The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) works to ensure the safety and well-being of children and families. Their primary task is to investigate allegations of child abuse, and when necessary, placing children in foster care, or with an alternate caregiver. Abuse allegations are typically reported to the DCCP through the Child Abuse Hotline. If the agency determines that there is enough evidence to substantiate the allegations, they will file a motion to have the child removed from his or her home. If, however, the child has already been harmed, or there is evidence that the child is in imminent danger, DCCP can remove the child immediately without a court order.
This action is known as Dodd removal, named after Senator Frank J.Dodd, who penned the original legislation in 1974. Many parents and guardians wonder how such a removal is legal, but it's important to understand that the law is meant to protect children from immediate harm. Prior to this law, countless children were left to suffer horrendous abuse from their caretakers, often resulting in permanent physical and/or emotional harm, including death. On the other hand, most caretakers are not abusers, even if they do treat their children in ways that some members of society may find “questionable”. Raising children is an incredibly difficult process, and no one gets through it without making mistakes, or reacting to their children in ways that they later regret.
There's no statute or magic formula for determining the difference between abuse and bad judgment. The decision is left to the discretion of a family court judge, who will hear from both sides at a scheduled hearing, commonly referred to as a “Dodd hearing”. Many caretakers assume that they have little chance against a state agency, but the courts take parental rights very seriously. It's actually quite rare for a parent or legal guardian to lose custody, although this issue will not be brought up at the Dodd hearing. This is, in essence, a preliminary hearing to determine if the DCCP had proper cause to remove your child. An actual trial date to determine your custodial rights, and whether the actual abuse or neglect occurred, will be scheduled for a later date. You should, however, take the hearing very seriously; as the saying goes, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.
It's highly recommended that you retain legal representation from a qualified family law attorney who can help you understand your rights and legal options. The DCCP is always represented by a Deputy Attorney General, and your child will be represented a Law Guardian, since juveniles are required to have legal representation in the New Jersey Courts system. Thus, it makes sense for you to have a lawyer as well, one who can help prepare you for the Dodd hearing and the ensuing trial. For more information about the Dodd hearing process in New Jersey, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.