In New Jersey, the Division of Child Protection & Permanency (DCP&P) has the authority to investigate allegations of child neglect or child abuse. DCP&P investigations can lead to serious long-term consequences, particularly if they determine that a child is at risk of harm. If you're dealing with a DCP&P matter and you disagree with the outcome of their investigations, you can often appeal the decision.
Here is an overview of how DCP&P appeals work and how you can appeal findings against you.
What Is a DCP&P Investigation?
When Child Protective Services (CPS) receives a report concerning child abuse, neglect, or harm, the DCP&P investigates the incident. Following the initial investigation, the DCP&P reviews the case to determine whether there are signs of neglect or abuse. They typically decide the outcome within 60 days of beginning the investigations.
What Are the Possible Outcomes?
The DCP&P can make one of four determinations after they complete their investigations. Determinations are based on the standard of proof known as the “preponderance of the evidence.” Preponderance of the evidence simply means that, based on the evidence available, it's more likely that the accusations are true than false.
The definitions are set out in full in Section 3A:10-7.3 of the NJ Admin Code, but we can summarize them as follows.
- Substantiated: The evidence suggests that serious child abuse or neglect took place. There may also be one or more aggravating factors, such as repeated patterns of abuse or failure to comply with previous court orders.
- Established: While the evidence points to child abuse or neglect, it is not severe enough to be considered “substantiated,” and there may be no aggravating factors.
- Not established: Most of the evidence does not suggest child abuse or neglect, but there is some evidence that the child was harmed or placed at risk of harm.
- Unfounded: There is no evidence suggesting the child is abused or neglected, and they're not being harmed or at risk of harm from the person named in the allegations.
The procedure for appealing a DCP&P finding varies depending on the outcome of your case, as we will explore below.
Who Can Appeal DCP&P Findings?
You can appeal DCP&P findings if you are the subject of the investigation and the finding is against you. So, for example, if the DCP&P investigates your home as part of a child abuse investigation allegedly involving you, and they find that you neglected or harmed a child, you have the right to appeal that decision.
What Is the Process for Appealing DCP&P Findings?
The procedures vary depending on the DCP&P's findings. Although you should consult the Lento Law Firm to learn how to make a DCP&P appeal, here is an overview of the procedures involved.
Substantiated findings are among the most serious decisions the DCP&P can pass against someone. Your name will appear in the Child Abuse Registry, and it will not be expunged.
You may appeal a substantiated finding within 20 days of receiving notice of the decision against you. Substantiated finding appeals are filed with the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and heard by an Administrative Law Judge. Here are the steps to take.
- Within 20 calendar days, submit a written request for an appeal to the OAL. Explain that you're requesting an appeal before an Administrative Law Judge.
- In the meantime, contact the DCP&P and the District Attorney General to explain why your name should not be included in the Child Abuse Registry.
- There is a chance, at this stage, of the DCP&P reviewing the case and changing their findings. Otherwise, your appeal proceeds to a hearing.
- Before the hearing, you will attend a pre-hearing conference. At this point, the DCP&P can still reverse their findings or downgrade their findings to a lower category.
- Failing a successful resolution, you attend the hearing. The Administrative Law Judge determines the outcome based on the evidence presented by both parties.
It is strongly recommended that you have an experienced family law attorney represent you at all stages of the appeals process.
“Established” findings can significantly harm your employment prospects and damage your professional and family relationships, so they should be appealed.
The process for appealing an established finding is broadly the same as appealing a substantiated finding.
- Request an appeal by sending a letter to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). An Administrative Law Judge will be assigned to the case.
- You do not need to contact the DCP&P or District Attorney General, as your name will not appear in the Child Abuse Registry.
- The DCP&P may review your case and downgrade their decision, or they may wish to proceed to the hearing.
- Before the hearing, there's another opportunity – the pre-trial conference – to settle the matter outside of the courtroom.
- The Administrative Law Judge will conduct the hearing if it's still required and make a judgment based on the evidence given by all parties.
Although your name will not appear in the Child Abuse Registry if there's an established verdict, the DCP&P will retain your information, and it won't be expunged or deleted. To protect your best interests, you should strongly consider appealing an “established” DCP&P finding.
Not Established Findings
To appeal a “not established” verdict, you must show that the child was not put at risk of harm. The appeals process is slightly different – you must appeal to the Appellate Division of New Jersey's Superior Court rather than the OAL.
- Within 45 calendar days of receiving the decision, file an appeal with the Appellate Division.
- The DCP&P will be obliged to reveal the records which show how they reached their decision. At this point, your attorney can explain what options are open to you based on the DCP&P's evidence.
- If the DCP&P does not reverse its decision against you, then the Appellate Division reviews the case.
- The Appellate Division will affirm the DCP&P's findings or overturn them in your favor.
Your name won't appear in the Child Abuse Registry, but, as with “established” findings, the DCP&P retains your information and will not delete it.
Can I Appeal “Unfounded” Decisions?
Unfounded findings mean that your name will not appear on the Child Abuse Registry as the DCP&P has determined that the child was not harmed or in danger of harm from you. And, in most cases, your name will be erased from DCP&P records within three years.
However, depending on the circumstances, you might still wish to challenge a DCP&P decision, even if it's an “unfounded” outcome. To find out whether you have grounds to make an appeal, call the Lento Law Firm to schedule a consultation.
Will I Always Be Granted an Appeal?
You typically have the right to appeal DCP&P decisions against you. However, there's no guarantee that the Division will grant your appeal. In the first instance, you must follow the correct procedures and request an appeal before the applicable deadline, or else you could lose your shot at appealing the decision.
There's also no guarantee that your appeal will be successful – it all depends on the individual case and the evidence you can present to counter the DCP&P's findings. Joseph Lento's Family Law Team can explain the possible outcomes so that you know what to expect.
Are DCP&P Investigations Criminal or Civil?
A DCP&P investigation is a civil matter. It's not a criminal investigation, and the investigators have no legal authority to arrest you.
That said, the DCP&P could attend your home with the police if, for example, they suspect that the child is in immediate danger. And depending on the DCP&P's findings, you could face criminal charges for offenses such as child abuse, neglect, or domestic violence.
How Long Do I Have to Appeal DCP&P Decisions?
As described above, it depends on the findings against you – different timelines apply depending on whether it's a substantiated, established, or not established finding.
For example, you have 20 days to appeal substantiated findings. This means 20 days from the date of receiving written notice of the case outcome. And if it's a “not established” finding, you have 45 days from the date of the administrative finding to make an appeal.
Given the impact that DCP&P findings can have on your life, it's always best to appeal a decision promptly. To ensure you do not miss your opportunity to appeal the case, call Joseph Lento's Family Law Team as soon as possible.
Do I Need an Attorney for a DCP&P Appeal?
Although you may wish to handle the matter alone, it's usually in your best interests to let an attorney represent you.
Firstly, you must follow very specific steps, complete certain paperwork, and contact the right departments to secure an appeal hearing. A failure to follow the right procedures could mean you lose your chance at appealing the decision. An experienced attorney will ensure this does not happen.
Secondly, you need to present the best evidence in the most compelling way to have a shot at making a successful appeal. A DCP&P attorney can evaluate your case, determine the right grounds for appeal, and present the evidence required to make the strongest possible case on your behalf.
The appeals process can be overwhelming, especially if you have no prior experience with DCP&P proceedings. You need clarity, reassurance, and guidance at this highly stressful time, and that's where an experienced family lawyer can help. After evaluating the decision against you, Joseph Lento's Family Law Team will do everything he can to give your case the best prospects of success at the appeal stage.
What Happens If the Appeal Is Successful?
Every case is different. The goal may be to have the case against you dismissed, or it may be more appropriate to appeal on the grounds that the decision should be recategorized, e.g., you might seek to lower a substantiated finding to an established finding.
Joseph Lento's Family Law Team can explain what outcomes may be possible upon appeal depending on the DCP&P's findings, your previous history with the DCP&P, and the evidence available. And if you lose your appeal, we can explain what the outcome means and what happens next.
What Happens If I Don't Appeal the Decision?
If you don't appeal a DCP&P decision, the DCP&P will act based on their findings. The actions they take could have a severe impact on your life.
- Your name will show up on the Child Abuse Registry if there's a substantiated finding.
- It's possible you will lose custody of your children in substantiated or established cases.
- In some cases, you may also face criminal charges. A conviction could result in serious penalties, including jail time and a permanent mark on your criminal record.
- You may find it more difficult – or impossible – to pursue certain careers if you're unable to work with children.
Don't assume that the DCP&P's decision is final. Always consider exercising your right to appeal, even if you feel like the odds are stacked against you. Joseph Lento's Family Law Team will guide you through the appeals process and ensure you feel supported at every step of the way.
DCP&P Appeals Attorney | Lento Law Firm
DCP&P investigations are stressful and traumatic enough without dealing with the added pressure of an appeal alone. At the Lento Law Firm, we have helped many individuals successfully appeal DCP&P findings. Joseph Lento, an experienced DCP&P lawyer, understands how to approach appeal hearings in the most efficient and effective manner. He and his Family Law Team will ensure that you understand everything involved in the appeals process, and he will explain every option available to you, depending on your case.
A DCP&P decision can permanently change your family dynamics. You need – and deserve – experienced counsel at your side during this emotional time. To arrange a consultation with Joseph Lento's Family Law Team, call the Lento Law Firm now at 888.535.3686 or leave a message online.