Child Welfare FAQ’s

What is child abuse/neglect?

Child abuse/neglect occurs when a parent or another individual who is in a caretaker role to the child under the age of 18, including parent, guardian, teacher or child care worker, does one of the following:

  • Inflicts injury or allows a child to be physically injured by another, in a method that is not accidental, which causes or creates a substantial risk of death or serious impairment, disfigurement or prolonged impairment of the child’s physical or emotional health, or protracted loss of the function of any bodily organ; or
  • Creates or allows a situation to be created where there is a substantial or ongoing risk to the child of physical injury, which would likely cause death, serious disfigurement or injury; or
  • Sexually abuse the child and/or allows the child to be sexually abused; or
  • Fails to exercise a minimum degree of care by not supplying the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, medical or surgical care, when having or being provided with the means to do so, or by not providing the child with proper supervision, thereby impairing or threatening to impair the child’s physical, mental or emotional condition, including the infliction of excessive corporal punishment; or
  • Willfully abandons the child; or
  • Uses excessive physical restraints on the child, under circumstance which do not indicate that the child’s behavior is harmful to himself or others; or
  • Inappropriately places the child in an institution for a continued period of time with the knowledge that the placement has and may continue to harm the child’s mental or physical well-being; or
  • Willfully isolates a child from ordinary social contact under circumstances that indicate emotional or social deprivation.

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What if I think a child is being abused or neglected? Should I report it?

New Jersey is a mandatory reporting state. This means that any person with reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abuse or neglected must report those concerns or findings immediately. The report should include whatever information may be helpful, such as the identity of the alleged perpetrator, the names and addresses of the child and his/her parent or other guardian or caretaker, the child’s age and the nature and extent of the child’s injury, abuse or mistreatment.

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How do I report suspected child abuse/neglect?

The report should be made to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formerly DYFS.

DCPP has a statewide child abuse hotline that operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The telephone number is 1-877-NJ ABUSE (1-877-652-2873). Failure to report suspected child abuse or neglect is a disorderly persons offense.

Please note that Advocates for Children of New Jersey cannot accept reports of suspected abuse or neglect. Only the state is legally allowed to investigate these reports.

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Can I remain anonymous if I report child abuse/neglect?

Yes. All reports of child abuse and neglect, as well as all information obtained by DCPP, are confidential. This information may only be released under specific circumstances to a child protective agency, a law enforcement agency investigating a report, a physician or agency authorized to treat the child, legal counsel for the parent or child, a court, a grand jury or for research purposes. Anyone receiving this information from DCPP is required to keep it confidential.

Any person making a good faith report or testifying in a court proceeding resulting from such a report is immune from any civil or criminal liability that may result from making a report. Anyone who is discharged from employment or discriminated against on the job as a result of reporting, in good faith, an allegation of child abuse or neglect may file a lawsuit for appropriate relief.

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What is the state’s responsibility in protecting children?

The Division of Child Protection and Permanency is the state agency responsible to respond to reports of child abuse or neglect. State law and regulations give DCPP the authority and the responsibility to investigate child abuse/neglect allegations within a specified period of time. New Jersey law provides that the safety and well-being of the child must be the primary concern when responding to reports of child abuse/neglect. The parent’s rights and maintaining family integrity with services are secondary concerns.

DCPP is required to investigate all reports where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child may be abused or neglected. The division must screen each report to determine an appropriate response, which can be one of the following:

  • An investigation to determine if the child is abused or neglected; or
  • An assessment to determine if or how DCPP can provide child welfare services; or
  • Information and referral elsewhere.

When it is determined that the nature of the allegation warrants a child abuse/neglect investigation, the division must complete a safety assessment and interview in person:

  • The child who is the subject of the investigation;
  • The parent or caretaker in the home;
  • Other members of the household, whether adults or minors;
  • The alleged perpetrator; and
  • Any witnesses to the incident or anyone who has information relevant to the investigation (i.e. the reporter if known).

DCPP is required to begin a child abuse/neglect investigation within specific time frames of when the field office or after-hours child protective investigator is notified of a report.

DCPP must begin an investigation no later than the end of the work day when the call was placed to the child abuse hotline if the report meets the following criteria:

  • Law enforcement requests an immediate response
  •  An immediate response will prevent the loss of evidence
  • A child died due to abuse or neglect and a sibling of another child remains under the care of the parent or guardians
  • A child is born drug-exposed
  • A child under the age of 6 is alone at the time of the report
  • A child requires medical attention at the time of the report
  • A children is being seriously physically abused at the time of the report.

The Division has 24 hours to begin investigations of all other reports where there is no immediate risk to the child, unless a delay is requested by a law enforcement official.

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What happens after a child abuse/neglect investigation?

Once the investigation is concluded, the division must make a formal finding or determination within 60 days of the referral. If DCPP is continuing to confirm credible information, extensions may be granted by the office manager in increments of 30 days.

There are four possible findings: Substantiated, Established, Not Established or Unfounded. Read definitions of findings. Learn more about the findings system.

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What are Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)?

Court Appointed Special Advocate (“CASA”) programs involve community volunteers who advocate for specific abused and neglected children who are living in foster care. CASA programs are established on a countywide basis and function independently of one another under the auspices of the court. New Jersey regulations allow for the appointment and use of CASA volunteers in cases involving the welfare of children.

Anyone involved in the court case may request the appointment of a CASA volunteer or the court may decide on its own to assign one. The role of the CASA is not intended to replace or interfere with the duties of the child’s counsel called a  law guardian (an attorney who represents the child).

CASA volunteers have three main responsibilities:

  • To serve as a fact-finder for the judge by thoroughly researching the background of the child and case
  • To advocate for the child’s best interests in the courtroom
  • To continue to ensure that the case moves forward in a timely manner and that the child receives needed services.

A CASA volunteer may monitor the court’s orders, reporting on whether the parent attended a rehabilitation program or whether the parent complied with the visitation schedule ordered by the judge. A CASA volunteer may also take a more active role, making recommendations to the court based on the volunteer’s investigation, including interviews with the child, other important individuals in the child’s life and/or service providers. Generally volunteers work on one to two cases at a time.

New Jersey CASA programs are private, non-profit organizations with independent funding sources and are managed by a Board of Trustees. All programs provide training and supervision for their volunteers. A statewide organization, CASA of New Jersey, Inc., established guidelines for the development and operation of CASA programs throughout the state.

For more information on local programs, contact CASA of New Jersey at (609) 695-0040 or visit www.casaofnj.org.

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What is a law guardian?

The Office of Law Guardian (OLG), a unit within the Office of the Public Defender, provides legal representation to children in family court matters involving allegations of abuse and neglect against parents or other caregivers, or in cases involving termination of parental rights.

In child welfare cases in New Jersey, children have rights separate and distinct from those of their parents. One important right a child has is the right to have an attorney, known as a law guardian, represent the child in court, present the child’s wishes to the judge and protect the child’s legal interests throughout the legal proceeding. A law guardian maintains a traditional lawyer-client relationship with the child to the extent possible. Learn more.
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What is Child Placement Review?

Cases of children placed in foster care are reviewed by volunteer citizen review boards, called Child Placement Review or CPR boards, which function as an arm of the Family Court in each county pursuant to NJSA 30:4C-50 et seq. The purpose of the CPR Boards is to monitor the appropriateness of the case goal and the case plan.

In March 2010, the Administrative Office of the Courts, which manages the court system, issued a directive  to change the board process for reviewing cases involved in the court system.

The directive redefined the boards’ role to conduct a detailed review of the child’s case once the child has been in foster care for 45 days. Written notice of the date, time and place of the review is sent in advance to:

  • The parents or legal guardian
  • The child (when age appropriate)
  • The law guardian (child’s attorney)
  • The temporary caretaker (foster/resource parent)
  • The Division of Child Protection and Permanency
  • The parent’s lawyer
  • Any person or agency the board believes has an interest in the child

These interested parties are entitled to attend the review and/or to submit written information to the CPR Board. All should be encouraged to participate.

CPR Board volunteers are trained to interview children and interested parties and can gather information about the child’s health, placement, educational needs, contact with parents and siblings and potential relative placements. The board’s recommendations are reviewed by the judge, who issues an order regarding the child’s placement according to the best interests of the child.

For more information and contact information for CPR boards in each county, visit the NJ State Child Placement Advisory Council (NJ CPAC) website.

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