The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P or the Division) is the agency in charge of investigating referrals of child abuse or neglect in New Jersey. When DCP&P receives a referral, it is required by law to send investigators to gather more information about the referral and the specific allegations (claims that accuse a person of committing child abuse or neglect). This process is called a child protection investigation. DCP&P must begin a child protection investigation before the end of the day that it receives the report or within 24 hours of finding out about the report.
Child protection investigations may be confusing and even frightening for families. Below are frequently asked questions and answers about what to expect during a child protection investigation and your rights throughout the investigation.
Do DCP&P investigators have to tell me they are coming before they show up?
No. DCP&P can come to your house to investigate your family without calling or telling you first. The investigators can go into your home and talk to you and your family without a warrant. You may ask the investigators to show you identification that states they are DCP&P investigators.
The law does require the investigators to tell you the following information:
If you are named in the report as the person who allegedly committed child abuse or neglect, the investigators must tell you details about the allegations.
Can I find out who reported me to DCP&P?
No. You cannot find out who referred your information to DCP&P. A person who calls to report child abuse or neglect can make the report anonymously.
What if I refuse to speak to the investigators or I want to stop answering their questions?
You do not have to talk to the investigators. But once you start talking, this means you agreed to be interviewed. If you refuse to speak to the investigators or you decide to stop talking to them, the interview will not occur or the investigation will end at your request. However, this does not mean that your case will be closed. The Division can go to superior court and make an application or request for an order to investigate before a judge. In these situations, you should receive notice of the request for an order to investigate and be told about any upcoming court hearings. You should attend these court hearings because you will have an opportunity to explain your case. This means you can explain why you think there should be no investigation. If the judge agrees with the Division, the judge will grant its request for an order to investigate. You then will have to work with the investigators.
Will the police be involved in the investigation?
DCP&P investigators are not police officers. They cannot arrest you. At times, the police will be involved in a child protection investigation. If the investigators find that you did commit child abuse or neglect, the law requires them to report their finding to the prosecutor (person in charge of pursuing criminal charges for the government). If the prosecutor feels a criminal case should be made against you, the police may become involved in your investigation. You may be arrested and criminal charges may be filed against you.
The investigators may call the police if they feel it is necessary. For example, if something violent occurs during an interview or if your child is believed to be in immediate danger, the investigators may call the police.
The investigators are making phone calls during the investigation. Who are they talking to?
During your investigation, the investigators will need to contact their supervisors to review their findings. Sometimes, if the investigators are trying to assist you with an emergency situation, they will need to make phone calls to arrange immediate services. Also, the investigators may sometimes use different terms to identify themselves. For example, if your case is investigated at night or on the weekend during non-work hours, the investigators might be from the Special Response Unit (SPRU). If at any time you feel confused about who you or the investigators are talking to, you should politely ask the investigating caseworker to explain who they are and what role they play in the investigation process.
The investigators want to interview my child in private. Is that allowed?
Yes. Investigators are allowed to interview children in private. If you want to be in the room when your child is interviewed, ask the investigator. You could offer to stay behind your child during the interview so you do not look like you are trying to influence your child or his or her statements during the interview.
Can the investigators remove some of my child’s clothing to look for bruises?
It depends. The investigators are allowed to ask your child to remove clothing if they think he or she has a hidden injury. Generally, investigators may not do this if they know the child will soon be examined by a doctor. Also, investigators may not force older children or children of the opposite sex to remove clothing. If a child is upset about taking off his or her clothes, the investigators should only remove the child’s clothing if it is an emergency. Investigators are also allowed to take photos of a child’s injuries to document the images for their files.
Can DCP&P investigators speak to my children at school?
Yes, the Division can talk to your children at school without telling you first and without asking for your permission.
DCP&P investigators want to speak to my child’s teacher and pediatrician. Is this allowed?
Yes. DCP&P may interview anyone who might have any knowledge about the allegations made against you and how your child is doing under your care. Usually, the investigators will interview you, the child named in the report, and anybody else living in your home. The investigators may also want to talk to teachers, school counselors, or anybody else who might know something about your child’s situation or if there are any concerns with your child or your care. The investigators do not need permission to talk to your child’s teacher, but they do need your permission to speak to the pediatrician. In order to get medical information about your child, DCP&P must ask you to sign a release. You can find more information about releases later in this article.
DCP&P investigators want me to sign a lot of papers, but I don’t understand them. Should I sign them anyway?
No. You should never sign a document without reading and understanding it first. If DCP&P investigators ask you to sign documents that you do not understand or do not have time to read, ask for more time to read them on your own or ask for help from an advocate. If English is not your first language, ask to see the documents in your language.
DCP&P investigators want me to sign a release. What is a release?
A release gives DCP&P permission to get information about you from a doctor, school, or other organization that normally has to keep your information private. When reading the release forms, make sure you understand what they are for. Does the release allow DCP&P to access all of your medical records or only certain information? Does the release end on a certain date or is it open-ended?
If you think a release will reveal personal information that you do not want revealed, you can try to limit the release with the investigators. One way to do this is to say you will sign the release, but only if the information is limited to a certain time or treatment. For example, instead of allowing access to your entire medical record, tell the investigators you only want the release to apply to your primary care doctor. Or tell them you want the release to end on a certain date so they can only access your information for a limited time period.
Also, instead of signing the release, you can ask the investigators if they would accept a letter from the person who has your information. For example, if you see a psychiatrist, DCP&P may ask you to sign a release so they can access all of your psychiatrist’s records about you. Instead of signing a release that gives DCP&P access to your entire record, offer to get a letter from your psychiatrist that says you are following treatment.
Ultimately, you have control over your private information and, even after signing a release, you have the power to revoke the release (take your permission away).
Can DCP&P investigators take my children away during the first investigation?
Yes. If the investigators feel your children are in imminent danger, they are allowed to remove your children from the home at any time without a court order. If this happens, DCP&P will have to get a court order within two court days of removing your children and you will receive a notice to appear in court for a hearing. You are allowed to bring an attorney to court for the hearing or, if you qualify financially, you may be given a Public Defender to represent you.
Before removing your children, the Division has to make reasonable efforts to keep your children in the home. This means the Division must work with you to help your family stay safely together if possible. If the investigators want to remove your children, you may make suggestions to keep them at home. For example, if the Division wants to remove your children because you have a problem with alcohol, you could offer to remove all alcohol from your home and arrange for another adult family member to stay with you while you get treatment. Keep in mind, the Division may still remove your children at any time if the investigators think they are in immediate danger or if the steps you take are not going to keep your children safe.
Finally, if your children are removed, you should tell the Division about relatives who might be willing to care for your children. That way, your children may be able to stay with family members instead of being placed in foster care.
The investigators want me to follow a case plan or safety plan. What is that?
Even if your children are not removed and there is no evidence of child abuse or neglect, the investigators may decide you need more services. Typically, this means that DCP&P will develop a case plan or safety plan. A case plan or safety plan is an agreement between you and the Division that identifies and addresses problems that may be occurring in your family. A case plan may require you and your children to go to counseling or have regular contact with a case worker. A safety plan may require you to take certain steps to keep your children safe while they stay with you. For example, if the Division feels your children have been absent from school too many times, your case plan may lay out certain steps you need to take in order to make sure your children do not miss more days of school.
After you and the case worker agree on a case plan or safety plan, you will both sign a document that explains your plan. You are welcome to ask the case worker for a copy of your case plan and/or safety plan.
What happens after the investigation?
Child protection investigations are generally required to be closed within 60 days. After the investigation, DCP&P will make a finding (a decision about whether there was abuse or neglect) about your case. DCP&P will send you a letter to let you know what finding they made in your case.
DCP&P uses the following four-tier system to make findings: substantiated, established, not established, and unfounded. If the claims of child abuse or neglect made against you are substantiated, your children may be removed and you will be required to have more contact with DCP&P. Also, your name will be added to the child abuse registry. The child abuse registry is not available to the public but can be searched by the DCP&P and certain employers. Having your name on the child abuse registry can make you ineligible to adopt or foster children and could also prevent you from working with children and the elderly. Once your name is on the registry, it can never be removed.
If DCP&P finds that your case was not serious enough to be substantiated but there is some evidence of abuse or neglect, the allegations will be established or not established, depending on the circumstances of your case. Your information will not be added to the child abuse registry, but DCP&P will keep your information on record. You may appeal a finding of established in the same way that you would appeal a finding of substantiated. If you would like advice or assistance on appealing established findings, please contact Legal Services of New Jersey's Family Representation Project.
You may appeal a not established finding directly to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey.
If DCP&P finds that there is no evidence of child abuse or neglect, the allegations against you will be unfounded. Your information will not be added to the child abuse registry and, after three years, you can ask DCP&P to erase your information from their files.
It is important to remember that, regardless of DCP&P’s findings, the agency can require you to follow a case plan. Also, at any time, DCP&P can go to court to request a new order of investigation or an order for care and supervision (court order that permits DCP&P to require family services).
Where can I get more help?
See Child Abuse and Neglect to learn more about DCP&P and child protection investigations. If you have been the subject of a child protection investigation and you need legal help, call LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (576-5529)
This information last reviewed: Aug 20, 2020