Middlesex County DCP&P Criminal Defense Attorney

The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (often simply referred to as DCP&P or the “Division”) is the Garden State's public agency responsible for ensuring the welfare of minor children. The Division can exercise its powers in various ways depending on the circumstances.

The Division's powers can also be quite significant. For instance, in certain cases, the DCP&P has the authority to remove children from their parents' homes.

Are you a resident of Middlesex County, New Jersey? Are you currently being investigated by the DCP&P?

Protecting your rights is essential now. Don't hesitate to enlist professional legal assistance. The Criminal Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm is available to offer the defense you need when a New Jersey DCP&P investigation threatens to separate you from your kids. Be proactive and get started today by submitting our online contact form or calling us at 888-535-3686.

Reporting Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect in Middlesex County, NJ

The Division belongs to New Jersey's Department of Children and Families (DCF). Per the DCF, anyone in New Jersey who reasonably believes a child may be the victim of abuse or neglect should report their concerns by calling the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-877 NJ ABUSE (1-877-652-2873). They should also call 911 if they believe a child is in immediate danger.

A State Central Registry (SCR) “screener” will typically ask several questions of the individual reporting suspected child abuse. A screener is a caseworker with the experience necessary to handle such reports.

Someone reporting suspected child abuse may need to provide such information as:

  • Identifying information: A person can anonymously report suspected child abuse through the Hotline. However, they should provide identifying information about the child they believe is being abused and the person they believe may be committing abuse or neglect. They should also provide as much additional relevant information as they can, such as the ages and addresses of the parties involved.
  • The nature of the abuse: A screener will gather information about the nature of the suspected abuse or neglect. Someone making a report should explain what gave rise to their concerns. If they have any information about injuries a child may have sustained due to potential abuse or neglect, they should provide this information as well.
  • Time and location: A person reporting suspected abuse or neglect of a child may provide information about when they believe said abuse or neglect happened. In addition, they can describe where they suspect it occurred. The screener may also want to know whether the alleged perpetrator currently has access to the child.
  • Urgent needs: A person reporting suspected child abuse or neglect may not know whether their concerns are valid. That said, to the best of their ability, they may explain the degree to which they believe a child is in immediate danger.

Anyone making a report via the Hotline is immune from criminal or civil liability for doing so. That means you can't sue someone for falsely claiming you've abused a child. New Jersey law actually states someone legally qualifies as a “disorderly person” if they knowingly fail to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

DCP&P Investigations in Middlesex County, NJ: Essential Information

A DCP&P investigator will begin investigating a case within 24 hours of receiving a report of suspected abuse or neglect of a minor. If DCP&P determines a matter is urgent, it has the authority to temporarily remove a child from a home or other such potentially dangerous environment. However, the Division states that in the vast majority of cases, it will not remove a child from a home simply because a report has been made.

The nature of a DCP&P investigation may vary somewhat depending on the specifics of a case. Generally, though, it involves these steps:

  • Initial assessment: The Division will assess a report to determine if it's credible enough to justify launching an investigation. DCP&P will typically err on the side of caution and investigate any report that appears reasonably credible.
  • Visiting the home: You might first learn someone has accused you of child abuse or neglect when a DCP&P investigator arrives at your home. The investigator cannot provide you with the identity of the individual who made the report. However, to the best of their ability, they should provide you with reasonably specific information about the nature of the allegations.
  • Interviews: The DCP&P investigator will ask to interview you, the alleged victim, and any other children who live in the home. They may also interview other members of the household. Additionally, they'll often want to speak with other parties who may have relevant information or insights, such as the child's teachers, doctors, etc.
  • Assessment of safety factors: The investigator will look for any safety issues during their first contact with you. If they identify any safety issues that may pose a risk to a child in your care, they may ask you to sign a Safety Protection Plan indicating you agree to take steps to address said factors. The caseworker may remove a child from your custody if they identify major safety issues.

Safety factors a caseworker will often consider when investigating you and your home include:

  • Cleanliness, or lack thereof
  • The availability of food, water, and other basic necessities in the household
  • The presence of drugs or other substances or items that could put a child in harm's way

You need to strike a delicate balance when an investigator arrives at your home to look into a report of suspected abuse or neglect. While you want to protect your rights, you may fear that being too defensive will arouse the suspicions of an investigator.

It's best to speak with a legal professional in these circumstances. Our Criminal Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can help you navigate a complex and potentially frightening situation.

Potential Findings of a DCP&P Investigation in Middlesex County

Upon completion of the initial investigation, the Division may categorize your case as one of the following:

  • Substantiated: A report is Substantiated when a preponderance of evidence indicates a child has been abused or neglected according to New Jersey law. For a report to be Substantiated, an investigator must also have identified certain “absolute conditions” (more on this further down), or they must have determined that other aggravating or mitigating factors warrant categorizing a report as Substantiated. If a report against you is categorized as Substantiated, the Division may forward its findings to the relevant Middlesex County authorities for your prosecution. Additionally, the Division will disclose its findings for a Child Abuse Record Information (CARI) check. This essentially means your name will be added to a child abuse registry.
  • Established: DCP&P may categorize a report as Established if a preponderance of evidence indicates a child has been abused or neglected in a manner that represents a violation of New Jersey law. However, when evaluating aggravating or mitigating factors, DCP&P has determined that categorizing a report as Substantiated isn't warranted.
  • Not Established: A report is Not Established when evidence doesn't suggest a child has been abused or neglected according to New Jersey law, but evidence does indicate a child has nevertheless been harmed or been placed at risk of harm.
  • Unfounded: DCP&P categorizes a report as Unfounded when evidence doesn't indicate a child has been abused or neglected according to New Jersey law and there isn't evidence suggesting a child has been harmed or placed at risk of harm.

DCP&P's findings can substantially affect more than just your rights as a parent or guardian. They can also influence many other areas of your life for years to come. For example, if the Division categorizes a report against you as Substantiated, having your name in a child abuse registry could prevent you from securing employment.

It's critical to protect yourself when the Division is investigating a report of alleged child abuse or neglect. Contact our Criminal Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm as soon as you discover an investigation is underway.

‘Absolute Conditions' in DCP&P Investigations

Again, the Division may find a report is substantiated if an investigator finds evidence of the existence of “absolute conditions.” These conditions are:

  • A child's death or near death resulting from abuse or neglect
  • A child being subjected to sexual activity or exposed to sexual materials or activities inappropriate for a minor
  • The infliction of a condition that required a child to be hospitalized or otherwise receive significant medical care
  • Repeated physical abuse of a child
  • When a parent or guardian knows a child may be the victim of repeated instances of physical or sexual abuse, failure to take action to protect a child
  • A child being harmed or being at risk of serious harm due to a failure to provide a child with necessary care

The Division technically works to protect a child's best interests. However, it's important to understand that Division investigators aren't necessarily impartial parties. At the Lento Law Firm, members of our Criminal Defense team can ensure someone is on your side throughout an investigation.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

The Division will also consider aggravating and mitigating factors when determining how to categorize a report. For instance, even if an investigator doesn't identify the existence of any of the absolute conditions listed above, the Division may still categorize a report as substantiated if aggravating or mitigating factors warrant doing so.

Aggravating factors in these cases include:

  • Signs of institutional abuse or neglect
  • Failure to comply with court orders or formal conditions (such as a child safety plan) designed to ensure the welfare of a child
  • A child's young age, delayed development, or any other such vulnerability
  • Signs of lasting physical, emotional, or psychological effects on a child
  • Evidence suggesting a pattern of abuse or neglect exists
  • Evidence suggesting that ensuring a child's safety requires separating them from an alleged perpetrator of abuse or neglect

Mitigating factors the Division may consider when evaluating a report include:

  • Stressors of an extraordinary, situational, or temporary nature that may have caused an otherwise loving parent or guardian to uncharacteristically engage in abuse or neglect
  • Remedial actions an alleged perpetrator took before the conclusion of an investigation
  • Whether an instance of abuse or neglect is an isolated incident
  • Whether the impact of the alleged abuse or neglect on a child is minor

Enlisting legal help is wise even if you plan to take remedial action to address safety factors uncovered during an investigation. Along with protecting your rights, our Criminal Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can help you better understand what steps you may take to positively influence an investigation's outcome.

Can a Middlesex County DCP&P Investigation Lead to Criminal Charges?

The Division isn't a law enforcement agency. It doesn't have the power to bring criminal charges. However, if investigators believe you have engaged in abuse or neglect of a child, the Division can report its concerns to the police.

A DCP&P investigation can trigger a criminal investigation. Both can have significant potential implications for you and your children.

Defending yourself in these circumstances is imperative. The Criminal Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm is prepared to help by offering a defense strategy tailored to the specific nature of the investigations you may currently be facing.

Understanding Your Rights

The outcome of a Division investigation could lead to no further action. On the other end of the spectrum, it could lead to the loss of your parental and custodial rights. In addition, it could also lead to criminal charges.

You have certain rights in these scenarios. For example, you can appeal a Division finding within 20 days of receiving information about said finding.

Understanding your rights and protecting yourself when someone has accused you of child abuse or neglect in Middlesex County, NJ, isn't something you should attempt to do alone. Luckily, you don't have to.

Our Criminal Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can offer the defense you need when your rights as a parent are on the line. Learn more about how we can help by contacting us online today or calling us at 888-535-3686.

​​​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.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.