Gloucester County DCP&P Attorney

If you've received a notification from one of Gloucester County's two Division of Child Protection and Permanency(DCPP) offices that someone has reported you for suspected child abuse or neglect, you have plenty of reasons to be concerned. Your family's future and yours are at stake and can depend almost entirely on the outcome of an investigative process that you have little control over. The DCPP can easily decide to remove your child from your custody, temporarily and even permanently, and will frequently refer to local police departments when the DCPP investigator believes that criminal abuse or neglect may have occurred.

That's why, as soon as you learn someone has reported you to DCPP, you need the help of an experienced attorney – one who understands DCPP investigations, child abuse and neglect allegations, criminal cases, and child custody proceedings. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has helped clients like you – parents suspected of child abuse or neglect – protect and defend their rights in DCPP and related criminal investigations across Gloucester County and New Jersey. Call us today at 888.535.3686 or schedule a confidential consultation to learn more about how our experienced attorneys can help.

Child Abuse Is an Emotional Issue

If there is one issue that can trigger an emotional response in almost anybody, it's when parents abuse or neglect their children. For one thing, people are instinctively driven to want to protect children, and when they hear that a parent has abused a child, they feel an almost visceral need to make sure something is done about it. Among the many good reasons for treating allegations of child abuse and neglect seriously is evidence that abused and neglected children are more likely to commit crimes and abuse drugs or alcohol when they become adults and are more likely to commit abuse themselves.

For these and many other reasons. DCPP has an extraordinary amount of authority to get involved and take affirmative action when its investigation supports a determination that a child has been abused, neglected, or put in danger by a parent or a guardian. The state maintains a toll-free hotline for such reports and makes it a crime for anyone who suspects that a child is being abused or neglected not to report it to DCPP.

Once a report is filed, it's typically referred to the DCPP office in the county in which the child is located. As noted above, Gloucester County has two DCPP offices; one is in Sewell, and the other is in West Deptford. The local DCPP office is then responsible for investigating the report. This process, however, is notoriously opaque and is not necessarily designed to be a fair or impartial one.

DCPP Investigations Are Not Impartial

DCPP is not a law enforcement agency. Their investigations don't follow the procedures and policies required of criminal investigators. Indeed, their focus isn't on determining whether a crime has been committed; instead, it's on whether you pose a threat to your child's well-being. They have the power to remove your child from your custody without a criminal charge being filed. That said, if they do believe that you've committed some kind of crime, whether it relates to your child or not, DCPP personnel will also refer cases to local law enforcement.

So, where does this leave you if you're being investigated by DCPP? This can be difficult to figure out. In a criminal case, of course, your decision to remain silent is guaranteed by law and will not be used against you to convict you. However, because DCPP investigations are not criminal investigations, a DCPP investigator may very well decide that your silence in response to any question is evidence that you have something you're hiding.

Your Legal Team Is Your Best Defense Against the DCPP

Silence is a potentially bad response to a DCPP investigation, and it can be hard to know what to say, when, and to whom when you're under investigation by DCPP. That's why you need the help of an experienced attorney, one who understands how DCPP investigations work and what your rights are during these investigations, as well as having an understanding of New Jersey criminal law and how it can interplay with a DCPP matter. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has that background. We regularly represent parents and guardians who are being investigated by DCPP and know how to protect your rights without creating a situation where DCPP thinks you're trying to hide something from them.

We will work with you to help you understand the DCPP process and to fight to keep your reputation and your custodial rights intact. Because DCPP investigations aren't designed to be impartial, having one of our experienced attorneys on your side can help level the playing field. We will work to protect your rights, including, for example, your right to understand the questions you're being asked by the investigator, to only respond to questions you understand, and to have a chance to provide full and complete answers.

Don't make the mistake of believing that if you only have a chance to explain things to the investigator, the whole DCPP nightmare will end. It won't. Even in situations where the report is baseless and was made by someone who has a grudge against you, DCPP must still take it seriously and investigate it as if it were made in good faith. As soon as the DCPP investigation starts, the threat to your custodial and parental rights is real. This is why it's so important to have your legal team ready as soon as possible after you learn that you've been reported by someone to DCPP.

DCPP Investigations Can Lead to Criminal Charges

Don't kid yourself – the fact that DCPP isn't part of a law enforcement agency doesn't mean a DCPP investigation won't lead to criminal charges. If the DCPP investigator or case worker uncovers what they believe is evidence that you've abused or neglected your child or placed your child in danger, there is nothing stopping them from referring the matter to local law enforcement. Depending on where the child lives, this would typically be one of the more than 20 police departments in Gloucester County or the Gloucester County Sheriff's Office. When that happens, you're facing not one but two investigations.

This is why it's so important to contact the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team as soon as you learn that someone has filed a report about you or your child with DCPP. There is nothing to stop a DCPP investigator from showing up at your doorstep without any warning – they often prefer to surprise people because it reduces the chance that someone will destroy evidence or create a fake “cover story.” However, you do have rights, even in DCPP investigations, and being represented by an attorney is one of them. And one of the things we will do is make sure that DCPP is playing by the rules and respecting your rights. It's not improper to make sure you understand the questions you're being asked before you answer them. It's not improper to make sure your answers are clear, complete, and understood by the DCPP investigator. We will help make all of that happen. Because when custody of your child is on the line, you and your family deserve no less.

Referrals can work in the other direction as well – local police and sheriffs can refer situations to DCPP. This can happen if you're being investigated for a completely separate offense, but the investigating officer comes across a situation that they believe rises to the level of child abuse, neglect, or endangerment. In that case, you're again dealing with a new investigation from DCPP, one that, even if the police investigation results in no charges being filed, could lead to you losing custody of your child.

How DCPP Investigations Work

DCPP investigations can happen very quickly, often within a few days of the local DCPP office receiving a report. The DCPP investigator may or may not schedule an appointment to come visit your home. At some point, you can almost guarantee that they will conduct a home visit, which will feel much more like an inspection and an interrogation than a pleasant meeting with a local social worker. While the investigator may be friendly in an attempt to put you at ease and get more information from you, don't be fooled – they are not your friends. Their job is to dig deeply into your life to determine whether your child is being abused, neglected, or is in danger of being abused or neglected.

Some of the things you can expect during a home visit from the DCPP include:

  • An inspection of the home for cleanliness and safety; this may include any outbuildings such as garages and storage buildings, and your yard as well
  • A look into your kitchen cupboards, refrigerator, pantry, bathrooms, and storage areas to determine whether there is enough food, water, and other necessities such as soap, detergent, toilet paper, clean clothes, and the like for the child or children living there
  • An interview with you and any other adults living in the home
  • An interview with the child or children living in the home

The DCPP investigator may also ask you to sign a medical release that allows them to have the child examined or to review the child's medical records. If the investigator believes that illegal drugs are being used in the home or that you or other adults are consuming significant amounts of alcohol in the child's presence, you might also be asked to submit to drug or alcohol testing.

How to Handle Home Visits and DCPP Investigations

The DCPP caseworker or investigator may appear to be friendly, but you should never forget that they have a job to do. Their focus is on what's in the best interest of your child – not you. This is where having an attorney involved can make all the difference. As the parent or the guardian who's being investigated, you'll be under an intense amount of pressure to do everything in your power to protect yourself and your child. But that pressure can mean you answer improper or unclear questions or provide incomplete or garbled answers to legitimate ones.

The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands the pressures you're facing. More importantly, our attorneys have experience making sure that DCPP investigations are conducted fairly, that our clients only answer proper, clear questions when we are there with them during the questioning, and that they have a chance to completely and fully provide the information that the DCPP investigator needs to arrive at as accurate a picture as possible. We'll work for you to protect your rights during the DCPP investigation and to argue on your behalf why you should continue to have custody of your child. With so much at stake when the DCPP comes knocking, you shouldn't try to defend yourself when there are experienced attorneys ready to help.

What Are the Potential Outcomes Of a DCPP Investigation?

There are four potential outcomes after the DCPP investigator finishes. These are defined by DCPP rules. These outcomes will dictate what happens to you and your child next.

  • If the allegations against you are Substantiated, it means there is a preponderance of evidence (which is a strong case) that child abuse or neglect has occurred. There are also likely aggravating factors that make this kind of abuse more serious. The DCPP will typically forward information about Substantiated cases to the appropriate Gloucester County law enforcement. Your name will be added to the New Jersey Child Abuse Registry, which will severely affect your ability to have contact with any children, the elderly, or the disabled in any capacity. It will also be included in background checks and employment screenings.
  • When allegations are Established, it means that there is a preponderance of evidence that you committed child abuse or neglect, but there are mitigating factors that reduced the impact your actions had on your child or that indicated it was an isolated incident unlikely to happen again, or that you've already taken steps to remedy the situation that led to the abuse.
  • If the finding is that the allegations were Not Established, it means that there was some evidence that your child was exposed to some harm or danger but not enough to rise to the level of abuse or neglect.
  • Unfounded is the best possible outcome. This means that there was no evidence that your child was harmed or was put in danger by you.

The consequence in terms of your ability to retain custody of your child will depend on the circumstances of each case. Obviously you're more likely to lose custody if the investigation finds that the allegations against you were Substantiated than if they were Not Established. But whatever the DCPP's decision is, you have rights, and our experienced attorneys will negotiate and fight on your behalf to arrive at a mutually agreeable plan that will allow you to retain or regain your parental rights.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

An aggravating factor in a Substantiated case can elevate a child abuse case to a possible crime. It's typically more difficult to restore parental rights in cases where the DCPP has found aggravating factors than in cases where it has not. Some examples of aggravating factors include:

  • If the child was severely injured or died due to the abuse or neglect
  • Exposing a child to sexually explicit images or unlawful sexual activity
  • Failing to take steps to protect the child from physical or sexual abuse
  • Ignoring court orders regarding the child's care or failing to adhere to an agreed child safety plan
  • Continued abuse of a similar type could lead to long-term physical or emotional harm to the child
  • Failing or denying to give the child essential care, with significant harm happening as a result
  • A situation where the child has an elevated level of vulnerability due to age, disability, or developmental problems

On the other hand, DCPP is also required to take into account mitigating factors that can lead to a restoration of parental rights or the decision not to take away those rights in the first place. Sometimes, these mitigating factors will open the door for the creation of a child safety plan that can allow you to retain custody, provided you follow the plan's requirements.

Some mitigating factors include:

  • Your own efforts that you made even before the investigation happened to remedy the situation that led to the abuse report, such as removing an abusive adult from the home, thoroughly cleaning a home that was in severe need of it, or beginning therapy to address personal behavioral issues
  • Unusual circumstances that are not likely to happen again, such as the loss of a job or the death of a close member of the family
  • The situation that led up to the abuse or neglect is not likely to happen again
  • The abuse or neglect that was found to have occurred was itself extremely limited in its scope and severity

Your Right to Appeal

You have a right to appeal the DCPP's determination following its investigation. Appeals have a time limit; they must be filed within 20 days of when the DCPP delivers its final report. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands what's required for a successful appeal and can advise you whether an appeal is likely to succeed based on your particular situation. Once the decision is made, we'll then prepare as strong an appeal as possible and file it on your behalf.

Permanent Termination of Your Parental or Custodial Rights

In cases where your child is removed from your custody temporarily, you will have one year to correct the conditions that the DCPP cited as justifying the removal. If you fail to do so, that temporary removal can become permanent – but only if the DCPP can show:

  • A continued relationship with your child would harm their physical, emotional, or psychological development
  • You've failed to remedy the conditions that put your child at risk and do not have the ability or desire to remedy them
  • The child would suffer long-term and continued emotional or psychological harm if removed from their current foster placement
  • The DCPP has made good-faith efforts to help you address the abusive conditions and has exhausted the alternatives to permanent termination of those rights
  • The downside of terminating your parental rights does not outweigh the benefits of doing so

The Lento Law Firm Is Here to Help You Fight for Your Parental Rights

When you learn that you're being investigated by the DCPP for alleged child abuse, you're likely to be confused, afraid, upset, and angry. Thinking that the DCPP can come in and investigate every nook and cranny of your life, terminate your rights as a parent, and take your child away from you can make you feel as though you're fighting a losing battle even before you start. This is where the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can step in and be a real help.

You don't have to fight this alone. You have rights, and our experienced attorneys are here to help you assert those rights and make sure the DCPP respects them from the day they begin their investigation until they make a decision based on your situation. We understand the laws, the rules, the processes, and we know how to talk to DCPP personnel on your behalf. Don't try to defend yourself in this difficult, intense personal situation! Call the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense team today at 888.535.3686, or schedule a confidential consultation to learn how we can help.

​​​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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