New Jersey law requires the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P, formerly the Division of Youth and Family Services or DYFS) to maintain a statewide Child Abuse Registry. The Child Abuse Registry contains the names of people against whom the Division or the family court has made a finding of child abuse or neglect. The Child Abuse Registry is confidential.
When the Division receives a referral of abuse or neglect, a Division caseworker is required by law to investigate the referral within 24 hours of receipt of the referral and gather information about the allegation received. After a thorough investigation, the Division will determine how to handle the case, from providing services to you and your family to potentially removing the children if the children are deemed to be in imminent danger.
If your children have been removed and you have a case before a judge at Superior Court, please ask your attorney about the registry and possible findings against you. This article, however, focuses on investigative findings that do not involve a case before the Superior Court. Prior to April 2013, the Division only made two types of findings: substantiated and unfounded. On April 1, 2013, the Division changed to a system of four tiers of findings: substantiated, established, not established, and unfounded. This article will give you more information about the four-tier system, how these findings may affect your employment and family, and how to appeal a substantiated finding on the Child Abuse Registry.
How do I find out the results of the Division’s investigation?
Sixty days after the Division investigates you and your family, you should receive a letter that tells you what the outcome was for the investigation of the referral received by the Division. If the Division found that the allegation of child abuse and neglect against you was substantiated, the letter should also explain that you have 20 days from the date of the letter to request an appeal of the finding. You can find more detailed information about sending a letter to request an appeal and all of the steps in the appeal process later in this article.
What does it mean if I am on the Child Abuse Registry?
Certain kinds of employers are required to check the Child Abuse Registry when hiring a new employee or renewing their license. New Jersey law does not list all of the kinds of employers required to check the Registry. However, jobs working with children, the elderly, or other vulnerable populations may require a Registry check. If your name is on the Child Abuse Registry, and your employer is required to check the Registry, you cannot be hired or may be fired from your job.
In addition to being ineligible for certain kinds of jobs, having your name on the Child Abuse Registry will keep you from being considered as a relative resource, foster parent, or adoptive parent.
What does a substantiation finding mean?
If, after investigating your situation, DCP&P decides that you abused or neglected your child, it will notify you that it has substantiated abuse or neglect in a written letter to you. The Division should close its investigation after 60 days. The administrative substantiation of abuse or neglect can have negative consequences for you. It is especially important to know if your investigation has resulted in a substantiated finding because your information will be deposited in the Child Abuse Registry. Child Abuse Registry checks are known as CARI (Child Abuse Record Information) checks and could make you ineligible to be a foster parent, adopt a child, or do certain types of work.
If you do not agree with the substantiation of abuse or neglect, and you are not a defendant in a child abuse or neglect case that is in court, you should appeal it by contacting the office identified in the notice you receive from DCP&P within 20 days. The Child Abuse Registry is not accessible to the public. Only certain types of employers and agencies are allowed to request searches. However, having your name on the registry is very serious and could negatively impact you in the following ways: You may not be allowed to work with children, the disabled, or elderly; you could be fired if your current employer learns your name is on the registry; you may be restricted from becoming a foster or adoptive parent.
If your investigation results in a substantiated or established finding, you may appeal the decision to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). The appeal process takes several steps. Keep in mind that during all phases of the appeals process you should try to talk with the Division and/or the District Attorney General (DAG) assigned to your case. You should tell them that you do not want your information to be put on the Child Abuse Registry. In some cases, the Division and/or DAG may be willing to change your substantiated finding to a finding of established or not established. You should ask and see if the DAG will consider changing the substantiation finding to a lower tier such as established or not established.
What does an established or not established finding mean?
During the investigation, the DPP investigator will consider aggravating and mitigating factors in order for them to make a finding decision. Aggravated factors are things that may support a substantiated finding. For example, if there is repetition or a pattern of abuse or neglect from the parent, like repeated drug use in front of the child, that would be an aggravating factor. Aggravating factors influence the Division to make a substantiated finding instead of a lesser finding, such as established or not established. Mitigating factors would support an established finding. Exampled of mitigating factors would be your actions before the investigation, wuch as taking your child to every pediatric appointment or having had no history with the Division. After the investigation, if the Division's investigator finds that there is still evidence of sbuse or neglect, they may classify your case as established.
If the Division makes an established finding, your name will not go on the Child Abuse Registry, but the Division will keep your information in their agency records and it cannot be expunged (erased). 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.
The appealse process for both substantiated and established findings is in the next section.
How to appeal a Substantiation or Established finding
Step One: Write a letter requesting an appeal
In order to appeal, you must first write a letter to the Division within 20 calendar days of when you received notice of the substantiated or established finding against you. Your letter should state the following: (1) you want to appeal the substantiated or established finding; (2) you are requesting an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the Office of Administrative Law (OAL); and (3) your name, home address, phone number, DCP&P case ID number, and the DCP&P investigation number. 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 substanted or established finding.
Once the Division receives your letter, they will begin to conduct an internal review of your case.
If the Division finds that the facts do not support the substantiated or established finding, they may rescind (undo) the substantiation without an appeal hearing. This means that your name will be removed from the Child Abuse Registry if you were given a finding of substantiated, or your finding may be changed to not established or unfounded if you were given an established finding.
During the appeals process, try to talk to the Division and the DAG to see if they will change the finding in your case.
Step Two: The Division’s letter to you about the OAL hearing
After the Division receives your letter requesting an appeal of the substanted or established finding, they will send you a letter. The Division’s letter should:
Read the Division letter carefully. It should help you better understand the appeal process and your legal rights. Save this letter 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 Office of Administrative Law. That letter will state:
Read this letter carefully. 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:
The pre-hearing conference. At the pre-hearing:
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 go to the plenary hearing, the ALJ may affirm the substantiated or established finding. If challenging a substantiated finding, your name will remain on the Child Abuse Registry. If challenging an established finding, the Division will keep the case information in its files and it cannot be expunged (erased).
Step Five: Discovery (exchange of information between you and the Division)
In the meantime, discovery will take place. Discovery is when you and the Division ask for information from each other. Start by asking the DAG for a copy of your Division case file so that you can review it in preparation for the plenary hearing. Going through your Division case file will help you identify information relevant to your case and make more requests for the right documents and information to help you support your position.
Deadline for discovery. All discovery requests must be completed five days before the plenary hearing date. Both you and the Division will have 15 days to provide the requested information after receiving the discovery request.
Objection to discovery requests. If you or the Division do not want to provide the requested information, you have 10 days from receiving the discovery notice to object to the discovery request. All objections must be made by a telephone conference with the ALJ. You also should put the objection into writing in a letter to the DAG and the ALJ.
Compelling (forcing) responses to discovery requests. If you or the Division want to compel (force) the other party to respond to a discovery request or object to a response you have received to your discovery request, you have 10 days from the notice due date or 10 days from the date you received the response without the information to request a telephone conference with the ALJ about the problem getting discovery.
Keep in mind that the timeline 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, be sure to follow the scheduling order for discovery signed by the ALJ.
Step Six: Preparing for the plenary hearing
Prepare documents. While you are requesting and receiving discovery materials, you should also start to prepare for the plenary hearing. Do this by gathering all important letters, notes, records, and any other documents related to your appeal.
Carefully review all of your documents. Organize them so that you can have them ready for the plenary hearing. Remember that this will be your chance to present evidence that can help you win your appeal. Keep copies of all documents that you wish to submit, one set for the ALJ and one set for the DAG. Make sure to keep a set of all the documents for yourself.
Prepare witnesses. You should also start to identify any witnesses you want to bring to the plenary hearing to testify in support of your position. Contact them well in advance of the hearing date to make sure that they are able to come and that they will come voluntarily. Prepare each witness for the testimony that they will give at the hearing. Make sure that the testimony is related to your appeal of the substantiated or established finding.
Prepare your argument. It is a good idea to make a list for yourself of all the points you wish to make before the ALJ about why the substantiated or established finding should be reversed. Do this so that you do not forget to mention something that is important to your case. This is especially important if you are representing yourself at the hearing. Remember, this is your chance to tell the judge why he or she should reverse the substantiation and remove your name from the Child Abuse Registry or reverse the established finding and downgrade it to not established or not founded.
Step Seven: Attend the plenary hearing before the OAL judge
An OAL judge, a DAG, and you will be at the plenary hearing. You have a right to represent yourself. 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 may also have the right to bring a non-lawyer to represent you at the hearing, a relative or friend to advise you, and any other people you want to call as your witnesses at the hearing.
At the hearing, the ALJ will give both you and the Division the chance to present your case. You will have a chance to tell the judge why the substantiated or established finding should be reversed. You may also submit documents in support of your position and call witnesses to give testimony on your behalf. The Division will do the same. Before making a decision, the ALJ will listen to witnesses, listen to the arguments of each side, ask questions, and review documents.
During the plenary hearing, be polite and respectful to the ALJ and the DAG. Clearly explain what you want the ALJ to know about the reasons for the substantiated or established finding. In an organized manner, explain to the ALJ why he or she should reverse the substantiation and remove your name from the Child Abuse Registry or reverse the established finding and downgrade it to not established or not founded. Listen carefully to any questions the ALJ may ask about the appeal, and answer them thoughtfully. Offer witness testimony in support of your position.
Remember, the ALJ will decide the appeal based only on the record made before him or her at the hearing. This includes testimony and the evidence submitted at the hearing. It is very important to cover all relevant information about your appeal at the plenary hearing. In particular, emphasize to the ALJ that the substantiated or established finding does not rise to the level of abuse and neglect as defined by New Jersey law. 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 state what was said at the plenary hearing. It should include the ALJ’s findings about the facts presented by each party and the laws and policies that apply to appeal the case. It should also contain instructions on how to send any comments you may have on the decision. It should recommend how the appeal should be decided.
Submit comments on the ALJ’s Initial Decision. Upon receiving the Initial Decision, both you and the DAG have 13 calendar days to submit comments on the report to the Administrative Hearing Coordinator. Comments may include objections to what was said or done at the hearing. Comments may also include objections to finding the ALJ made in his or her report. If you plan to submit a comment, you must clearly state in writing why the judge’s Initial Decision should be changed, accepted, or modified, and submit supporting documentation for your position.
Agency Head issues a Final Decision. Before issuing a Final Decision, the Agency Head reviews the Initial Decision. The Agency Head also reviews all the comments it received from you and the DAG. After reviewing the Initial Decision and the comments, the Agency Head will issue a Final Decision. The Final Decision is sent to both you and the DAG.
Appealing the Final Decision. If you object to the Final Decision, you have a right to appeal to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey by filing a Notice to Appeal within 45 days of the date of the Final Decision.
What does a not established finding mean?
If the Division’s investigators think that abuse or neglect cannot be proven but the information gathered indicates to them that the child was nevertheless exposed to harm or risk, your case will be found to be not established. Your name will not be added to the Child Abuse Registry, but the Division will keep the information in the agency records and the information cannot be expunged (erased).
The law does not provide a direct way to challenge a not established finding. Unlike a substantiated or established finding, you do not have the right to appeal directly to the Office of Administrative Law. However, you may have the right to appeal to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. If you would like advice or assistance on appealing not established findings, please contact Legal Services of New Jersey’s Family Representation Project.
Because the Division’s four-tier system of findings is fairly new, it is still unclear how the categories will affect families and what they can do to challenge the Division’s decision. In order to protect your rights as a parent, it is very important that you understand if the Division has made a finding against you even if your children have not been taken away and you do not have to follow up with a caseworker. If you have any questions about your investigation, findings, and your right to appeal, please feel free to contact Legal Services of New Jersey’s Family Representation Project by calling LSNJLAWSM, LSNJ’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