New Jersey DYFS cases should be taken very seriously.
Although the agency has changed its name to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), everyone still refers to it as DYFS.
The best advice is to treat a NJ DYFS investigation the same way that you would treat a criminal investigation.
Although DYFS/DCPP cannot arrest you or file a criminal charge, they work very closely with the County Prosecutor’s office & local law enforcement.
Anything you say to a NJ DYFS investigator can be used to bring criminal charges against you.
When did dYFS become DCP&P?
After much discussion about the need for a more accurate agency description, the name was changed in 2012.
The agency formally known as New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) became the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P).
Here’s the official link to NJ’s DCP&P.
NJ DYFS cases: How do they start?
DYFS exists to protect children.
When NJ DYFS agencies receive reports of child abuse or neglect, they will “screen the report”.
Screening is conducted at the State Central Registry (SCR).
The agency offers a Child Abuse Hotline 1-877-NJ-ABUSE (24/7).
Why did a DYFS investigator come to my home?
NJ law says that “anyone” can make a report about child abuse.
If someone has “reasonable cause” to believe that a child is being neglected and/or abused, they should report it.
Once NJ DYFS receives such a report, they must act on it quickly.
An investigator will come to your home for a number of reasons.
These reasons include some of the following:
- To interview you;
- To interview your child;
- To inspect the home for signs of drug/alcohol use/abuse;
- To inspect your child’s room for safety concerns.
It is important to understand that everything you say to an investigator will be documented and put in your “file”.
The things you say & your answers under NJ DYFS questioning may be used to bring criminal charges against you.
Must I cooperate with NJ DYFS investigators?
However, be aware that if you engage in answering questions, you have consented to the interview.
As criminal defense attorneys, we advise you NOT to talk with anyone until you have retained counsel.
NJ DYFS investigations can quickly become criminal investigations.
If you refuse to allow a NJ DYFS/DCPP investigator into your home, the investigator may turn to the local police department for more assistance.
It is for this reason that you need a NJ DYFS lawyer.
When the police get involved, your case can quickly become a felony matter.
It is our job to protect your Constitutional rights from being violated.
can i know who filed the NJ DYFS report against me?
Reports to DYFS are anonymous.
Under NJ law, these reports are confidential & not a matter of public record.
In other words, you may never find out who reported you.
NJ DYFS cannot & will not tell you who filed the report.
We know it’s frustrating but since the allegations involve your child’s safety, anonymous reporting is permitted.
How does NJ DYFS determine that I’m an unfit parent?
This is a very common question.
There is no simple answer to this question.
However, DYFS uses some of the below criteria to make this determination.
Here are some common concerns:
- Does the parent suffer from alcohol/drug abuse?
- Has a child been hospitalized for injuries suffered in the home?
- Does the parent suffer some type of mental illness?
- Does the child show signs of malnutrition?
Does NJ DYFS have the power to file criminal charges against me?
DYFS does not have the authority to file criminal charges.
However, please understand that DYFS will not hesitate to report their “findings” regarding abuse & neglect to law enforcement.
In our experience, it is extremely common for an innocent DYFS investigation to turn into a criminal nightmare.
One moment you’re talking to DYFS, and the next moment you’re sitting in jail facing felony charges.
NJ DYFS is coming to my home: How do I prepare?
You need to understand that NJ DYFS is visiting your home to check up on your child’s well-being.
The main thing here is to do your best to show that your child is well-cared for.
Your home should be neat & orderly.
But again, if you have notice that your home will be inspected, retain an NJ DYFS lawyer to represent you.
Will I receive notice that NJ DYFS is coming to investigate my home?
NJ DYFS is under no legal obligation to give you advanced notice.
Don’t be surprised when they come knocking on your door.
DYFS investigators do not need a warrant.
If you ask for their government credentials, they have to show you identification.
Under NJ DYFS law, investigators must Do the following:
- Provide you with general information about the report they received;
- Provide the investigators’ name and phone number;
- Provide the investigators’ supervisor’s name and phone number;
- Tell you if you are the target of the investigation;
- If you are the target, the investigator must provide details about the allegations.
Are NJ DYFS investigators allowed to interview my child in private?
Yes, they are but you should insist on being in the room with your child.
The reason NJ DYFS investigators will ask to interview your child privately is because they want to make sure that they are getting the truth from your child.
By isolating you from the interview, they are trying to make sure that you are not influencing your child on how to answer.
A good idea is to offer to sit or stand outside of your child’s line of sight. In this way, you won’t be able to make faces and influence your child’s ability to be truthful.
Are NJ DYFS investigators allowed to interview my child in school?
They do not need to give you notice & they do not need your permission.
NJ DYFS insisted that i sign a "release". Am I obligated to do so?
If you’re in this situation, we cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get a NJ DYFS lawyer.
Releases are complicated and have serious consequences.
You need the advice of a lawyer to explain the terms of the release & how signing it will affect you.
A release is a way of “giving up personal & sensitive” information.
Releases should have “limited scope” use and time limits.
You should also include a “revocation clause” which gives you the power to terminate the release.
Can NJ DYFS access really private information?
DYFS cannot knock on your therapist’s door and demand your file.
But, if you signed a release (without really understanding the terms), then your therapist may have no choice but to provide a copy of your file.
If the investigation got to the point where you are being asked to sign paperwork, you really need a lawyer.
The worst mistake a person can make is to try & save money by acting as their own lawyer.
Some mistakes are irreversible.
Can they speak to my child's babysitter, coach, teacher etc.?
DYFS has complete freedom to interview anyone whom they believe can give helpful information.
Their investigations are far-reaching and comprehensive.
If they believe that a babysitter may have information about your child’s well-being, they will speak with him/her.
Again, you are powerless in this situation.
However, DYFS will indeed need your permission to speak with your child’s medical doctor.
NJ DYFS can't take my kids away if it's my first case right?
If DYFS workers have reason to believe that your children are in real danger, they will take them away.
Remember, the whole reason for NJ DYFS’ existence is to protect children.
If your child is taken away, you will have the opportunity to go to court.
During your court hearing, a judge will determine whether or not your child should return home. Tip: Get a lawyer for your court appearance.
Sometimes, you will be allowed to recommend that your child be placed with a relative instead of foster care.
What is a Safety Plan?
A safety plan is a way for you to keep your children with you in your home.
It’s basically an agreement between you and NJ DYFS.
In the agreement, you agree that your home has certain problems and that you have every intention of fixing them.
Working out a “Safety Plan” with DYFS is a good result.
You get to keep your children in your home & your caseworker is there to help you every step of the way.
We’ve provided a detailed 14-page manual from the NJ Department of Children & Families that discusses safety plans.
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's a "Mandatory Reporter"?
NJ DYFS intervenes in family issues involving allegations of child neglect and child abuse.
Under unique circumstances, DYFS may petition parents to participate in counseling, parenting classes, and substance abuse treatment.
Children can even be placed in foster care.
NJ DYFS is typically called upon to intervene based upon information given by a “reporter”.
A reporter is someone like a teacher, school nurse, hospital employee, or other person owing the state of New Jersey a duty to report.
People involved in certain professions are referred to as mandatory reporters.
These professionals have no choice in the matter and are required to report signs of child abuse and child neglect to DYFS/DCPP.
Regardless of the reporter’s intentions in these matters, the simple allegation of child abuse or neglect triggers devastating consequences for each family involved.
Anonymous & False DYFS claims?
Unfortunately, anonymous reports of abuse and neglect are made by former spouses or close relatives.
The motivation and reasons for making these anonymous reports vary from jealousy to revenge.
Anonymous reports can follow failed marriages and/or infidelity between spouses.
Regardless of the reasons, NJ DYFS must investigate anonymous reports of abuse and neglect towards a child.
DYFS still has a legal duty and obligation to investigate.
We know it is unfair, but this is the DYFS law in NJ.
If you are the accused, you may feel all alone.
You will desperately need someone to help you defend your innocence.
It is best to have legal counsel in these situations.
If the allegations involve conduct that rises to criminal liability you may also be arrested and charged with serious felony charges.
This means that if you are found guilty of the felony charges, you may go to prison for many years.
What happens at the end of a NJ DYFS investigation?
Someone will notify DYFS that they believe your child is being abused or neglected.
NJ DYFS has 60 days to complete its investigation.
If they find abuse & neglect, DYFS will generate a complaint and file it.
Once you are served with a notice to show cause, the case begins.
A notice to show cause is the court’s way of saying to you, “Okay, explain to me or show me why these allegations of abuse and neglect are not true.”
But I really want to know who filed the NJ DYFS case against me?
There are circumstances where you will be provided with sworn affidavits of the witnesses who make the allegations against you for abuse and neglect.
However, many times, DYFS will investigate these allegations after having received anonymous tips.
DYFS has a duty to investigate all abuse and neglect cases even if the person making the accusation hides behind their anonymity.
The well-being of a child overrides the need to know the identity of the accuser.
How Is Abuse And Neglect Defined?
NJ DYFS law defines abuse and neglect in the following manner:
Abuse is the physical, sexual or emotional harm or risk of harm to a child under the age of 18 caused by a parent or other person who acts as a caregiver for the child.
Neglect occurs when a parent or caregiver fails to provide proper supervision for a child or adequate food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care although financially able or assisted to do so.
In some instances, allegations regarding sexual abuse may develop into criminal felony charges.
Clients are not aware of their constitutional rights and often fail to assert their right to remain silent when questioned by agents of the state.
Other consequences involve having your child removed from your home and placed in foster care with another family.
Here’s a 28-page Guide For Parents: When Your Child Is In Foster Care
Do I Ever get to tell my side of the story?
In the context of DYFS, it is called a fact-finding hearing.
This is your constitutional “day in court”.
Through your attorney, you are allowed to confront all witnesses against you, present your own witnesses, present all exonerating evidence and most importantly, you are allowed to testify and tell your side of the story.
These trials may be lengthy and very complicated. once again, it is in your best interest to hire an attorney to represent you.
Keep in mind that DYFS will present their case through their own lawyer so you should also have your own lawyer who will defend you and fight for you.
How long does a NJ DYFS case last?
Every case is different.
Some investigations are closed within a few months.
If there are any serious issues which require litigation, the cases could extend from 1-2 years.
Remember, the types of abuse and neglect of a child can take many forms.
If DYFS finds signs of child abuse, it will file an emergency complaint.
As a parent, you will need to hire private counsel unless your income falls below a certain level.
Once you are cleared of child abuse, DYFS will close its case.
However, if DYFS receives a new report of abuse & neglect, they can investigate you all over again.
what happens if i lose my DYFS case?
You have 45 days to appeal.
What can i do to prevent a NJ DYFS investigation?
Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world.
Everyone gets overwhelmed with work and family stress.
However, please know that there is help in NJ for parents like you.
New Jersey offers a free & anonymous FAMILY HELPLINE to help you.
This is a great program!
Trained volunteers will patiently listen to your problems & offer suggestions (24/7).
In addition, you will get more information about resources in your area.
Click here for a comprehensive list of NJ help hotlines.
The number for the FAMILY HELPLINE is: 1-800-THE-KIDS
If you need our help, we are located in Hackensack.