This article will explain what to do if you believe that a child is being abused or neglected. It will discuss how to report your concerns to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). Reporting child abuse or neglect to DYFS is a serious act. You must have a good reason to believe that a child is being abused or neglected before you make a report. DYFS will investigate the report. If DYFS does not find any cause for concern, it will close the case. However, if DYFS is concerned about a child, it may try to provide services to help the family. If the family does not agree to accept services, DYFS may file a court case and seek a court order requiring the family to accept supervision and/or services from DYFS. If DYFS believes that the child is unsafe at home, it may file a court case seeking to remove the child from his or her home and place the child in a foster home or other out-of-home placement.
What does child abuse or neglect mean?
New Jersey’s law defining child abuse and neglect uses general terms. According to the law, child abuse or neglect means that a parent, guardian, or caretaker has done one of the following things:
- Caused very serious physical or emotional harm to the child or allowed someone else to harm the child;
- Sexually abused the child or allowed someone else to sexually abuse the child;
- Harmed or created a risk of harm to the child by failing to take proper care of him or her;
- Used excessive physical punishment on the child; or
- Abandoned the child.
Who is required to report?
New Jersey law requires that any person having reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect must report it immediately to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS).
Can I be sued for making a report to DYFS?
No, not unless you give information that you know is wrong. You have immunity from any criminal or civil liability if you make a report to DYFS that you believe to be true.
What can happen if I fail to report abuse or neglect of a child?
If you have reasonable cause to believe a child is being abused or neglected and fail to report it to DYFS, you can be charged with a disorderly persons offense. A person convicted of a disorderly persons offense is subject to a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
Do I have to give my name when making a report?
No. You have a right to remain anonymous or to ask that your name be kept confidential by DYFS. However, you may want to consider giving your name when making a referral. If DYFS has your name, DYFS can get back to you to get further information that may help its investigation.
Where should I call to make a report?
Call the local DYFS office in the county where the child you are concerned about resides. Call on weekdays between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
On weekends, holidays, or after hours, call DYFS’ Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-792-8610.
Can I make a referral in writing?
DYFS accepts referrals by telephone, in writing, or in person from all sources. If you want to make a referral in writing, send it to the DYFS office in the county where the child lives.
What information should I provide when making a referral?
- Child’s name, age, and date of birth.
- Child’s address or location.
- Child’s school.
- Parent’s or caretaker’s name and address.
- As specifically as possible, describe your concern regarding abuse or neglect.
- Any information you may have about the extent of the child’s injuries, abuse, or maltreatment.
- Indicate if there are other children in the home.
- Any other information you believe may be helpful about the child abuse.
- The name or identify of the person you believe is responsible for the abuse or neglect and why you believe that person is responsible.
When will DYFS conduct an investigation?
The time frame for DYFS to conduct its investigation depends on several factors. The most important is the risk to the child. DYFS conducts immediate investigations in cases where there is a claim that:
- A child is currently being abused,
- A child has been physically injured by abuse or neglect,
- A child may need medical treatment due to abuse or neglect,
- A child is without adult supervision and cannot care for his or herself,
- A child is in the hospital and the hospital is concerned about the child’s safety, or
- There is a severe crisis needing immediate intervention.
DYFS will begin an investigation within 24 hours if:
- The allegation of abuse was in the past,
- There is no evidence of abuse at this time, and
- It is not likely that there will be more abuse within the 24-hour period following the referral.
In general, investigations of neglect referrals are started within 72 hours. However, neglect investigations will start immediately if the child is at risk of harm.
Investigations of child sexual abuse frequently require additional time to plan and coordinate. These investigations generally occur as soon as possible, within 72 hours. However, they will take place immediately if:
- The child is currently at risk of further abuse,
- There is evidence of trauma, or
- There is a risk that evidence will be lost.
What will DYFS do in response to a referral?
- DYFS will gather as much information as possible from the referral source.
- It will conduct record checks and contact other sources of information.
- If the case is accepted for investigation, DYFS will decide how to categorize the referral and when an investigation must take place. DYFS must then assign the case to a caseworker for investigation.
- The investigation will include in-person interviews of all parties and others who may have knowledge of the situation. The DYFS worker will interview each of the children involved.
- The investigation may include medical evaluations or other assessments requested by DYFS.
- If DYFS concludes that there is a concern requiring DYFS intervention, they may:
- Open a case for supervision and to provide services on a voluntary basis.
- File a court action to ask the court for an order allowing DYFS to supervise the family or to require the family to accept services from DYFS.
- File a court action to ask the court for an order removing the children from their home and putting them in foster care or another placement outside their home.
Will DYFS involve law enforcement in the investigation of these allegations of child abuse?
Yes, if the allegations involve suspected criminal conduct. If DYFS suspects that the case may involve criminal conduct, it may conduct a joint investigation of the case with law enforcement. New Jersey law requires DYFS to report all cases of child abuse and serious neglect to the County Prosecutor for criminal investigation.
This article originally appeared in the April 2003 issue of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.
This information last reviewed 11/2/11