Parents often contact me and ask if the accused parent is required to be interviewed by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), n/k/a the Division of Child Protection of Permanency (DCPP). Some parents want to exonerate themselves and often feel that a quick chat with the Division may resolve the issue. Other parents fear exchanging any words with the Division, no matter how innocuous the alleged infraction or conciliatory the worker who contacts them. The determination of whether or not a parent should be interviewed is fact sensitive and requires legal advice. This post is not designed to replace that advice.
The Division has an obligation to investigate every referral made alleging potential abuse or neglect or parental unfitness. Their focus is on actual harm and risk of harm. To do that, an interview with the child is typically required. For non-verbal children, the investigator must personally observe the non-verbal child. Once these minimum requirements (and others) are satisfied, the Division must speak with the accused parent.
If the parent refuses to be interviewed and the Division can discern that there is no imminent risk of harm that necessitates the removal of a child, the agency must determine whether or not it will pursue the matter further. In some instances, the Division can determine from the information gathered to date that no abuse or neglect has occurred or is likely to occur based upon the current level of risk to the child. In these instances, the agency may choose to close its investigation with a determination and no further involvement with the family – despite its non-compliance with the Administrative Code requirement that it speak to the accused parent. My experience has been that this is rare.
Conversely, if the parent refuses to be interviewed, the Division may elect to take one of several actions – all of which are undesirable. The Division may determine that the potential risk to the child cannot be determined, absent an interview with the parent. If that is the case, the agency may elect to seek removal of the child until such time as risk can be assessed. The Division may also file an action in Superior Court to compel a parent to cooperate with its investigation. A court will typically compel the parent to be interviewed, absent some compelling reason such as the pendency of a criminal investigation or prosecution.
The determination of when a parent should submit or refuse to submit to an interview with the agency is very fact-specific. The nature of the allegations, parent’s knowledge of the child’s statement(s) if any to the agency, the parent’s relationship with the other parent of the child at issue, and most importantly, the county office investigating and the judge in the county hearing DYFS/DCPP matters.
If a parent is contacted by the agency and an interview is requested, the parent should ask for the opportunity to consult with counsel. In such instances, Allison C. Williams, Esq. can consult with the parent to determine the best course of action, which may include an interview in the presence of counsel or a refusal to be interviewed. A parent should not simply refuse to be interviewed and hope for the best. This rarely works out for the best.