When The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P, referred to as “the Division”—formerly the Division of Youth and Family or DYFS) investigates a case, they will issue one of four findings:
Understanding the Results of Your DCP&P Investigation explained how to understand the results of your DCP&P investigation. This article explains how to appeal a finding of substantiated and established. Note that the appeals process for a finding of substantiated and a finding of established are the same.
What is a substantiated finding?
If the Division finds that your case is substantiated, your child(ren) may be taken from your home and you may need to follow up with the Division for more services. Your information will be permanently recorded in the Child Abuse Registry and will appear in a “CARI” (Child Abuse Registry Information) check. Once your information is on the registry, it can never be removed. CARI is not public, but having your name on the registry can still have a serious impact on you. You may not be able to work in certain places, such as adoption agencies, child care facilities, and group homes. You may not be able to adopt a child or be a foster parent.
What is an established finding?
If, after the investigation, the Division finds that there is evidence of shild abuse or neglect, but the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors, the Division will classify your case as established.
If your case is established, your information will not go on the Child Abuse registry. However, the Division will keep the case information in its files and it cannot be expunged (erased). This information can prevent you from becoming a foster parent, and if you have several established cases on record, the Division may eventually decide your case is substantiated and put your information on the Child Abuse Registry.
Due to a 2017 New Jersey Appellate Division decision called New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. V.E., if you do not agree with the Division's established finding, you may now directly appeal the findings as you would a finding of substantiated. Because an established finding may still affect certain employment opportunities related to children, the right to adopt or serve as a resource parent, and impact possible future Division proceedings, it is appropriate that there is an appeals process to appeal an established finding. As with a substantiated finding, you may now appeal directly to the Office of Administrative Law. You can do this by contacting the office identified in the notice you receive from DCP&P within 20 days. There rae several steps to the appeal process. During the process, you should try to talk with the Division and/or the Deputy Attorney General (DAG) assigned to your case and tell them that you do not want your information or name in the Division's files and would like your finding to be downgraded to not established or unfounded. In some cases, the Division and/or the DAG may be willing to change your substantiated finding to a finding of unfounded or not established.
How will I know DCP&P’s finding?
When DCP&P receives a referral of abuse or neglect, a DCP&P caseworker will investigate the referral within 24 hours. After an investigation, the Division will decide how to handle the case. Sixty days after DCP&P investigates you and your family, you will receive a letter telling you the outcome, or decision, of the investigation.
What if I don’t agree with DCP&P’s finding?
If you do not agree with the Division’s substantiated finding, you can appeal the finding. If you are not already a defendant in a child abuse or neglect case in court, you should appeal the finding to the Office of Administrative Law. You can do this by contacting the office identified in the notice you receive from DCP&P within 20 days. There are several steps to the appeal process. During the process, you should try to talk with the Division and/or the District Attorney General (DAG) assigned to your case and tell them that you do not want your information on the Child Abuse Registry. In some cases, the Division and/or the DAG may be willing to change your substantiated finding to a finding of established or not established.
If your case has been substantiated and you do not agree with the Division’s finding, you can appeal the finding. If you are not a defendant in a child abuse or neglect case in court, you should take the following steps to appeal.
STEP ONE: Write a letter requesting an appeal
In order to appeal, you must write a letter to the Division within 20 calendar days of the date you received notice of the substantiated finding against you. Your letter should state the following:
You may also attach a copy of the DCP&P notice to your letter requesting an appeal. Your letter does not have to be long. It may be a one-page letter where you are making a simple request for an appeal of the substantiation. Once the Division receives your letter, they will begin an internal review of your case.
The Division may rescind (undo) the substantiation without an appeal hearing. This means that your name will be removed from the Child Abuse Registry. Or, they may go forward with a hearing.
Remember, during the appeal process you should try to talk to the Division and the Deputy Attorney General (DAG) to see if they will change the finding in your case from substantiated to established, not established, or unfounded.
STEP TWO: The Division’s response
After the Division receives your letter requesting an appeal of the substantiation, they will send you a letter. The Division’s letter should:
Read the Division letter carefully and save it for your records.
STEP THREE: First OAL letter to you about the schedule of your appeal
After you receive the Division’s letter, you will receive a letter from the OAL. This letter will confirm that it has received your request for an appeal and provide a timeline for your appeal. Read this letter carefully and save it so that you can follow the appeal process.
STEP FOUR: Second OAL letter to you about the schedule of your appeal
After the first letter, you will receive a second letter from the Office of Administrative Law. The second letter will tell you:
At the pre-hearing conference,
You must appear in person for the plenary hearing. If you are unable to attend the plenary hearing, you must notify the OAL and/or the ALJ in writing right away. You must have a very good reason for asking that the hearing be rescheduled, such as an illness or family emergency. You may have to document (show proof of) this emergency.
If you do not ask for a postponement and fail to come to the plenary hearing, the ALJ may rule against you and affirm the substantiated finding. Your name will remain on the Child Abuse Registry.
STEP FIVE: Discovery
During the time between the pre-hearing conference and the plenary hearing, discovery will take place. Discovery is when you and the Division exchange information. Ask the DAG for a copy of your Division case file so that you can review it as you prepare for the plenary hearing. Going through your Division case file will help you gather information that is important to your case and help you figure out what other documents and information you will need to support your position. The following are the main components of discovery:
Keep in mind that the time line described above is only a general guideline for discovery and that the ALJ may order a different set of due dates. If the ALJ sets a schedule, you must make sure to follow the scheduling order for discovery signed by the ALJ.
STEP SIX: Preparing for the plenary hearing
STEP SEVEN: Attend the plenary hearing before the OAL judge
You, an OAL judge, and a DAG will be at the plenary hearing. You may have an attorney represent you at the plenary hearing at your own cost, but you do not have an automatic right to an appointed attorney. You have a right to represent yourself. You also have the right to bring a non-lawyer to represent you at the hearing, and you may bring a relative or friend to advise you, and any witnesses who will testify on your behalf.
At the hearing, the ALJ will give both you and the Division the chance to present your case. You will have a chance to
The Division will do the same. Before making a decision, the ALJ will listen to witnesses and arguments for each side, ask questions, and review documents.
During the plenary hearing, be polite and respectful to the ALJ and the DAG. Listen carefully to any questions the ALJ may ask about the appeal, and answer them thoughtfully.
Make sure the ALJ has enough information to decide the appeal in your favor
Remember, the ALJ will decide the appeal based only on the record made before him or her at the hearing, so it is very important to cover all relevant information about your appeal at the plenary hearing and make sure that the ALJ has enough information to decide the appeal in your favor.
STEP EIGHT: Receive the initial decision, submit comments, and appeal the final decision
After the hearing, the ALJ will write a report called an initial decision. The ALJ will mail a copy of this initial decision to you and the DAG. This decision should include everything that was said at the plenary hearing. It should state the ALJ’s findings about the facts presented by each party and the laws and policies that apply. It should include a recommendation of how the appeal should be decided and instructions on how you may send comments about the decision.
What if I want to appeal a finding of not established?
If your case is not established, your information will not go on the Child Abuse registry. However, the Division will keep the case information in its files and it cannot be expunged (erased). This information can prevent you from becoming a foster parent, and if you have several established cases on record, the Division may eventually decide your case is substantiated and put your information on the Child Abuse Registry.
You may appeal not established findings by filing an appeal with the appellate division. If you would like advice or assistance on these findings and appealing substantiated, established, or not established findings, please contact Legal Services of New Jersey’s Family Representation Project by calling LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888- 576-5529). You may also apply online.
This information last reviewed: Jan 2, 2018