Jersey City, New Jersey – Some of the most common charges in the New Jersey courts relate to child neglect, child abuse and child endangerment. Partially this is because there are so many ways these issues can make it into the courts, partially because there are so many people and agencies responsible for noticing, reporting and litigating these issues, and partially because these terms cover such broad conduct and behaviors. No matter how a child neglect, abuse or endangerment case finds its ways into the court system, there is an immediate impact on the people involved and a long-term impact on the people involved.
While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same legally. Succinctly, neglect involves the failure to do something necessary for a child’s well-being. Common examples are failing to provide enough food or failing to provide a safe and secure home environment. Abuse typically, though not always, involves an affirmative act or multiple acts, such as striking a child. Child endangerment could include neglect, abuse or abandonment, ranging from speeding with a un-seatbelted child in the car to purposefully harming the child. Besides the every day people in a child’s life who may notice something is wrong, teachers, doctors, nurses, police, school administrators and others have affirmative duties to report concerns about a child’s well-being. Depending on the details of an allegation, investigations may be conducted by school officials, Department of Children Permanency and Placement (“DCPP”)(formerly DYFS), police or other agencies. While many cases may never reach a courtroom, those that do may be heard in a municipal court, family court or criminal court.
Recently, I represented a man who was accused by his 10 year old step-daughter, who he had raised since age 1, of touching her inappropriately. The report was made to a hospital, who notified police, who notified DCPP, who investigated and notified the county prosecutor. As a result, DCPP initiated an action to intervene in the lives of the 10 year old girl and the man’s younger daughter who was his biological child. A criminal investigation was also opened. The DCPP, represented by the Attorney General’s office, presented a medical doctor, a licensed clinical social worker, and an investigator from the DCPP. Through cross examination of each witness that demonstrated the bias built into the system against accused parents, and by calling the girl’s mother as a hostile witness, I was able to demonstrate the allegation was more than likely fabricated. The hearing took two full days, so it cannot all be detailed. An example of the weakness in the allegations was that the girl created three videos on TikTok, one using curse words, one about self harm and one about sexual touching. No one in any of the interviews with the girl asked about or investigated the two non-sexual videos. Why? They had nothing to do with sexual abuse, but certainly reveal deeper and wider concerns. Another example was through cross examination, I was able to get the doctor and the social worker to contradict each other, as one said a ten year old knows the difference between penetration and surface touching and the other said a ten year old would not know the difference. Common sense can be a tool in court.
At the end, the allegations were found unproven and my client is able to be a parent to his daughter and the criminal charges, which have not yet been filed, likely never will be.