When DCPP, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly, DYFS, the Division of Youth and Family Services) investigates an allegation of child abuse or neglect, and uncovers what it believes to be “imminent risk of harm”, the Division may remove the children from the home immediately without a court order. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.28. This removal is referred to as a “Dodd” removal, named after the legislator who sponsored the legislation giving the Division this right. Once a Dodd removal occurs, the Division must be before a judge seeking a court order ratifying the Dodd within two court days.
What constitutes “imminent risk of harm”? That varies from county to county, and frankly, from investigator to investigator. However, some general parameters include child sexual abuse where the alleged perpetrator is in the home; physical child abuse that would rise to the level of an “aggravating circumstance” that would relieve the Division of its obligation to make reasonable efforts to avoid placement; abandonment (i.e., child in the home with no caregiver), or acts of a similarly serious nature.
Unfortunately, the Division will, from time to time, act improvidently in removing children from their home. This may occur in circumstances where the parent has been voluntarily accepting services from the Division over a period of time, and the agency ultimately comes to the conclusion that it is tired of trying to work with the parents and feels court intervention must be imposed upon the family to effectuate the positive result sought.
It is also not unheard of that the agency will threaten to do a Dodd removal in order to scare parents into signing contracts with the agency, allowing unfettered access to a home, signing releases for medical or mental health information that is otherwise protected, and similar overreaching to accomplish what they otherwise could not.
Many times, parents will contact counsel after the fact and claim that they only signed agreements and authorized the release of confidential information upon threat of removal by the Division. Such tactics constitute a gross violation of the public trust and misuse of government authority. Unfortunately, my experience has been that judges are upset by improvident removals than by noncooperation by parents when the Division investigates. Therefore, one must not casually disregard the Division’s threats to remove children, even when the parent believes the agency could not ultimately prove “imminent risk of harm” in court.
If you or someone you know has been contacted by the Division seeking to investigate, before denying access and facing potential removal, contact Paragano and Williams, LLC for a consultation.