New Jersey law empowers DCPP to conduct investigations of allegations of child abuse or neglect. When parents or guardians do not cooperate, the law allows DCPP to obtain an “Order to Show Cause for Investigation” from a Judge of the Superior Court, Family Part. (See N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12). In recent years, DCPP has been using this process to obtain significant restraints on parental rights. We have seen it in our representation of privately retained clients at Howes & Howes, and the Office of the Public Defender recently reported the problem to the Appellate Division. (See Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. L.C., Docket No. A-4380-09.)
DCPP’s practice in recent years has been to seek some of the following results through the “Order to Show Cause for Investigation”:
(1) Supervised visitation;
(2) Change in custody from one parent to another:
(3) Suspended visitation;
(4) Psychological evaluation;
(5) Psychiatric evaluation;
(6) Drug or alcohol evaluation.
The problem with this practice is that an “Order to Show Cause for Investigation” does not require DCPP either to prove or to substantiate child abuse or neglect. Further, the above list are not typically investigative tools. Investigative tools tend to be records requests, parent interviews or child interviews.
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division has voiced its discomfort with the practice of placing parental restraints in orders involving investigation. Additionally, DCPP, through its attorney “acknowledged that the order should not have contained provisions restraining [the parent’s] contact with her children or ordering evaluations or therapy.” (See Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. L.C., supra) Now that DYFS has committed to this position in the Appellate Division, one would hope that they would change their own practices.