The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), a division of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, recognizes domestic violence as a matter of control through repeated threats or abuse. Through violence, a batterer coerces their victim or victims with fear, bullying, harassment, and/or threats. The violence may be physical, verbal, or sexual abuse, but it also may be deprivation and neglect. Batterers who control money, relationships, and other freedoms, leave their partners deprived and isolated. When the violence includes child abuse or neglect, however, DCPP often gets involved. DCPP considers domestic violence a safety concern and the basis for opening a case. But whether DCPP will remove a child from their home depends on a global view of the family situation. DCPP’s purpose is to safeguard children, keeping them in stable, safe families. Whenever possible, the department considers keeping the child or children with the non-offending parent as the least disruptive placement. After opening a case, DCPP assesses the family’s unique cultural, religious, and community context to design a safety plan suitable to the family and provides services to help them better safeguard themselves and their children.
According to the United States Children’s Bureau, children exposed to domestic violence often suffer irreparable harm affecting all areas of their lives: intellectual, emotional, psychological, and, social. Further, children who witness domestic violence often end up with lifelong problems, from childhood behavioral problems, depression, anger, fear, anxiety and aggression, to adult broken relationships, substance abuse, and health problems like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. But each child is different, with unique skills for coping and resilience. As such, DCCP considers each case independently, each family’s circumstances requiring an evaluation based on the individual members, resources, and situation. In each case, however, children are the priority. While cases vary, one thing is certain: If reported domestic violence involves children in New Jersey, a DCPP investigation and subsequent intervention for protection may be launched.
When child services starts investigating your family for domestic violence, you have good reason to hire an attorney to help you defend your parental rights throughout the legal process. Our knowledgeable lawyers can assist you with your case in Essex County, Bergen County, Morris County, Middlesex County, Union County, Monmouth County, and across New Jersey. We invite you to contact us now at (908)-336-5008 to discuss your case. Our team provides free consultations.
When Child Protective Services Investigates Your Family for Domestic Abuse in NJ
When a neighbor, doctor, teacher, or police officer reports a domestic violence incident, the county child protection services may investigate your family. If a domestic violence complaint reaches DCPP, the first order of business is assessing immediate danger to children. After an initial investigation of the report, they check the alleged abuser’s history involving domestic violence, and if they believe a child is endangered, open up an investigation. Given the child’s age, health, behavior, intellectual and emotional state, they determine whether the child is at risk of harm currently or in the future. Likewise, DCPP looks at the other family members, their physical, mental, and emotional states, to assess whether they pose risk for the child or children.
DCCP’s determination of child abuse or neglect by domestic violence is a case by case evaluation. Each family has unique facts to consider regarding child safety and placement, as well as which resources best protect and enable the family to function safely. When a case of domestic violence is reported to the department, screeners refer the case to the State Central Registry, contact the person reporting the violence, and then run a check on the reported abuser for prior reports of domestic violence. After, a caseworker writes up a report. If they deem a child is at substantial risk of harm, DCPP may take further action. Domestic violence alone does not constitute substantial risk of harm, however. Risk of harm depends on the child’s age, behavior, cognitive ability, medical condition, emotional state, as well as the severity and number of violent incidents.
Other factors DCPP considers in assessing risk are the batterer’s physical, mental, and emotional state; the family history of abuse; the individual household members’ roles in protecting the children; and the relationship between the batterer and children. Prior injuries due to domestic violence, use of weapons, police reports, substance abuse, threats of harm, worsening incidents, the non-battering parent’s ability to support and protect the children, and the offending parent’s possibility of unsupervised visitation with the children are also considered.
Aside from family profiles, DCPP caseworkers want to know about the family dynamics, who safeguards the children, who neglects them, who initiates violence and how others respond. They want to know if the violence is getting worse and how the children respond when the supposed batterer attacks another family member. A caseworker could conclude the child or children are endangered if they suffered injuries trying to intervene or as bystanders to a violent incident. Despite not being the target of the violence, children can be endangered when violence in the household occurs. A caseworker may determine child neglect exists when the batterer withholds essential needs like medical care and money from the family.
Based on interviews with the child and other household members, caretakers, and professionals such as doctors, teachers, and counselors, DCPP analyzes the information, zeros in on the family’s pain points, and then develops a plan to address them. The plan is the culmination of investigation and assessment, created to help families live together safely, if possible. Sometimes, however, DCPP decides that it is not.
Can a Child be Removed from a Domestic Violence Situation in New Jersey?
A finding that a child is at risk from domestic violence constitutes grounds for not only an investigation, but for potentially removing a child from the home. An open case allows caseworkers to oversee the family’s progress, working with them on a safety plan. However, when they decide that the safest place for the child is away from their family, DCPP may petition the court for immediate removal of the child. With a court order, the state can remove children when the Safety Protection Plan is considered futile. DCPP may also remove a child without a court order when the child is in imminent danger or has been abandoned. While the goal is to keep families together whenever possible to maintain stability, sometimes that cannot happen. If the victim is the child’s mother or father, the children may be placed with them.
As an alternative and additional safety measure, DCPP may also petition the Superior Court, Family Division, for a protective order to keep the defendant away from the household. They may request the court order services for the family, such as substance abuse treatment, anger management courses, victims’ services, personal counseling, financial counseling, and other services to assist the family in managing their affairs and maintaining a safe home for the children. Even when a restraining order is not necessary, the safety plan often includes services to help the family become healthy and resourced enough to maintain a safe household. If both parents place the child at substantial risk of harm, DCCP’s recommendation may be to place the child with relatives or in foster care.
If children are not at risk of substantial harm, the aim of the DCPP plan is to reunify families or make them safer to promote the welfare of the children within their family structure. To fulfill that plan, the agency works with the courts, the family, professionals, law enforcement, and community to help the family comply with the plan. When the family is working toward the plan goals, DCPP is supposed to serve as a partner, supporter, and fount of services to assist family needs, like supervised visitation and counseling. But in many cases, DCPP can be an adversary to some or all members of the family. DCPP’s job is to protect children, but that may mean using the legal system to both protect them and have the state intervene with their parents.
DYFS Investigating Me in NJ, What can I do?
Though you might expect the caseworker assigned to your case to guide and encourage you, they are not necessarily on your side. DCPP’s involvement in your life can also mean months or years of the legal system’s involvement in your life, from the initial Order to Show Cause and Complaint, the Preliminary Hearing, Fact-Finding Hearing (trial), Dispositional Hearing, review hearings, to the Permanency Hearing. These are extremely adversarial proceedings, and you are best advised to have an experienced DCPP defense lawyer representing you. Often, DCPP names both the alleged perpetrator of domestic violence and the victim in their complaints, so each family member may need representation to defend their interests. For more information and to talk to a lawyer who can help, call (908)-336-5008 today.
New Jersey Department of Children and Families Domestic Violence Policy Manual