Child Abuse and Neglect
This site is designed to provide you with some general information and to answer some frequently asked questions about child abuse and child neglect. This site may not contain all of the questions you may have regarding child abuse and child neglect. See also Child Placement Review Board.
- What is a child abuse or neglect case?
- How is a case filed with the court system?
- How is a case scheduled for court?
- Do parties have lawyers to represent them?
- How do I apply for a lawyer?
- If the court decides that there has been abuse, what happens next?
- What are the long term goals in these situations?
- Who can I call if I have any questions regarding matters of this nature?
These are cases in which the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) has determined that a child has been abused or neglected as defined by law and believes that it is necessary to seek a court order to place the child under its care.
The definition of an "abused or neglected" child is broad but includes: inflicting physical, emotional or sexual abuse or allowing the same to be inflicted or failing to provide a minimum degree of care or otherwise placing the child in substantial risk of harm.
DYFS initiates the case by filing a Verified Complaint, an Order to Show Cause and an Affidavit with the court against the parents or guardians of the child. DYFS seeks the execution of a court order, with notice to the parents or guardians, which temporarily places the child in the care, custody and control of DYFS until a hearing can be scheduled with a return date.
These documents must be signed by the Deputy Attorney General before they are submitted to the judge. Sometimes this involves the immediate removal of the child from the home. In other instances, the child may already be placed outside of the home or DYFS may not be seeking to remove the child from the home. Many times DYFS is involved with the family for a substantial period of time without the need of court intervention.
On the return date of the order, the parents or guardians are directed to show cause why the relief DYFS seeks should not be granted. The court generally conducts a preliminary hearing to determine whether the child's interest requires protection. If the court determines that the child's best interest requires a preliminary order of protection, the court shall specify the terms of the order and will then schedule a "fact finding" hearing within four months if the child is in an out-of-home placement, and six months if it is a supervision case. The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether "abuse or neglect", with respect to the child, has taken place.
DYFS is represented by the Deputy Attorney General's Office and the child is represented by a law guardian (a special attorney from the Office of the Public Advocate).
The parents or guardians are entitled to legal representation. If they are indigent, they may be represented by an attorney from the Office of the Public Defender.
Separate representation of each parent or guardian may be provided for as well. Application for representation by the Public Defender is made available at the front desk of the Superior Court, Family Division, 595 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, 2nd Floor, Room 201F. A staff member will be available to help.
If the court makes a finding of abuse or neglect, the next hearing that takes place is the "dispositional hearing." It is usually held immediately after the "fact finding" hearing is completed. The purpose of the dispositional hearing is to determine where the child will be placed and what treatment or services should be given to the family.
There are many choices for the court at this point. Some include releasing the child to the parents or guardians with specified conditions, placing the child with relatives or under the care of DYFS, mandating specific therapeutic services, placing defendants on probation, suspension of judgment or any combination of these.
It should be remembered that the goal in these cases is the return of the child to the parents or guardians through the rehabilitation of the parents by counseling, treatment and/or parenting skills training and the protection of the child until an acceptable level of parenting is possible. Under certain conditions, the court can look for alternatives to foster care through the placement of the child with family members or friends.
You may contact the Children In Court Unit at (201) 795-6786 Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The staff is located at:
595 Newark Avenue
2nd Floor, Room 201F
Jersey City, New Jersey 07306