Facing accusations of child abuse or neglect is a very serious matter. It is important to note that child abuse or neglect can be civil or criminal and both are problematic when you are accused. These types of accusations can have immediate and long-term consequences such as losing custody of one or all of your children and/or up to decades in prison. As a result, it is important that you speak with a New Jersey DYFS lawyer as soon as possible.
Here is an overview of what you need to know if you’ve been accused of child abuse or neglect in New Jersey:
You May Receive a Visit from the DCPP (Formerly DYFS) in the Next 24 Hours
When someone reports accusations of child abuse or neglect to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formerly the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), the Division conducts an investigation within 24 hours. This means that if you have not received a visit from the DCPP already, you may hear from an investigator very soon.
This is a very high-risk scenario. The investigator will examine your home environment, and he or she will carefully scrutinize everything you say and do. But, the reality is that, at this point, the outcome of the investigation may already be a foregone conclusion. If DCPP has already determined that your children need protection—rightly or wrongly—the investigation may promptly result in the termination of your parental rights. Note that there is no confidentiality when speaking to a DCPP/DYFS worker -- they regularly share information with law enforcement.
DCPP Can Terminate Your Parental Rights Based on Accusations of Child Abuse or Neglect
Many mothers and fathers are surprised to learn that the DCPP can terminate their parental rights. But this is the case—and it happens all the time. Following their investigation, DCPP agents can take your children and put them into foster care, and they can even place your children up for adoption after obtaining approval from a judge. An emergent removal can actually result in the instant removal of your own children from your home, even before you go to court. Your court date may be scheduled days later; meanwhile, your children are living with someone else.
Accusations of Child Abuse or Neglect Can Also Lead to Criminal Charges
In addition to dealing with the DCPP, if you have been accused of child abuse or neglect, you may also need to defend yourself against criminal charges. Some examples of criminal charges that can result from allegations of child abuse and neglect include:
Under Section 9:6-1 of the New Jersey Statutes, parents can face various forms of child abuse allegations. All of the following are criminal offenses that can lead to fines, jail or prison time, and other penalties in the event of a conviction:
- “[H]abitual use . . . of profane, indecent or obscene language” in a child’s presence or within a child’s hearing;
- “[P]erforming of any indecent, immoral or unlawful act or deed, in the presence of a child, that may tend to debauch or endanger or degrade the morals of the child;”
- “[P]ermitting or allowing any other person to perform any indecent, immoral or unlawful act in the presence of the child that may tend to debauch or endanger the morals of such child;” and,
- “[U]sing excessive physical restraint on the child under circumstances which do not indicate that the child's behavior is harmful to himself, others or property.
In New Jersey, the crime of child abandonment is defined as “(a) willfully forsaking a child; (b) failing to care for and keep the control and custody of a child so that the child shall be exposed to physical or moral risk without proper and sufficient protection; (c) failing to care for and keep the control and custody of a child so that the child shall be liable to be supported and maintained at the expense of the public.” Child abandonment charges also carry fines, jail or prison time, and other penalties.
Parents accused of child abuse or neglect can face similar consequences if they are charged with the crime of child cruelty. In New Jersey, prosecutors can pursue child cruelty charges based on any one or more of the following:
- Inflicting unnecessarily severe corporal punishment;
- Inflicting unnecessary suffering or pain (mental or physical);
- Habitually tormenting a child; and/or,
- Exposing a child to unnecessary hardship, fatigue, or mental or physical strains.
Prosecutors in New Jersey can also pursue fines, jail or prison time, and other penalties for child neglect. Under Section 9:6-1, the crime of child neglect is defined as “(a) willfully failing to provide proper and sufficient food, clothing, maintenance, regular school education as required by law, medical attendance or surgical treatment, and a clean and proper home, or (b) fail[ing] to do or permit to be done any act necessary for the child's physical or moral well-being.”
DCPP Cases and Criminal Child Abuse Cases Are Separate
DCPP cases and criminal cases involving allegations of child abuse and other crimes are completely separate. DCPP can take your children regardless of whether you get criminally charged, and prosecutors can pursue criminal charges even if DCPP determines that it isn’t necessary to place your children in foster care or put them up for adoption.
Each type of case is also subject to a different standard of proof. In criminal cases, prosecutors must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (which is the highest standard). But, New Jersey prosecutors can—and regularly do—secure convictions for child abuse, child neglect and the other crimes discussed above. The standard of proof in a DCPP case is “preponderance of the evidence,” which is a much lower standard than the criminal standard. This means it is actually easier to remove your child from your custody than it is to convict you of a crime.
You Need a Lawyer with Experience in DCPP Matters and Criminal Defense
Given the multiple risks you are facing if someone has accused you of child abuse or neglect, you need to hire a lawyer who has experience in DCPP matters and criminal defense. At Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A., we handle DCPP matters and criminal cases throughout New Jersey, and our lawyers can begin working with you immediately to protect your parental rights, your finances and your freedom.
Speak with a New Jersey DYFS Lawyer in Confidence
If you have been accused of child abuse or neglect in New Jersey, we strongly encourage you to speak with a New Jersey DYFS lawyer at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. as soon as possible. We have a team of experienced DCPP attorneys to assist you. Call 877-435-6371 or send us your contact information online to schedule an appointment today.