New Jersey

Department of Children and Families (DCF)

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Formerly called the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), Division of Child Protection and Permanency (CP&P) is the child protection services agency within the Department of Children and Families (DCF).  The government agency’s website provides CP&P policies and procedures, including an informational flyer.

Government website for parents and children who face investigation or further intervention by CP&P investigation.  Includes parents’ handbook with FAQ and guide on foster care, in English and Spanish.

Developed by the New Jersey Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, this 2003 paper provides best practices for “family support programs”, which include substance abuse programs and other drug-related offerings to prevent child abuse and neglect.  No differentiation is made between substance use and substance abuse.

New Jersey considers resources and partnerships for substance abuse to be “essential”; again, no differentiation is made between substance use and substance abuse.  “Active addiction compromises a parent’s willingness and/or ability to participate in community-based prevention programs.”  Drug use/substance abuse is overwhelmingly considered by agency personnel to be a “quality of life issue” with correlations to domestic abuse and crime; addressing “alcohol and drug addiction” is treated as a “required component of supporting and assisting parents to prevent child abuse and neglect.”


Statutes and Regulations

Unfortunately, direct links to the New Jersey administrative rules cited on this page are not available.  To find a particular rule, please visit LexisNexis, click on “New Jersey Administrative Code,” and use the numbers we provide below.  Title is the first number (usually 10), followed by the colon (:), then Chapter number (usually 129), a hyphen, and the Section number.

Child Abuse and Neglect Investigations

The definitions used by DCF, CP&P, and family court in child protective matters.  This includes the definitions of abuse and neglect, which do not specifically mention drug use.  Abuse includes acts such as the use of and the child hearing “profane, indecent, or obscene language”, participating or allowing someone else to participate in “the performing of an any indecent, immoral, or unlawful act or deed, in the presence of a child, that may tend to debauch or endanger or degrade the mortal of the child”, and so forth.  The most general definition of neglect is a minor “whose physical, mental, or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired,” due to the failure of his or her parent or guardian to exercise a “minimum degree of care” in providing basic necessities and/or adequate supervision.

“Parent or guardian” means any biological parent, adoptive or foster parent, step-parent, “paramour” of a parent (someone the parent is dating, whether they live in the home or not), or anyone who has assumed responsibility, legally or voluntarily, for the child’s care, custody, or control.  It can also mean a teacher or child care worker, and even an unpaid babysitter.

Unlike in many states, New Jersey does not have a list of  specific professionals who are required by law to file a “mandated report” if they know of or suspect  child abuse and/or neglect in the course of their professional work.  Instead, all persons in New Jersey are required to make such reports.  “Any person having reasonable cause to believe” that a child has experienced abuse or “acts of abuse” must immediately report the allegation to CP&P.  If a person has reasonable cause to believe that child abuse has occurred, their failure to report is a criminal “disorderly person” offense punishable by up to $1,000 and six months in jail (with a one-year statute of limitations).

  • N.J. Rev. Stat. § 9:6-8.11 — Actions to ensure safety of child; investigation; report.
  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-2.1 — When an investigation is required.
  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-2.2. — Allegations of abuse or neglect.
  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-2.3 — Time frames for investigation.

A call received by CP&P will be “screened-in” to be investigated if it contains at least one allegation made would constitute child abuse and/or neglect if true.  “Risk of harm due to substance abuse by the parent/caregiver or the child” may be considered either child abuse or child neglect.

Upon receiving such a report, CP&P is to begin investigation by the end of the work day or within 24 hours, unless a delay is requested by a law enforcement official; the report must also be sent to the State Central Registry within 72 hours.  If a child is born drug-exposed, the investigation must commence by the end of the work day.

  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-3.1 — Requirements for an investigation.
  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-3.2 — Safety assessment and risk assessment for local offices.
  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-3.3 — Actions permitted in performing investigations.
  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-6.1 — Emergency placement process.

These rules govern what CP&P is permitted and required do during an investigation, including the requirement to interview the alleged child victim and observe and/or interview any other children in the home.  The investigator must also complete a “safety assessment” and interview all adults in the home, as well as the person who reported the alleged abuse or neglect, and any medical or social services professionals that have had contact with the family.  The investigator can obtain reports from and contact other persons known to the family, called “collateral contacts,” and any potential witnesses.  If there are allegations of physical injuries, the investigator may examine and photograph the alleged child victim with and without clothing, in the presence of a trusted adult (except in “emergency” situations).  Removal of a child from the home is permitted when a child is found to be “unsafe and at imminent risk of harm” during the course of the investigation.

  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-7.3 — Investigation findings.
  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-7.4 — Required findings of substantiated.
  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-7.5 — Factors to be considered in determining a finding of substantiated or established.

Within 60 days of receiving a report, CP&P will make a “finding,” or come to a conclusion about the allegation(s).  If the investigation is still ongoing at that time, the finding can be delayed in 30 day increments.  A finding that is “substantiated by a preponderance of the evidence” means that the evidence shows it is more likely than not that the child has been abused and/or neglected, as well as that consideration of aggravating and mitigating factors supports substantiating the report.  A finding that is “established by a preponderance of the evidence” means that the evidence shows it is more likely than not that the child has been abused and/or neglected, but the allegations of the report cannot be substantiated.  A finding that is “not established” means that the evidence does not reach the standard of “preponderance of the evidence,” but there is some evidence to indicate that the child was harmed or placed at risk of harm.  An “unfounded” finding means that the evidence does not reach the standard of “preponderance of the evidence,” and the available evidence indicates that the child was not harmed or placed at risk of harm.

A finding of “substantiated” or “established” constitutes a determination of child abuse and/or neglect.  A finding of “not established” or “unfounded” means a child has not been abused or neglected.  Factors to be considered in whether substantiated or established can be determined include lack of compliance with an existing service or safety plan, evidence of a pattern of abuse or neglect, several mitigating factors, and so forth.

  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-5.1 — Referral of cases to a prosecutor.

DCF has a legal obligation to refer cases that involve suspected criminal activity on the part of a child’s parent, caregiver or any other person to law enforcement and a prosecutor or district attorney.  However, it is up to the prosecutor whether to pursue criminal charges against the parent or guardian, and DCF policy states that “in many cases no police involvement will be required.”


Administrative Appeals and Records
  • N.J. Rev. Stat. § 9.6:8.11 — Actions to ensure safety of child; investigation; report.
  • N.J. Rev. Stat. §  9.6:8.40a — Expungement of unfounded allegations.
  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-8.1 — Expunction limited to a record that consists of an unfounded report; contents of record to be expunged.
  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-8.2  — Time frames and start date. 
  • N.J. Admin. Code § 10:129-8.3 — When the Department retains rather than expunges a record.

All child abuse and neglect reports are automatically filed in the State Central Registry.  Records concerning reports whose investigation concluded with an “unfounded” finding are expunged (erased) after three years from all department records and the central registry, unless an exception exists.  Records concerning reports that ended with findings of “substantiated,” “established,” or “not established” are not expunged from the department’s records.  When a parent is notified as to the finding of an investigation, they should be notified at the same time of the rules for expunging their records.

Any person may appeal a department service, status action, or “substantiated” determination of child abuse and/or neglect, and may do so with the help of an attorney or authorized representative.  A parent has 20 days to request an administrative hearing after receiving the notification of the department’s action that they wish to challenge.  In mounting an appeal, the person and their attorney or representative must be granted access to their DCF records.  After the administrative hearing, the agency must issue a final decision within 45 days, and that decision can be appealed further to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Supreme Court.


Family Court Proceedings

A child or children may be removed from the home on an emergency basis if determined to be “unsafe and at imminent risk of harm” and there is no way to develop a plan for the child to remain safely in the home.  Removal may occur without a court order when a physician, department representative, or law enforcement official deems that the child’s continued presence in the current residence or in the care or custody of the current guardian “presents an imminent danger to the child’s life, safety or health,” and there is no time to apply for a court order.  If emergency removal occurs, DCF must petition the court for a hearing on sufficiency of the grounds for removal within two days, and must notify the parent(s) or guardian(s) to appear in family court for that hearing.

After an emergency removal, DCF may obtain and legally consent to medical screening and care for the child, and records from such visits can be used in the ensuing investigation.  Following emergency removal, a parent may apply to the court for a hearing to show good cause for why the child should be returned home.  The parent may also do this if they were prevented from being present, represented, or from presenting evidence at the initial removal hearing.  Unless it is shown that returning the child to the parent or guardian’s home presents an “imminent risk to the child’s life, safety or health,” the child must be returned.

In addition to or separately from a removal hearing, CP&P may also file a complaint asking the family court to establish that a child has been abused or neglected.  A parent has the right to legal representation at this type of hearing, which consists of first, a “fact-finding hearing” to determine whether or not the child has been abused or neglected.  The standard of proof at this hearing is “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning that CP&P must only prove it is “more likely than not” that the child has been abused or neglected.  If CP&P proves this case, a second “dispositional hearing” is held subsequently to determine what kind of court order should be issued by the family court.  Many different types of orders can come out of these hearings, including changes to care and custody, or conditional requirements for parents and guardians.

When a child is removed from the home and placed in temporary custody by court order, the parent or guardian and any other adults and the home can be required by the family court to complete a substance abuse assessment if it is deemed necessary.  If the assessment shows “positive evidence of substance abuse,” the court will require the parent and/or other adults to to demonstrate that they are both receiving and complying with a drug treatment program before the child is allowed to return home.

Any final orders issued by the family court may be appealed to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

CP&P is instructed to file a petition to involuntarily terminate parental rights under certain circumstances, including after a family court has determined a child to be abused or neglected.  It must do so when in the “best interests of the child,” and when “the child’s safety, health or development has been or will be” endangered by the parental relationship, or when the parent is “unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child or … provide a safe and stable home.”   CP&P must file the petition to terminate parental rights if the child or children has been in out-of-home placement for 15 out of the previous 22 consecutive months, unless an exception regarding the best interests of the child has been established.  A parent facing termination of parental rights has the right to a trial and representation by a lawyer.

A grandparental or sibling can apply to a family court for an order granting visitation with a minor child.  In doing so, the applicant must prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” (more likely than not) that granting visitation is in the child’s best interests.


 State Marijuana Laws

Relatively unique to New Jersey, distribution (sales) of a controlled substance (including marijuana) to a pregnant woman allows a prosecutor to ask the sentencing court to double the fine and term of imprisonment in the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice.


Medical Marijuana

When originally passed and signed into law by Governor Corzine in early 2010, the act was to become law in July of that year.  However, at the request of Governor Chris Christie, it was amended to delay enactment until October 2010.  Still, as of December 2013, no rules have been promulgated for the program and only three “alternative treatment centers,” or dispensaries, have opened in the state—although patients are allowed to cultivate or have a personal caregiver.  The law was amended by the legislature in 2013 to allow for the sale of cannabis-infused products.

New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act states as its purpose “to protect from arrest, prosecution, property forfeiture, and criminal and other penalties, those patients who use marijuana to alleviate suffering from debilitating medical conditions, as well as their physicians, primary caregivers, and those who are authorized to produce marijuana for medical purposes.”  Though this provision should cover the civil legal system of child protection & family court, no specific provisions are made for pregnant women, parents, or legal guardians of minor children, who are registered medical marijuana patients.  Parents who choose to give their children medical marijuana, however, are specifically protected from arrest and other consequences by § 5(b) and § 6(f).

Government website with more information on the program including registration instructions.

Advocacy group providing information for patients, caregivers, and others.


All New Jersey Laws & Penalties (NORML)


Case Law

N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Services v. A.L., 59 A.3d 576 (N.J. 2013).  The issue in this case was whether DYFS (now CP&P) could legally find abuse or neglect if “an expectant mother uses drugs during pregnancy but there is no evidence of actual harm when the baby is born.”   A.L. tested positive for cocaine when she gave birth to a son, A.D., who had a negative urine test for cocaine but cocaine metabolites in his meconium.  Following the commencement of a child welfare investigation, it was discovered that A.L. tested positive for marijuana during her fifth month of pregnancy.  A.L. denied ever using cocaine or marijuana.  The investigation resulted in a substantiated finding of child neglect, and A.L. was ordered to complete a service plan.  The department filed a complaint in family court for care and supervision of A.D. and brother T.L., and argued that the court find abuse or neglect on the basis of “substantial risk of harm,” despite DYFS being unable to prove actual harm to either child.  The trial court found for DYFS, agreeing that A.L.’s drug use during her pregnancy was “sufficient to establish abuse or neglect,” on the basis of the positive meconium test.  On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed the finding of abuse and neglect.  However, the case was challenged again in the New Jersey Supreme Court, which overturned this finding because CP&P “failed to show actual harm or demonstrate imminent danger or a substantial risk of harm to the newborn child.”  Additionally, the child abuse and neglect laws apply only to children who have been born, not to fetuses.


Last updated: December 29, 2013 at 22:17 pm

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