have to exclude the abuse under an exclusion in the statute.
New Jersey Statute §10:129-1.3 provides: "No child who in good faith is under treatment by spiritual means alone, through prayer in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner thereof, shall, for this reason alone, be considered to be abused or neglected." New Jersey's abuse definition thus indirectly incorporates the above religious rights exemption from vaccine mandates. In doing so, though, the statute uses more-limiting language. Your child must be "under treatment" and "through prayer" according to your faith's tenets. This narrow exclusion from New Jersey's abuse definition may be difficult to meet. You may better rely on the religious rights exemption from school attendance vaccination requirements, to argue that your religious beliefs prohibited vaccination.
New Jersey DCPP Procedures and Vaccination
The above discussion shows that you face some risk of a DCPP investigation and abuse charge for failing or refusing to vaccinate your child, especially if your child contracts the disease against which you refused vaccination and suffers injury as a result. Each individual case is different. Your risk of a DCPP charge and abuse finding may depend on the particular disease, public pressure, and the seriousness of your child's injury or the duration of your child's protracted impairment, among other factors. In that uncertainty, DCPP procedures and your response to them may prove the deciding factor in your outcome. How, for instance, would DCPP discover your failure or refusal to vaccinate your child? And what evidence might you present to avoid or overturn an abuse finding? Consider the following DCPP procedures relating to abuse charges over-vaccination issues.
Civil Versus Criminal Proceeding over Vaccination Issues
A DCPP investigation involves a civil rather than a criminal proceeding. The outcome risks the removal of your child and a restraining order, not your criminal conviction and incarceration. This difference may be important to your outcome over a vaccination issue because of the lower proof standard in civil cases. The state needs only prove more likely than not, or by a so-called preponderance of the evidence, that your failure or refusal to vaccinate constituted abuse. The state need not prove the abuse charge beyond a reasonable doubt, as the state would have to do in a criminal proceeding. Keep in mind that criminal charges could, in the worst case, also result. But those criminal charges would involve a separate proceeding beyond the DCPP case.
Centralized Reporting and Vaccination Issues
Complaints of suspected child abuse go to a 24/7 hotline number 1-877-NJ ABUSE. Screeners evaluate the report to determine whether it alleges potential abuse. Screeners refer qualifying complaints for local assignment of a DCPP caseworker or investigator. Screeners deal with the worst reports of child abuse, from physical beatings and torture to sexual assault and other violent wrongs. Thus, depending on the screener's perspective, a screener might or might not consider a report that you failed to vaccinate your child as a qualifying complaint. The likelihood of a referral for investigation would increase in the terribly unfortunate event of your child's injury from the disease against which you refused to vaccinate.
Mandatory Complaints Relating to Vaccination
New Jersey is among the small handful of states that mandates that anyone suspecting child abuse must report the suspected abuse to the toll-free hotline. Child abuse complaints are not optional. New Jersey Statute Section 9:6-8.10 requires a report from "any person having reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse or acts of child abuse…." Thus, anyone may complain that you neglected or abused your child. Making a complaint is as simple as calling the hotline, which will take anonymous complaints. You may face a vaccination-related child abuse complaint from your child's other parent, for instance, if you and the other parent are separated, divorced, or otherwise disputing how best to care for your child. You could even face a vaccination-related complaint from another parent or a neighbor who learns of your refusal to vaccinate your child and disagrees with your decision.
Professional Complaints Relating to Vaccination
Nearly all states require certain professionals who come into frequent contact with children to report suspected abuse. Teachers, social workers, counselors, pediatricians and other healthcare providers, religious leaders, and police are common complainants. The professionals most likely to complain that you did not vaccinate your child would be your child's pediatrician and other healthcare workers who were aware of your refusal to vaccinate and may also have treated your child for the disease against which you refused vaccination. DCPP may well discover from these healthcare workers your failure or refusal to vaccinate and obtain substantial reliable evidence of resulting disease and injury.
DCPP Investigations Relating to Vaccination Issues
DCPP investigations typically commence through area offices overseeing dozens of local offices. Your DCPP investigator will likely be at the county level or working out of an office covering a portion of your county. Your DCPP investigator will thus likely know your part of the county well from residing there and working with local schools, daycare providers, police, and court officials on child protection issues. The DCPP investigator will very likely visit you and your child at your home, observing the child's condition and your circumstances while asking you about vaccination and the reasons for your refusal. But the DCPP investigator may also contact and obtain immunization information and documentation from your child's healthcare providers and school. Beware inadvertently misleading the DCPP investigator or appealing to conceal information because the DCPP investigator will have other sources of information and evidence regarding your child's vaccination and immunization records.
DCPP Determinations Relating to Vaccination Issues
DCPP investigations reach conclusions. DCPP investigators must find the child abuse allegations either (1) unfounded, (2) not established, (3) established, or (4) substantiated. Your best outcome is an unfounded finding, while your worst outcome is a substantiated finding. A substantiated finding means that your name and the details of the abuse go into the New Jersey Child Abuse Registry. Police, prosecutors, other court officials, and employers of teachers and other child workers will be able to learn of your refusal to vaccinate your child and any abuse that DCPP finds resulted. You could lose care and custody of your child. You could also lose educational opportunities, job opportunities, and other significant rights and interests. Don't underestimate the impact of a DCPP child abuse finding based on failure to vaccinate.
Defending a DCPP Vaccination Abuse Investigation
Fortunately, you have several things you can do to improve your chances of a favorable outcome to your DCPP proceeding. Your first and best move, though, is to retain the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team as soon as you learn that DCPP is investigating you relating to your failure to vaccinate your child. Don't delay. The DCPP investigator's visit to your home is your first opportunity to make a good impression and your only opportunity to make a first impression. The DCPP investigator is likely to make return visits and calls. You may be able to identify, gather, and present evidence exonerating you from the failure-to-vaccinate charge. You just need the skill and experience of the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team to guide and advocate for you on one or more of the following defenses.
No Unreasonable or Inadequate Failure to Vaccinate
You may be able to show that you gave your child all recommended or required vaccinations according to permissible schedules. Those schedules permit some broad choices in when to vaccinate, how often to vaccinate, and what form of vaccination to use. You may be able to show that although you hadn't yet vaccinated your child, your choice fell within published guidelines or accepted parent practices in your community under your circumstances. Your sound exercise of parental care and discretion for your child's other health needs may bolster your defense that vaccination under the circumstances was discretionary and that failure to vaccinate wasn't abuse.
Vaccination Failure Did Not Cause Disease
Your first and best defense may be that your failure or refusal to vaccinate your child did not cause your child to contract the disease. Your child may not have been ill at all, or your child's illness may have been something other than a disease against which you refused vaccination. Your child's medical records, your testimony, and the testimony of healthcare workers who observed, diagnosed, and treated your child may be your evidence against the vaccination abuse charge. A charge that you exposed your child to the risk of disease is still possible, but an overreach compared to your child actually contracting the disease and suffering an injury.
Vaccination Failure Did Not Cause Injury
You may alternatively be able to show that even though your child contracted the disease against which you refused to vaccinate, your child did not suffer any serious injury or protracted illness. Diseases affect children differently. Two children may have the same disease but, because of different genetic, health or environmental factors may have entirely different disease courses and outcomes. If you declined to vaccinate, your child caught the disease, but your child soon regained full health, then you may not have committed any abuse.
Medical Contraindication for Vaccination
You may alternatively be able to defend DCPP failure-to-vaccinate charges on the grounds that vaccination of your child was medically contraindicated. Recall that New Jersey Administrative Code Section 8:57-4.3 relieves a child from the school attendance immunization requirement for vaccines that "are medically contraindicated." You may need to acquire documentation from a physician or other healthcare worker to defend the failure-to-vaccinate charge. But evidence of your child's unusual medical condition, such as allergic reactions, may be your defense to DCPP abuse charges.
Religious Objections to Vaccination
Finally, you may be able to establish your bona fide religious objection to your child's vaccination. Recall that New Jersey Statute Section 18A:61D-10(4)(b) grants parents an exemption from child vaccination requirements when "the vaccine conflicts with the bona fide religious tenets or practices of the student, or the parent or guardian…." You may need to clearly articulate those beliefs and practices. And you may need to develop confirming documentation and even testimony from a religious leader or others. But religious rights could be your defense to DCPP failure-to-vaccinate charges.
Appealing Vaccination Abuse Findings
Just because you have already suffered a DCPP child abuse substantiated or established finding doesn't mean that you've lost your DCPP case. New Jersey law authorizes DCPP appeals from either of those two findings. You must ordinarily file your appeal within twenty days of the DCPP decision. Appeals go to New Jersey's Office of Administrative Law. Administrative regulations at New Jersey Administrative Code Section 3A:5-1.1 define the state's complex appeal procedures including your right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence at an appeal hearing. Do not attempt an appeal without retaining the Lento Law Firm's skilled and experienced Criminal Defense Team.
Appeal Hearings on Vaccination Abuse Charges
For your best appeal outcome, you will likely need to mount a full trial-like presentation of witnesses and exhibits. You will need to testify on your own behalf but may also benefit from the testimony of medical personnel, school personnel, other family members, religious leaders, and friends who observed your child and know your child's health and special conditions and needs. You may also need to cross-examine adverse witnesses, including medical witnesses who opine about the risk and course of the disease and the benefit of vaccination. Making that presentation requires substantial skill and experience from our Criminal Defense Team.
Premier Criminal Defense Team for DCPP Charges
When facing New Jersey DCPP investigation, your best move is to retain the Lento Law Firm's premier Criminal Defense Team to represent you. Don't wait for an adverse finding, for the state to interfere with your child care and custody, and for your name's entry in New Jersey's Child Abuse Registry. Instead, call 888.535.3686 or chat with us the moment you learn of your DCPP investigation. Let our attorneys advocate for you all the way through the DCPP investigation process. Our attorneys can help you present your best possible defense to reduce your likelihood of losing care and custody of your child or children, along with a New Jersey Child Abuse Registry entry.
Respect the potentially severe consequences of a DCPP substantiated or established abuse finding and New Jersey Child Abuse registration. Value your ability to take concerted and discerning action in your own defense. Don't lose hope. Don't let state officials intimidate you into making bad decisions as to how to handle your most serious legal matter. Instead, trust that our Criminal Defense Team's services will help you achieve your best possible outcome. Let our premier attorneys put their skills and experience to work for you against DCPP's failure-to-vaccinate allegations. Call 888.535.3686 or chat with us now to put the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team to work for you on your most important matter. Your relationship with your child or children means the world to you.