Essex County prosecutors recently upgraded very serious criminal charges against a mother and her boyfriend stemming from the death of a seven-year-old boy.
According to law enforcement, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office initially charged the suspects with endangering the welfare of a child, but those charges were later upgraded to aggravated manslaughter after the young victim tragically died. On October 2, 2016, Newark NJ police went to the couple’s house in Newark NJ and found the seven-year-old child to be unresponsive and suffering from injuries caused by multiple blunt force traumas.
Authorities later learned that the NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCP&P”), formerly known as “DYFS,” had previously determined that the child was a victim of abuse or neglect at the hands of the male suspect. Specifically, DCP&P indicated that a prior investigation by the agency had “established” an allegation of child abuse.
In accordance with New Jersey’s child abuse and neglect laws, there are four possible outcomes of a child abuse and neglect investigation: substantiated, established, not established, and unfounded. The threshold question that needs to be asked during a DCP&P investigation is always whether or not the alleged child victim has been abused or neglected, as defined by Title 9 (N.J.S.A. 9:8.21, et. seq.). If DCP&P determines that the child has in fact been abused or neglected, the Division then applies an analytical framework of aggravating and mitigating factors to decide if the allegation of abuse or neglect is “substantiated” or “established.” If the factual scenario does not meet the statutory definition of child abuse or neglect under Title 9, then the Division will “not establish” the allegation and will find that the allegation is “unfounded” – regardless of whether the child sustained some minor harm.
Aggravated Manslaughter Charges in Essex County NJ
The recent case in Newark New Jersey highlights the fine line that exists between preserving a family unit and subjecting a victimized child to the trauma of being removed from their family. When DCP&P investigates an allegation of child abuse or neglect, two important issues that the agency addresses are (1) whether the child has been abused or neglected to such an extent that the child’s safety, health, and well-being are in immediate danger and (2) whether it is contrary to the child’s best interests to remain in the residence. Put another way: there is an important distinction between determining if a child has been abused or neglected in the past versus assessing if the child should be taken away from his family now. In many situations, an instance of past abuse may be deemed relevant to a determination of whether the child is in immediate danger, but there is a still an important difference between concluding that a child has been abused or neglected and determining that the child should be removed from the family’s home.