Recording of DYFS Investigation Interviews


A number of parents have contacted me to seek guidance on how to handle child welfare investigations. A common query is whether or not it is permissible to record an interview with the investigator from the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). The short answer is yes, child welfare investigations may be tape-recorded. However, the better question is whether or not the investigator will allow such recording.

So long as the tape recording is of a conversation to which the parent is a party, the recording is authorized and is not a violation of either of the New Jersey Wiretap Act or considered a tortious invasion of privacy. Unfortunately, the vast majority of division investigators will outright refuse a request to tape-record their conversations with the parent. This, of course, begs the question: If you are going to perform your job as required by law, why would you oppose the recording of your interview with the accused parent? Is it because you cannot manipulate the responses provided by the parent if those responses are captured on tape recording? Perhaps it is because you fear a lack of perfection in performing your job duties, which may be brought to the attention of your supervisor.

In fairness to the workers, most people would feel some degree of anxiety if the routine performance of their job duties was captured on a recording device. Nevertheless, not only should workers consent to tape-recording of interviews, but they should encourage them. The information gathered by a Division investigator is not dispositive of the outcome of the child welfare investigation… but, it greatly influences the outcome.

The information collected is to be provided to the agency supervisor, and ultimately, a determination will be made as to whether a child is at risk of harm, has been harmed and/or is the subject of abuse or neglect by the parent. However, because caselaw imbues the Division with a “high degree of reliability” in its collection of information that is documented in agency records, information later admitted into evidence in court proceedings summarily and with little personal knowledge by the testifying worker, it is imperative that the information collected be accurate.

The high caseloads of division investigators, the speed with which referrals must be investigated, the timing of presentment to the parent for their interview, the stress of the situation and the reality that fact gathering during stressful confrontations between potential child abusers and Division workers may distort perception, justifies – if not compels – the necessity of tape-recording to accurately capture what has been reported. Many Division workers are well-intentioned professionals who aim to protect children from abuse and neglect. However, because that is their stated objective, many workers come to believe that every referral investigated should be approached from the law-enforcement perspective of aiming to “shakedown” the crime they feel is ongoing. Consequently, very few parents have reviewed investigation summaries with counsel and found their statements accurately documented in agency records. The well intentioned social worker “documented” what she believed had occurred, rather than what the parent stated had occurred. This interviewer bias has been the subject of numerous psychological studies.

With all that is at stake, the legislature should require these investigation interviews to be recorded. If the goal is to truly protect children who have been abused or neglected, or are at risk of same, our system should want harmless families to be left alone so that division resources can be devoted to those truly in need of assistance.

If you or someone you know would like assistance with a Division investigation, that may or may not involve a tape-recorded interview, contact Paragano & Williams, LLC for a consultation.

New Evaluation Protocol for Child Abuse Investigations


Effective in April 2013, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly the Division of Youth and Family Services) will have a new administrative options for determinations of child abuse investigation. As the law stands now, when the division investigates an allegation of child abuse or neglect, there are only two options for the “outcome” of the investigation. Either the allegation is substantiated or unfounded.

“Substantiated” means that it is more likely than not that the alleged offense did occur and/or that the alleged perpetrator is responsible. “Unfounded” means that either the alleged offense is not more likely than not to have occurred or that the alleged perpetrator is not the one responsible for the abuse or neglect. Once the referral is received, the investigation outcome can be based on the initial allegation or upon any information arising from the investigation.

There once was a time when there existed a third category of outcomes between “unfounded” and “substantiated”. That category was “unsubstantiated”. “Unsubstantiated” means something more than unfounded – i.e., that the referral was not “baseless”, but that the information could not be verified one way or another and hence, the division would not characterize the allegation as abuse or neglect.

Now, the new administrative protocol will have four levels of evaluation. They will have varying degrees of consequences, but the most significant is that only an allegation that is “substantiated” will result in a listing of the parent on the Child Abuse Registry maintained by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). On the flipside, only allegations that are “unfounded” will result in an expungement of the child abuse records, which will occur within three years of the “unfounded” outcome. For the two into room findings on child abuse investigation, the division will retain child-abuse records and may have some increased authority to provide services to the family absent consent; however, the parent will not be listed on the registry.

While it may appear to those who handle these cases that the new system provides opportunities for “settlement”, practitioners should still be wary of “settling” these cases. The reason is that the prior administrative finding, if not contested and/or if not resolved as a fact finding hearing with the finding other than “unfounded”, future child abuse investigations may present a greater difficulty for your client to defend them if the matter had been simply “unfounded”. As with any burgeoning area of the law, new administrative and/or legislative imperatives do still require a full analysis of potential consequences, with disclosure to the parent of the uncertainty of consequences, before a body of law will be established to address the new regulations. Parents should be voire dired about their understanding of the “settlement”, if any is proposed.

Further, defense counsel should be careful in negotiating and place into consent orders the representations upon which the parent is relying in “settling” their case. This ensures that future child abuse investigations will not have the presumptive effect that our law currently provides to substantiated child abuse in a parent’s history.

For more information about child abuse agency regulation changes, please contact us to schedule a consultation.

Happy New Year from NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com!


As we say goodbye to 2012, we here at New Jersey DYFS Defense want to take some time to reflect on where we have been and where we are going.

In April 2010, NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com was launched by our founder, Allison C. Williams, Esq. Ms. Williams created this site to serve as a portal of information for attorneys who represent parents in child welfare matters involving the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). The site became an invaluable resource for the bar, housing periodicals and scholarly articles published by Ms. Williams over the years.

Then in 2011, Ms. Williams began to see a need to expand the reach of our site. Members of the public sought legal advice, information and guidance on how to defend against actions brought by the State, as well as how to handle agency investigations, negotiate case plan and navigate services – either prior to, during or after litigation. As more and more individuals sought guidance, Ms. Williams began to shift her focus from making the site’s invaluable information accessible, to making herself available for consultation and representation.

Now, in 2012, NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com has become an entity unto itself. Ms. Williams posts content about this obscure and complicated area of law including social commentary, legal analysis and practice pointers not designed to serve as legal advice. As a result, NewJerseyDYFSdefense boasted record volume, averaging HUNDREDS of site hits per day. Ms. Williams’ career has blossomed.

In 2012, she became the first African American attorney to gain Fellowship in the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. She was appointed to a New Jersey Supreme Court Committee – the Board on Attorney Certification Matrimonial Committee. Ms. Williams also took the helm as the Chair of the Certified Attorneys Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

These accomplishments, while impressive, have meant the most to Ms. Williams in one key area of her practice — i.e., her ability to marshal these efforts to continue to help families embroiled in litigation against the State of New Jersey. As a thought leader in this area of the law, NewJerseyDYFSdefense.com has been cited by the media in evaluating the defense position in matters before the New Jersey Supreme Court. And, most recently, Ms. Williams was recognized as a thought leader when invited to appear on the Katie Couric show to blog on the topic of parents falsely accused of child abuse.

We envision even greater accomplishments in 2013. It is only through zealous advocacy, vocal and visible debate on child welfare topics, participation in the legislative process where these matters are implicated and service to the profession through aggressive advocacy and caring for clients that we will be able to change the Child Welfare system for the betterment of families in New Jersey and society as a whole.

We hope you will continue to post your comments, visit the site for updates on this area of the law and contact us with any questions, concerns or requests for representation.