The prospect of losing custody of your child to the state due to abuse or neglect allegations is overwhelming. However, before the Department of Children Protection and Permanency (DCPP) can intervene in your life and possibly remove your children from your care, they must convince a judge that you did, in fact, abuse or neglect your kids.

If you are under investigation due to alleged child abuse or neglect, you have the right to contest the allegations at a DCPP fact-finding hearing in Hackensack. A dedicated DCPP attorney could represent you at the hearing and defend your ability to properly care for your children.

DCPP’s Role in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases

The state is interested in protecting children from harmful behavior by their parents, guardians, daycare providers, and others entrusted with their care. If DCPP receives a report of abuse or neglect, they immediately investigate to ensure the child’s safety. If there is no credible evidence to support the allegations, the Department will close the case.

However, if DCPP’s investigation uncovers evidence of abuse or neglect, they will file a complaint and Order to Show Cause with the Hackensack family court. The complaint is a legal document outlining the allegations and the evidence DCPP believes supports the abuse or neglect charges. After DCPP files this complaint, the court will schedule a fact-finding hearing to determine if sufficient evidence exists to support the allegations.

What is a Fact-Finding Hearing?

If DCPP files a child abuse or neglect complaint against a parent, the case must proceed to a judge for a fact-finding hearing. At this hearing, a judge must determine if the state has met its burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence – meaning more likely than not – that a parent abused or neglected their child. A fact-finding hearing in Hackensack must occur within four months of DCPP removing the child from a parent’s care or within six months if the child remains in the home.

Similar to a contested civil trial, a judge conducts a fact-finding hearing in open court. Generally, members of the public may observe these proceedings. However, because these hearings often involve sensitive, personal information about children, a judge has the authority to prohibit anyone not directly involved in the case from listening to the evidence or viewing any of the documentary exhibits.

At the hearing, DCPP presents evidence to support the allegations against a parent. For example, if a parent is said to have an ongoing substance abuse problem, DCPP may offer a certified copy of a DUI conviction, testimony from witnesses who have seen the parent intoxicated in the presence of the children, or a positive urinalysis screening for alcohol.

What Happens After the Hearing?

After the hearing, the judge will review the evidence and legal arguments and determine whether the accused parent or guardian abused or neglected a child. The court must issue its decision in writing.

If the judge finds evidence of abuse or neglect, the case moves forward to a disposition hearing to determine the next steps to protect the child. If the court does not sustain the allegations, they will close the case and return the child to their parents or guardians if DCPP removed the child from the home.

Should a Parent Have a Lawyer at a DCPP Fact-Finding Hearing?

DCPP generally has a deputy attorney general present their case at the hearing. The lawyer will provide witnesses like pediatricians, psychologists, teachers, or neighbors to prove that a parent abused or neglected their child. An attorney skilled in DCPP hearings could cross-examine those witnesses and object to certain evidence to help ensure the judge can make an educated and fair decision.

An experienced lawyer can also present evidence on the parent’s behalf. For example, suppose DCPP alleges that a parent is not following their mental health treatment protocol. In that case, the attorney could offer testimony from the parent’s psychologist, show timely filling records for medication from the pharmacy, or provide documents from a mental health clinic demonstrating that the parent is regularly participating in group therapy.

An Experienced Attorney Can Help Prepare for DCPP Fact-Finding Hearings in Hackensack

Child neglect and abuse allegations are serious and could result in the loss of your job, reputation, and, most importantly, your children.

If you are facing a DCPP fact-finding hearing in Hackensack, contact a lawyer as soon as possible for assistance. Our team knows the applicable law, courtroom procedures, and rules of evidence and can work to defend your parental rights and preserve your relationship with your child.