The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (known as “DYFS” or the Division of Youth and Family Services until the Summer of 2012) changed its name after multiple failures in their own efforts to address child abuse and neglect. However, the nickname of “DYFS” sticks and the stigma of DYFS remains strong and true in 2022. The DCPP has always been and remains a State agency and acts with the full force of New Jersey law behind its investigators and agents.
“What stigma?,” you ask. How many times have you heard someone say, “DYFS is trying to take my kids”? Most people, when faced with a DCPP investigation, become understandably defensive.
While the process can be stressful and emotional, the DCPP offers resources to help parents get back on their feet and to assist with parenting plans and reunification. The DCPP has an overarching goal to ensure that children remain with their biological parents or legal guardians.
There will, of course, be extreme cases of abuse and neglect. This can include cases of domestic violence in the presence of a child, operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or another substance with a child in the car, physical injury or death to a child, neglect of a child, or placing a child at risk in other ways. Typically, when the DCPP opens an investigation concerning the well-being or safety of a child, they act within 24 hours to interview those involved. This can include caretakers, guardians, parents, siblings, police officers, doctors, nurses and witnesses. The DCPP seeks to understand what happened.
In order to understand what caused the abuse or neglect, the DCPP will speak to everyone who was around the child/ren around and near the time of the incident. They will also use photos, including the scene of the incident and injuries on the child. The DCPP will also consult with the police, the county prosecutor’s office, doctors, nurses and family members to get a better understanding of the incident and the family dynamic. This information helps the DCPP put together a timeline of events and understand the surrounding circumstances which led to or caused the abuse or neglect.
After the initial phase of gathering data, the DCPP may take a variety of actions under New Jersey law:
- Close the investigation
- Continue the investigation
- File an Emergent Application with the Court for the removal of the child/ren from the current risky or harmful living conditions.
If the DCPP continues its investigation, by either continuing its investigation or starting court proceedings to protect the child/ren, the DCPP must also provide the Court and the parents with its internal conclusion about the merits of the allegations of abuse or neglect by the parents. Those findings can be any one of the following (put very simply):
- Unsubstantiated: no abuse or neglect occurred
- Not Established: abuse or neglect possibly occurred, but we cannot prove it
- Established: those investigated caused abuse or neglect to the child but will not be placed on a registry
- Substantiated: those investigated caused the child to be abused or neglected and will be placed on a registry.
Substantiated findings are placed on the Child Abuse Registry Information (“CARI”). Your information will be permanently recorded in the CARI. Once your information is on this registry, it can never be removed. CARI is not public or available to the public, but having your name on the registry can still have a serious impact on your life. You may not be able to work in certain places, such as adoption agencies, childcare facilities, and group homes. You may find issues adopting or fostering a child.
This may all seem grueling and extreme, but it is not the end. Parents can take action in Court to address and contest DCPP findings.
No matter how serious or trivial the investigation, it is important, as parents and guardians, to understand your rights and the process every step of the way. If the DCPP becomes involved with you or a loved one, you have the right to be represented by an attorney. Contact our team at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann and Knopf to discuss your case and your options.