A New Jersey appeals court recently ruled that the state child-protection agency could not place a local mother’s name on a neglect and abuse registry, because the agency waited five years to take action, family lawyers in New Jersey report. Although the incident that led to neglect charges happened in 2007, the agency failed to immediately add the mother to their list of parents who have committed crimes against their children, and in the sizable gap in time, the court said, the mother has proven to be a fit parent.
In 2007, a German immigrant mother and school librarian living in New Jersey, who is known in the court documents as G.R., left her 2-year-old son unattended in her car while she ran into a Target in New York. The child was secured in a car seat, and was sleeping under a blanket when she left. G.R. turned off the car and locked the doors, and claimed to have been gone only a short period of time. She was charged with endangering the welfare of her child after a police officer noticed the sleeping boy and issued a summons.
Although the criminal charge for endangerment was dismissed in New York, where G.R. left her son, an alert was sent to New Jersey authorities, based on G.R.’s home address in Montvale, NJ. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), an agency that operates under the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), sent an agent to visit G.R.’s home, but did not find any evidence of neglect or abuse. G.R. also agreed to take parenting classes on a follow-up visit. She was found to be a fit parent, and her instructor cited the cultural practice in Germany of leaving children in cars during brief shopping trips.
However, DCPP continued to pursue the neglect charges, and told G.R. that she would be placed on a permanent registry that the agency uses to “assur[e] that adoption agencies, employers such as daycare centers and other organizations that deal with children are apprised of…harmful conduct.” However, DCPP did not try to add her name for five years after the incident.
The appellate court judges said that “the adverse reputational consequences for an innocent individual listed in the registry can be devastating,” especially since names on the list are never removed. In G.R.’s case, she attended the parenting classes, but still feared that she would be penalized by being added to the list. The lack of conversation between DCPP and G.R. also contributed to that fear, as her lawyer claimed to have followed up several times, but never received a response.
Child abuse and neglect are serious charges, family lawyers in New Jersey say, but because of the extreme damage to reputation, family life, and present and future careers, these allegations need to be backed up with concrete evidence. At the New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our family lawyers represent parents who have been wrongfully accused of neglect or abuse. Contact an HCK lawyer today for a consultation about your case.