Investigations by NJ's Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) can have significant short and long-term consequences for everyone involved. Below, we explain the possible outcomes and consequences of DCP&P investigations and what civil or criminal penalties may apply.
What Are the Consequences of a DCP&P Investigation?
Once the DCP&P receives a report, they normally begin investigating matters within 24 hours. However, investigations can take time, and they can have a significant impact on your life.
If you're under investigation by the DCP&P, the most significant consequences you may face include the following.
- DCP&P investigations can impact child custody cases. So, if you're currently pursuing child custody, the investigation may affect the outcome of your case.
- Being under investigation could put a strain on your relationships with family, friends, and other individuals who the DCP&P choose to interview.
- The DCP&P may remove the child from your home pending the outcome of the investigation. This could cause the child significant distress. You should seek immediate legal help if the DCP&P removes your child on an emergency basis.
- A DCP&P investigation means that your ability to look after a child has been called into question. This may cause stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
The DCP&P should normally complete their investigations within 60 days of receiving the initial report. As we've noted, though, the consequences do not end there. To protect your best interests, if you have not already sought legal advice, you may wish to do so at this stage.
Do DCP&P Investigations Have Criminal Consequences?
Since a DCP&P investigation is a civil matter, there aren't usually criminal consequences if you're under investigation.
However, that's not to say there are never criminal consequences. You could face charges for crimes such as child cruelty or sexual assault, depending on the outcome of the investigation against you.
If you're facing criminal charges following a DCP&P investigation, do not attempt to handle this matter alone. The consequences of a criminal charge can be severe and you deserve the best possible chance at defending your case. Seek urgent legal advice from the Lento Law Firm to better understand your options.
What Happens After a DCP&P Investigation?
Following the DCP&P's investigations, they must reach a decision based on the evidence available. There are four possible findings they can make: substantiated, established, not established, and unfounded.
- Substantiated: There is evidence to show child abuse or neglect took place. The abuse or neglect could be of a more serious nature, or there are more aggravating factors than mitigating factors.
- Established: There's evidence of neglect or abuse, but it's of a less serious nature than in substantiated cases. There may also be mitigating factors that outweigh the possible aggravating factors.
- Not Established: While there's some evidence to show the child was put at risk or exposed to possible harm, there's no evidence that child neglect or abuse occurred.
- Unfounded: The allegations can't be supported, meaning there's no evidence of child abuse, neglect, or harm.
Aggravating and mitigating factors are defined in the NJ Admin Code.
- Aggravating factors include the age of the child, the adult's history with the DCP&P, and evidence suggesting a pattern of abuse or neglect.
- Mitigating factors include actions taken by the adult to remedy the situation and any short-term stressors which influenced the adult's behavior.
The more aggravating factors present, the greater the chance of a substantiated finding – and serious consequences.
Consequences of Substantiated DCP&P Findings
A substantiated finding can cause significant disruption and distress to the entire family. The most severe consequences are as follows.
- Your name will be included in the Child Abuse Registry, and it cannot be removed. This may affect your ability to adopt or foster children or work with children in any capacity.
- The DCP&P may require you to undertake further action to improve your ability to care for your child, such as drug rehabilitation or counseling.
- You could lose the right to see or speak with your child, depending on the DCP&P's findings. In other cases, you may only contact your child under direct supervision.
In the worst-case scenario, the DCP&P can remove the child from the home.
Removal of a Child from the Home
The DCP&P can remove a child from the home with or without a court order.
- With a court order: If remedial action such as counseling has been unsuccessful, the court may permit the DCP&P to remove the child.
- Without a court order: If the DCP&P has evidence to suggest that it's unsafe for the child to remain at home, or if there's an immediate risk of harm, they will take the child out of the home environment.
Parents may also voluntarily surrender custody of the child.
When the DCP&P takes a child from the home, this does not mean that the child will immediately be placed in foster care. They could instead be placed with a relative. The DCP&P will do everything possible to protect the child's emotional well-being and provide a sense of stability at this time.
Whatever the scenario, though, you can challenge the DCP&P's actions and appeal the removal. Joseph Lento can assist with the legal steps involved.
Consequences of an Established DCP&P Outcome
Although your name will not be placed on the Child Abuse Registry, it will be retained by the DCP&P. Having a DCP&P record could jeopardize your chance of fostering or adopting children later in life.
There's also a chance that the record could be used against you in future court proceedings. For example, if there are future allegations made against you or there's a custody issue in dispute, the court may consider your past record if it's crucial to determine the case outcome.
It's important to note that if you have a history of “established” findings with the DCP&P, future investigations may eventually result in a substantiated finding due to a pattern of behavior. This would mean facing the consequences associated with a substantiated outcome, even if the evidence only ever points to an established case on each occasion.
Consequences of Not Established DCP&P Findings
A not established finding means that the DCP&P retains a record of the case indefinitely, and you can't have your name removed. The records are, for the most part, confidential – but not always.
As with established verdicts, there's a chance that the DCP&P's records may be disclosed to the court in certain circumstances. Legal advice should be sought if you're unsure what this might mean for you.
It's also highly emotionally distressing to think that there's a DCP&P record with your name on it, especially since you did not neglect or abuse a child. Joseph Lento can help you challenge a not established verdict so that it may be downgraded to an unfounded verdict with less significant consequences.
Consequences of an Unfounded DCP&P Outcome
If the DCP&P finds that the allegations are unfounded, then your name won't appear in the Child Abuse Registry, and it can – eventually – be expunged from the DCP&P database. Your name will not be removed if there's a new allegation made against you.
Although these are only short-term consequences, they may be no less significant depending on the stage of life you're in and your overall career goals.
Could I Face Criminal Charges After a DCP&P Investigation?
Depending on the DCP&P's concerns, you could face criminal charges for crimes against children. The crimes are set out in more detail in Title 9:6 of the NJ Statutes and include child abuse and child neglect.
A criminal case is conducted separately from a civil case; meaning even if the criminal charges are dropped, you could still face civil consequences, e.g., having your name listed in the Child Abuse Registry.
Criminal Penalties for Child Abuse and Neglect Charges
Criminal charges for offenses such as child abuse, neglect, or endangerment can result in significant penalties.
- Under the Statutes, child abuse is normally a fourth-degree crime. Fourth-degree crimes in NJ attract a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to 18 months in prison.
- The court may impose alternative penalties if they're in the child's best interests. Alternative remedies include probation and the payment of maintenance payments.
- If you're found guilty of more serious criminal charges, the penalties are more severe and typically involve jail time.
Criminal charges will result in a criminal record. Having a criminal record could directly impact your academic and employment prospects. For example, you may be unable to work with or foster children, and you may be unable to volunteer to supervise children, e.g., on a school trip. It may be possible to have your record expunged eventually, but this is not guaranteed.
Immigrants face additional consequences for child abuse charges. If you're an immigrant, you may face deportation if you're found guilty of child abuse or related crimes against a child. Joseph Lento and the Lento Family Law Team can assist if you're facing such immigration issues.
Will My Name Ever Be Expunged from the Child Abuse Registry or DCP&P Records?
It depends on the DCP&P's findings.
- Substantiated: Unless a substantiated finding is successfully appealed, your name remains on the Registry and DCP&P records indefinitely.
- Established: You can't expunge your name from DCP&P records. It remains there permanently. However, it won't appear in the Registry.
- Not Established: Your name does not appear on the Registry, but it stays on DCP&P records permanently and can't be expunged.
- Unfounded: Your name will not appear on the Registry, and it will be expunged from the DCP&P records after three years unless fresh claims are made against you.
Even unfounded findings can severely impact your life. You should always seek an attorney's advice if you're dealing with DCP&P accusations to ensure your best interests are always protected.
What Are the Emotional and Psychological Consequences of a DCP&P Investigation?
There are more to DCP&P investigations than civil and sometimes criminal consequences. We must also consider the possible long-term impact of trauma associated with DCP&P investigations and the damage caused when family units break down permanently.
- Friends and relatives may treat you differently, even if the accusations are unfounded, which could leave you feeling ostracized by the people around you.
- Children may be left feeling confused, distressed, or even traumatized after dealing with the court system and law enforcement officials, especially if they're young children.
- New custody arrangements can cause uncertainty, which may leave a child feeling stressed and anxious.
Any change in family dynamics can have psychological consequences for everyone involved, but the experience could affect a child's emotional development. Children who experience emotional trauma may be more likely to partake in antisocial behavior or enter the juvenile justice system. They're also at an increased risk of becoming victims of abuse in later life, and so every DCP&P investigation has potentially long-reaching and unpredictable consequences.
The Lento Law Firm understands how significantly DCP&P matters can impact someone's mental and emotional well-being. We will do everything possible to support you through the legal challenges to minimize the disruption caused to your family.
Can I Appeal DCP&P Findings?
Yes. You can typically appeal substantiated, established, and not established findings by either filing a written request for an appeal with the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) or the Appellate Division of NJ's Superior Court. The process to follow varies depending on which type of finding you wish to appeal, so you should always contact an attorney before attempting to appeal a DCP&P decision.
In some very limited circumstances, you may also wish to appeal an unfounded finding. Joseph Lento can explain whether this may be appropriate after reviewing your case and the surrounding circumstances.
Given how serious the consequences of a DCP&P investigation can be, it's strongly recommended that you retain the services of a family law attorney the moment you are dealing with DCP&P matters.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help
If you are facing a DCP&P investigation, you do not need to handle the situation alone. Instead, turn to Joseph Lento, an experienced DCP&P attorney, for help. At the Lento Law Firm, we have guided many families through complex DCP&P investigations, and we have helped individuals successfully appeal DCP&P findings against them.
Joseph Lento understands how serious a DCP&P investigation can be. He wants to help you mitigate the consequences as much as possible. Whether you're worried about losing custody of your child or you're facing criminal charges, Joseph Lento and the Family Law Team are here for you. Call us at 888.535.3686 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.