Should certain outcomes of child welfare investigations be abolished to protect the rights of parents and caregivers? The New Jersey State Bar Association took up this issue recently in a case examining the constitutionality of New Jersey’s child welfare laws. On the Association’s behalf, attorneys argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court that findings of “not established” following an investigation of abuse or neglect should be abolished.
The Association’s argument revolves around the inability of parents/caregivers to appeal a finding of “not established” nor be able to remove (expunge) the finding from their records. As stated to the court: “The potential for misuse, the likelihood of interference with an individual’s right to parent, and the consequences of a damaged reputation with no real course of remediation is clear and harmful.”
To better understand the context for the Association’s stance on this matter, let’s take a deeper look at what currently happens after a Division of Child Protection and Permanence (DCPP) investigation takes place.
Since a child welfare rule change in 2013, DCPP began providing four possible outcomes in child welfare matters.
4 Types of Findings in NJ Child Welfare Investigations
Upon the conclusion of the child welfare investigation, allegations of abuse/neglect against parents or caregivers are found to be one of the following:
Substantiated — DCPP has determined that the child is abused and neglected and absolute conditions exist, such as the child died or nearly died, or was inflicted with severe injuries requiring significant medical attention. Parent/caregiver information becomes part of the Child Abuse Registry.
Established — If these absolute conditions are absent, but there is evidence of abuse or neglect, DCPP’s findings will be that abuse or neglect is established. Parent/caregiver information will not go on the Child Abuse registry. DCPP will keep the case information in its files and it cannot be expunged (erased).
Not Established — If the Division decides that abuse or neglect has not been proven, but the information they gather indicates that the child was still exposed to harm or risk, they will classify the finding as not established. Parent/caregiver information will not be added to the Child Abuse Registry. DCPP will keep the information in the agency records and the information cannot be expunged (erased).
Unfounded — If the Division finds that the child was not harmed or placed at risk of harm, they will classify the investigation outcome as unfounded. The parent/caregiver name will not be added to the Child Abuse Registry, and in most cases, the information will be expunged (erased) from the agency’s records after three years.
Should “Not Established” Be Abolished?
At issue with the outcome of “not established” is the inability of parents and caregivers to challenge the finding. Unlike a substantiated finding, parents/caregivers do not have the right to appeal directly to the Office of Administrative Law. The finding remains on the record without the ability to expunge, and thus, has the potential to affect parents/caregivers for years to come.
In all child welfare matters, the safety of the child that is paramount. We are following the outcome of this case carefully and will post updates as they become available.
If you have questions about any part of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency Investigations process, our compassionate and experienced family law attorneys can help you understand your options and decide how best to proceed. Safeguard your future with your kids. Call us today at (888) 0919 to schedule your free confidential consultation, or please click the green button below.