The New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency (DCP&P) is the department responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect allegations in the state. Whenever the Division receives a report concerning a child's welfare, they must investigate the allegations to ensure the child is not in danger. Typically, investigations involve visiting the child's home, talking to their parents or caregivers, and speaking with anyone else who can provide relevant information.
These investigations can have severe consequences for you and your entire family. If you are facing a DCP&P investigation, call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 for urgent legal assistance. In the meantime, however, here is an overview of the scope of DCP&P authority – and what they're not allowed to do during an investigation.
What the DCP&P Investigator Authorities Can Do
As part of their investigations, the DCP&P caseworkers have the authority to perform certain actions. Although you should always check with an attorney to ensure that DCP&P investigators are acting lawfully, here's what they normally have the power to do.
Most DCP&P investigations are unannounced, so it's unlikely you will receive notice before the case workers arrive. You should, however, always check their identification to ensure they are legitimate DCP&P case workers before engaging with them in any way.
Withhold Certain Information
Chances are you want to know who made the allegations of abuse or neglect against you. However, the DCP&P will not reveal this information, and there are two reasons for this.
Firstly, it's possible for concerned individuals to submit reports anonymously. In such cases, even the DCP&P won't know who made the allegations. And secondly, even if the DCP&P knows who made the report, the individual concerned is entitled to confidentiality.
Remove Your Child from the Home
DCP&P investigators can (and will) remove a child from the home if the evidence suggests that the child is at immediate risk of harm. It doesn't matter if this is your first DCP&P investigation, either – a child can still be removed without warning.
If the DCP&P removes a child, they must apply for a court order within two business days to confirm the removal. You can seek to have the child returned to the home by demonstrating why the removal is unnecessary – Joseph Lento can represent you at such a hearing.
Interview Your Child
To gather evidence, the case workers may wish to interview the child in question. The DCP&P can interview your child without your permission, and they don't need to inform you before they talk to your child, either. They can interview your child anywhere, whether it's at your home, school, or another place, and you don't have any legal right to be present.
If you know that the case workers are trying to question your child, you can ask to be present during the interview. You won't, however, be allowed to interfere in any way.
Speak to Other Potential Witnesses
DCP&P investigators have the power to speak with anyone who might be able to help them with their inquiries. This could mean the investigators approach people such as:
- social workers
You can't prevent the DCP&P from interviewing these individuals, but make sure your attorney knows who the DCP&P are talking to so you can determine how best to defend the allegations.
Investigate Your Home
The DCP&P can look around your home to check that it's safe and that the child is properly cared for. As part of these investigations, the case workers may:
- check if you have essentials such as food, water, and clothing
- confirm the home is safe and habitable
- assess where the child can sleep
- visually inspect the child for injuries
- take photographs of concerning features e.g. injuries
The investigators can't force children to cooperate, though, so if your child does not want to be examined, the DCP&P must respect this.
Report Concerns to the Police
The DCP&P may not be able to arrest you, but they can report any concerning findings to law enforcement. They can also ask law enforcement to accompany them on home investigation visits, especially if there's a chance the child is in immediate danger and may need to be removed from the home.
DCP&P findings can lead to criminal charges in some cases. Don't leave your defense to chance. Contact the Lento Law Firm for representation from an experienced DCP&P attorney.
What the DCP&P Can't Do During a Child Abuse Investigation
Although the DCP&P has wide-ranging investigative powers, there are limits to their authority. If the DCP&P show up, they have no power to undertake any of the following actions.
Force You to Cooperate
You are not obliged to cooperate with the DCP&P if they show up to undertake an investigation. This means that you do not have to talk to them, provide them with any evidence, or allow them to enter your home. There are some important points to bear in mind, though.
- If you refuse to speak with the DCP&P, they can request a court order against you.
- Similarly, the DCP&P can seek a court order which enables them to legally enter your home and remove evidence.
If the DCP&P investigators show up and you talk to them or let them enter your home, they will assume you have consented to an interview, and they will begin their investigations. If you answer any questions, your responses could be used as evidence against you.
Chances are you'll feel rushed, stressed, and anxious when the DCP&P shows up, so this is not the right time to be interviewed – especially without an attorney present. What you can do at this stage is terminate the interview and arrange an alternative time for them to return. Not only will this demonstrate that you're prepared to cooperate with them, but it gives you time to retain an attorney who can be present for the investigation or interview.
Since the DCP&P investigators are not police officers, they have no power to arrest a parent as part of an investigation. However, they can call the police to assist if they believe the child is in immediate danger or if the parent behaves violently or commits a criminal offense while the investigators are present.
It's in your best interests to remain calm during a DCP&P visit. Although they can't compel you to cooperate, the process may be less stressful for you if you stay courteous and respectful.
Fail to Provide Basic Information
Although the DCP&P will not reveal who made the allegations against you, they are obliged to provide you with some details. They should:
- explain that they're investigating abuse or neglect allegations
- confirm whether you're the individual accused of abuse or neglect
- provide basic details regarding the nature of the report if the case is against you
They should also give you their name and contact details for future reference.
Access Confidential Information Without Consent
DCP&P case workers will attempt to access a range of information to complete their investigation, including school records, notes from counselor appointments, and medical records. Such information is considered confidential, which means the caseworkers can't normally view it without consent. Since the release of confidential data in these scenarios usually requires consent, you may be asked to sign a release form so they can obtain this information.
The issue is that, by signing these forms, you're allowing the DCP&P to access a large amount of information – most of which may not even be relevant to the case. To protect you and your family's privacy, you shouldn't sign any release forms without reading them in full.
Don't feel pressured into signing any paperwork. Instead, call the Lento Law Firm. Our team can explain what any documents or release forms mean and whether it's possible to restrict DCP&P access to your confidential information.
Force You to Take a Drug Test
If there are substance abuse allegations against you, then the DCP&P may request that you take a drug test as part of their investigations. However, they have no legal authority to force you into taking a test.
If you decline to take a drug test, the DCP&P can seek a court order which requires you to undergo testing. Failing to cooperate with a court order can complicate your case, but you should never undergo drug testing as part of DCP&P investigations without taking legal advice first.
May I Call the Police if the DCP&P Show Up?
A DCP&P investigation is not a criminal matter, and so the police will be unable to assist you if case workers show up to interview you or undertake a home investigation. Rather than calling the police, you should instead call an attorney who can help you with the investigatory process.
Will the Investigation Lead to Criminal Charges?
Not necessarily. The DCP&P doesn't have any authority to file criminal charges against you, but law enforcement may act depending on the DCP&P's findings.
As mentioned, it's possible for a DCP&P investigation to lead to criminal charges, which is why it's in your best interests to retain a DCP&P defense attorney the moment you're aware of an investigation against you.
What If the DCP&P Has a Court Order Against Me?
Court orders for DCP&P investigations are legally enforceable. Meaning if the DCP&P obtains a court order enabling them to, for example, enter your home, you should cooperate with the terms of the order.
The DCP&P may even arrive with the police to enact the order, so it's in your best interests to be cooperative. Otherwise, there's a risk you could face further legal issues or even criminal charges if the situation escalates.
If the DCP&P has a court order against you, call the Lento Law Firm urgently for legal assistance.
What If the DCP&P Acts Unlawfully?
There's always the possibility that DCP&P case workers may attempt to go above and beyond their authority during an investigation. If the DCP&P goes beyond its authority and obtains evidence wrongfully, it may be possible to have that evidence dismissed as inadmissible.
This is just one of the various defenses which could be open to you during a DCP&P investigation – experienced defense Attorney Joseph Lento can explain your options and how you might fight the allegations.
Can I Ask Family and Friends to Ignore DCP&P Requests?
It's important that you are not seen to be impeding the investigation in any way. If the DCP&P investigators believe that you are attempting to influence others, such as family members, to be uncooperative, this may cause issues with your case.
In all situations, it's best to call a family law defense attorney the moment you're notified of a DCP&P investigation. Joseph Lento can evaluate your case, anticipate any potential issues, and explain how you might challenge the DCP&P's investigations or the findings in court.
Hire an Experienced Family Law Attorney to Help With DCP&P Investigations
DCP&P investigations are highly stressful. If you're under investigation, it's crucial that you know what to do to protect your rights. The first step you should take is to hire a DCP&P defense attorney who can guide you through the process and ensure that your best interests are respected.
Joseph Lento is an experienced defense attorney who understands how to successfully defend his clients against DCP&P investigations. He will help you understand what you should – and should not – do during the investigation, and he can contest any allegations against you in court.
Joseph Lento and his DCP&P Defense Team will do everything they can to show that it's in the child's best interests to preserve the family unit. If you retain Joseph Lento's services, he will stand by your side and fight to ensure you get the representation you deserve. Contact the Lento Law Firm now at 888.535.3686 or leave a message online to arrange a consultation.