When the Division of Child Protection and Permanency receives a referral, it is required by law to investigate. A required component of that investigation includes speaking with the accused parent. N.J.A.C. 10:129-3.1(b)(7). Another required component of the investigation includes inspecting the home environment of the allegedly abused or neglected child. N.J.A.C. 10:129-3.1(b)(4). These components, along with others, are evaluated to help the agency assess risk. Risk must be assessed with each allegation investigated, as child safety may be impaired without such a determination.
Unfortunately, the determination of risk comes with or without the parent’s involvement. If risk cannot be assessed unless the home is evaluated, the Division may conclude – having considered the balance of factors that they must evaluate – that the missing information (i.e., the state of the home or the explanation of the parent) is essential and without it, the only safe alternative is to presume a harm exists, remove the child and await a determination by a Court.
Conversely, there are times when the parent’s failure to allow a home inspection or interview of the accused may annoy the investigators and perhaps increase the likelihood that litigation may ensue, but would not prompt a removal. The critical determination for the agency is whether there exists an “imminent risk of harm” (which is required for removal, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.28 and -8.29) or a “substantial risk of harm” (which is required for a finding of abuse or neglect as defined in N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)).
My experience has been that few cases turn on the state of the home, where that is the only remaining piece of a child welfare investigation to be completed. Nonetheless, there are certainly times when a parent is better served by denying access to the home. If a parent elects to deny access, the Division may threaten to remove the child — whether a basis exists for such action or not. In order to evaluate the merits of such a threat, it is imperative that parents consult counsel before making the final decision and declaration that access to the home will not be granted.
If you or someone you know are considering denying access to a home that is the subject of a child abuse investigation or refusing an interview with the Division, please contact Paragano & Williams, LLC to make sure you are making the right choice.