Bergen County Child Abuse Defense Lawyers
Main Office Located at 254 State Street in Hackensack, NJ
Parental Rights vs. State’s Rights
In Bergen County, New Jersey, as well as every county throughout the State, parents are free to raise their children as they see fit. Parents have a strong and well protected constitutional right to foster their children without interference from the government. However, parents also have a legal duty to properly care for their children. They must ensure their basic needs are being met and they are protected from unreasonable risks of harm. In the event that these basic responsibilities are not being satisfied, the State can and will intervene to protect the child. In fact, our lawmakers have enacted two governing statutes that authorize the government to step in to ensure the children of the state are protected and safe. The first statute is Title 9, which governs abuse and neglect cases. The second statute is Title 30, which provides protective services for families in need of assistance.
Bergen County Local DCP&P Offices
In New Jersey, the state agency responsible for protecting children and applying the child welfare laws is the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. The agency was originally established in 1899 and was called the State Board of Children’s Guardians. It was later changed to the Bureau of Children’s Services, then the Division of Youth and Family Services, often referred to as DYFS, and then renamed the Division of Child Protection and Permanency or DCP&P. In Bergen County, DCP&P has two local offices located on 240 Frisch Court in Paramus and 125 State Street in Hackensack.
DCP&P Investigations in Bergen County
Both local offices are in charge of receiving reports concerning suspected child abuse and neglect as well as investigating such claims. Many reports are given to DCP&P through their hotline, 1-877-NJ ABUSE (652-2873). Additionally, individuals can contact the local offices of their counties. Moreover, referrals are also given to the Division through mandated reporters such as the police, doctors, teachers, or childcare workers. Once DCP&P receives a report, they must open an investigation within 24-hours. The investigator is obligated to speak to the parents, the child, or any other person who may have personal knowledge about the case. On top of that, it is likely that the investigator will want to question the child’s pediatrician and if the child is attending school, the minor’s teachers. Moreover, the Division will likely run a background check on the parents to determine if they have a criminal history and any incidents involving domestic violence. In that same vein, the investigator will probably request that the parents submit to a drug test and may also demand that the parents undergo an evaluation.
At the conclusion of the investigation, DCP&P will decide whether an act of abuse or neglect occurred. Also, the finding will not simply be a yes or no decision. Meaning, the investigator will not simply say “yes,” the parents committed an act of abuse or “no,” the report was false. The Division utilizes a four-tier classification system to determine whether an act occurred and the severity of the case. The most serious tier is substantiated. A substantiated finding means an act of abuse or neglect occurred and there was an aggravating factor present. The next tier is established, which means that an act of abuse or neglect was committed but no aggravating factor exist. The next classification is not established. A not-established finding occurs when no act of abuse or neglect can be proven but the Division contends that there was a risk of danger. The last tier is unfounded, which means there was no child abuse or neglect and there was no potential for danger.
If DCP&P rules that a report is substantiated, the parents’ names will be listed on the Child Abuse Registry and may be disclosed to certain entities. If a referral is established, the parents’ names will be registered but their information cannot be disclosed. The purpose of the registry is to help protect other children from being harmed in the future. Nevertheless, the list does not provide any sort of protection for the child or children who were the subject of the investigation. As such, if the Division believes that a minor is in imminent danger, the agency can proceed to court.
Also, parents can appeal the Division’s findings. If DCP&P concluded that an act of child abuse or neglect occurred, the parents can file an appeal with the Office of Administrative Law and a hearing will be scheduled so the parents can present a case. If the parents are successful, the finding will be changed and the parent’s information will be removed from the registry.
Proceeding to Court
If DCP&P determines that a child may be at risk of harm, the Division can petition the court for assistance. The Division will file an Order to Show Cause alongside a Verified Complaint detailing the circumstances of the current investigation and in some cases, the history of the family in relation to the Division. In Court, DCP&P is represented the Attorney General’s Office. Furthermore, the child or children will be provided an attorney who is referred to as the Law Guardian. Generally speaking, both the Attorney General and Law Guardian will be asking the Judge to enter an order placing a number of restrictions upon the parents. For instance, the Court may suspend parenting time or impose supervised visits. Additionally, the Judge may require the parents to submit to random drug screens as well as undergo an evaluation. On top of that, the Court may also direct the parents to attending counseling or parenting classes.
It is very important to keep in mind, at this point of the case, the parents do not have to comply with the court order. Because there has not been a trial and thus, there has been no factual findings made by the judge, the court cannot compel the parents to comply. Therefore, the parents do not have to take a drug test, undergo an evaluation, or attend counseling. However, it is also important to acknowledge that the judge can still temporarily limit parenting time and can even transfer custody to the Division. Based upon the allegations put forth by DCP&P, the Judge can enter protective orders to ensure the child is safe.
Bergen County Child Abuse Allegations? Contact Us Now
Accordingly, if you or someone you love is involved with DCP&P, please contact our office for assistance.