The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) oversees the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formerly known as the Division of Youth & Family Services (DYFS). DCPP has an obligation to investigate any allegation of child abuse or neglect. Many categories of people including doctors, nurses, teachers, coaches, and day care providers are “mandatory reporters” meaning that they have a legal obligation to call DCP&P if they suspect abuse. All reports are anonymous and DCPP cannot reveal the identity of the reporter.
Upon receipt of a report, DCPP will send an emergency worker out to investigate and make an initial determination regarding the safety of the child. If the worker’s initial investigation leads him/her to believe the child may be at risk of harm, they have a few options to ensure the child’s safety. Often, the worker will implement a “safety plan” to keep the child in the home in order to avoid removal and “placement” of the child outside of the home. Removal is a last resort and done only when there is no acceptable way to otherwise protect the child. If the child is removed, the worker must first look for a relative or close family relation with whom to place the child. If none is available or acceptable, then the child can be placed in foster care. If the child is removed, a hearing must be held before a Family Court judge within two court days in order to determine if the removal was justified. That hearing is referred to as a “Dodds” hearing.
If a child is removed from the home, DCCP’s obligation is offer services to the parent(s) in order to help them get the child back. The goal is supposed to be reunification with the parent(s) once it is safe, and there is a presumption of reunification. If the parent complies and progress is made addressing the Division’s concerns, the child will be returned.
Within one year of the removal, DCPP is obligated to provide a “permanency plan” to the court declaring its intentions either to return the child to the home, or permanently place him/her with a caregiver by way of adoption. In order to do that, a trial must be conducted and the parental rights of the biological parent(s) terminated.
If a child has been removed, you as a parent have a right to services and a right to reunification. The alternative could be the permanent loss of your parental rights. Courts have recently determined that this is so serious that legal representation is required. If you can not afford an attorney, the Court will appoint a public defender to represent you. Competent and experienced legal representation is essential.
Drew Molotsky, Esq. is a shareholder and partner at ALBFRM in Haddonfield, New Jersey. With more than two decades of experience in family law, Drew has the experience to deal with the complexities of these important matters. Navigating the court system can be challenging and the consequences far-reaching when DCPP becomes involved. Our firm has the experience and resource to help you address your unique situation.