New Jersey Child Protection and Permanency Issues

If you learn that someone has made a referral about you to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), you have good reason to be concerned about your future and the future of your child or children. The DCPP has a significant amount of power to make decisions about whether you will be allowed to continue to have custody of your child and will often refer matters to local law enforcement where the DCPP investigator believes a child may be a victim of criminal abuse or neglect.

This is why you need the help of an attorney with experience with DCPP investigations, child custody proceedings, and child abuse and neglect criminal cases if you are being investigated by the DCPP. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has helped clients all across New Jersey protect their rights during DCPP investigations, and our experienced criminal defense attorneys are ready to protect your rights if you are charged with child abuse or neglect. Call us today at 888.535.3686 or schedule a confidential consultation to learn more about the ways we can help.

What Is the Division of Child Protection and Permanency?

The Division of Child Protection and Permanency is part of New Jersey's Department of Children and Families. In its own words, DCPP is responsible for “investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect and, if necessary, arranging for the child's protection and the family's treatment.” That focus on protecting children means that DCPP will not hesitate to protectively remove a child from a family situation that exposes the child to a suspected abuser. It will often aggressively investigate child abuse or neglect claims, and while it may seem that an aggressive approach is in the best interests of a child who is the subject of an abuse or neglect referral, it can also result in DCPP removing children from homes and making criminal referrals in situations where those extreme responses are not supported by all of the facts.

This is why it's so important to take immediate action if you receive a notice that you're under investigation by the DCPP. If you fail to do so, you could find yourself losing more than custody of your child; you can also be restricted from visiting with your child, lose the right to make important decisions about your child's welfare, and find yourself a defendant in a criminal case stemming from the DCPP's investigation. Promptly contacting the Lento Law Firm Team can make all the difference when it comes to protecting your rights during a DCPP investigation. By taking prompt steps to vigorously protect your rights, you increase the chances that the investigation will be resolved in your favor and reduce the chances that DCPP will refer you to law enforcement.

Powers of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency

New Jersey's DCPP can take a number of steps that have an immediate and drastic effect on your life, as well as on the lives of your family members. In situations where a DCPP investigator believes your child may be in imminent danger, the investigator and police can appear at your home, take your child from you, and place them with a member of your family who does not live with you or in temporary foster care. In that kind of situation, DCPP must also begin a civil court case to confirm the removal within two working days of when the temporary removal happened.

In less-drastic situations, DCPP can still remove your child and place them with a relative or foster care provider, but after investigating the abuse or neglect allegations. For example, such removal can happen if the DCPP investigation finds evidence that you have abused or neglected your child, and the DCPP believes you have not taken serious steps to address the problems that they've uncovered. In other cases, DCPP may refer you to certain family services that are intended to help you address concerns that the DCPP investigation has uncovered. For example, you may be required to follow a case plan designed to help address some of the problematic issues uncovered by the DCPP's investigation. Or you may be required to attend counseling or therapy, change the family or child's living situation, or enter and complete alcohol or drug treatment. If you fail to cooperate with DCPP's recommendations or referrals, you could face a situation where DCPP removes your child from your home (if DCPP has not done so already).

Another serious step that DCPP can take following an investigation is to report you to New Jersey's Child Abuse Registry. This is a statewide registry that is available to state agencies, law enforcement organizations, and certain employers that lists individuals who may be a risk to children or vulnerable individuals. Your name will only be added to the Child Abuse Registry in situations where the DCPP substantiates the abuse or neglect reports made against you. One consequence of being added to the Child Abuse Registry is difficulty in finding a job in any field where you would have contact with children or other vulnerable individuals.

DCPP can also refer your case to local prosecutors. In that case, it's up to the prosecutor to decide whether to pursue criminal charges against you or to get local police involved in additional investigation. Because prosecutors will have access to all of the information that DCPP has collected during its investigation, some cases can be prosecuted almost immediately.

As you can see, when the DCPP becomes involved in your life, it can have an enormous effect on you, your family, and your future. The emotions that a DCPP visit can trigger can be intense, and the thought of losing custody of your child, being added to the Child Abuse Registry, or being prosecuted for child abuse or neglect can cause intense and continuing anxiety. In this kind of difficult situation, you need help from the experienced attorneys at the Lento Law Firm. Our attorneys will fight to protect your rights throughout the DCPP investigation process and will vigorously defend you against any criminal charges that prosecutors may bring against you. And just as importantly, we will help you deal with the stress and uncertainty that comes with a DCPP investigation.

DCPP Abuse or Neglect Referral Requirements

In New Jersey, anyone who becomes aware of facts that make it reasonable to believe that a child has been abused or neglected is required by law to make a report with DCPP. There is a toll-free number maintained by DCPP 24 hours a day that is specifically for child abuse and neglect reports. And because reports can be made anonymously, there are almost no consequences if someone makes an anonymous report that later turns out to be false.

Incoming reports, called “referrals,” are screened to determine whether they relate to possible child abuse or neglect or to situations where a family may benefit from receiving state services through New Jersey's Child Welfare Service. Incoming child abuse or neglect referrals are forwarded to a DCPP office in the county in which the child who is the subject of the referral lives. That office is responsible for investigating the referral.

DCPP Investigations

Once the local DCPP office receives the referral, it will typically assign one or more investigators to the case. These investigators have full legal authority to investigate child abuse or neglect referrals in detail, and their findings can make the difference between your child being removed from your home or the matter being resolved with a determination that no abuse or neglect has taken place.

In almost every case, once the local DCPP office has assigned a referral to an investigator, the investigator will visit the child's home in person. This can happen quite quickly, often within 24 hours of when the referral is received. The visit is likely to feel extremely intrusive; the investigator will conduct a detailed inspection of the entire home, looking for any issues that could affect the safety of the child or provide evidence that the child has been abused or neglected. The investigator will also conduct interviews – with the parent or parents, others living in the home, others who care for the child, and sometimes even friends, neighbors, and relatives. They may also attempt to interview the child who was the subject of the referral.

But that isn't all. In some cases, you may be asked to release medical and school records to the investigator and permit interviews with your child's doctors and teachers. And the investigator may return and ask to interview you and others living at home again.

In most cases, the investigator will appear to be friendly because they know that people will talk more to someone they believe is their friend. But a DCPP investigator is not your friend; their job is to uncover information about situations where a child is being abused or neglected or is in danger of being abused or neglected. That is why retaining an attorney from the Lento Law Firm who has experience with DCPP investigations can make such a significant difference. In cases where we have sufficient notice, we will explain the investigation process to you so we can help you prepare for a DCPP investigator interview; we can sit with you during the interview and make sure the questions are clear and understandable and make sure the DCPP investigator respects your rights throughout the entire process. Even in situations where DCPP appears unexpectedly at your door, we can be on the phone with you, advising you and interacting with the investigator to help protect you during the inspection.

DCPP Findings and Actions

Once the investigation is complete, the DCPP caseworker will prepare a report that DCPP will use when determining what its findings will be. You have a right to review the report as well as the information collected by DCPP during the investigation, and when you retain one of the experienced attorneys from the Lento Law Firm to represent you during the DCPP investigation process, we can review those records with you to make sure they are complete, accurate, and are being properly and fairly interpreted by DCPP.

Based on the information gathered during the investigation, the DCPP can decide that the referral made against you was Unfounded, Not Established, Established, or Substantiated. Each of these determinations has its own possible set of consequences.

  • Unfounded. There is not enough evidence meeting the “preponderance of evidence” standard (commonly referred to as “more likely than not”) to indicate you abused or neglected your child.
  • Not Established. While there is evidence that you harmed your child or put them at risk of being harmed, there is not a preponderance of evidence supporting the allegation that you abused or neglected your child.
  • Established. There is a preponderance of evidence that abuse or neglect occurred; however, there are mitigating factors that mean any abuse or neglect that occurred had a limited or minor impact on your child, or that the situation was an isolated one that is unlikely to reoccur, or that you have already take remedial steps during the investigation.
  • Substantiated. There is a preponderance of evidence showing that your child was abused or neglected.

Depending on the finding, the DCPP may take further action, as described in more detail above. In situations where DCPP intends to remove your child from your home, you will have an opportunity to contest it in a court proceeding. You have a right to be represented by an attorney at this hearing and other proceedings involving your case. Having the help of one of the experienced attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Team can help considerably in these difficult situations.

Contesting a DCPP Decision

When the DCPP decides to add your name to the New Jersey Child Abuse Registry, or remove your child from your home and place them with a relative or in foster care, or even require you to participate in counseling or substance abuse treatment, you will have an opportunity to contest or appeal the decision in court. The benefits of working with an attorney from the Lento Law Firm who has experience helping other parents through DCPP investigations, Child Abuse Registry listings, and child removals are significant. In any case, where your rights are impacted by a DCPP decision, you need the help of an attorney who understands New Jersey's laws, rules, and procedures for disputing these kinds of determinations.

DCPP Referrals to Law Enforcement

The stakes are even higher when DCPP refers your case to prosecutors. When a DCPP investigation leads to a criminal prosecution, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Losing custody of your child is one thing, but if you're convicted of a crime based on alleged child abuse or neglect, your chances of being able to get custody back are even less.

The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands how important your child and your freedom are to you, and our experienced attorneys are ready to help you protect your rights and fight for your future.

How an Attorney Experienced in DCPP Cases Can Help

The Lento Law Firm can help you at virtually every step of the DCPP investigation and resolution process, and if your case is referred to prosecutors, they can defend you during that difficult stage as well.

Our experienced attorneys will explain what is happening at every step. In many cases, we can help you prepare for visits from and interviews with DCPP investigators. We can make sure you only answer questions that are clear and understandable and can help make sure that your answers are understood by the DCPP investigator. We can discuss your case with the DCPP and work at that level to resolve it in a manner that is as favorable as possible. When DCPP decisions go against you, we can appear in court to fight to change them. If you are prosecuted as a result of a DCPP referral, we will represent you in your criminal case and aggressively defend you against the charges.

A DCPP investigation can be a stressful and frightening process. Working with one of the experienced attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you get through it with less stress and, in many cases, much better results than if you were to attempt to represent yourself.

Contact the Lento Law Firm if You're Being Investigated by the DCPP

We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to contact an attorney as soon as possible after you learn that a DCPP referral has been made against you. The sooner we are able to become involved in your case, the more our experienced attorneys will be able to help.

Don't delay! Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 or schedule a confidential consultation with one of our experienced attorneys online. Having the Lento Law Firm fighting for you can make all the difference.

​​​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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