What is the Child Abuse Registry?
If DCPP has removed your child, DCPP has the burden of proving allegations of abuse or neglect against you. Any parent accused of abuse or neglect has the right to a fact-finding hearing. In my earlier posts, I discussed the decision that parents need to make - whether to stipulate (admit) to the allegations of abuse or neglect, or to whether to proceed to a fact-finding trial. Again, no parent should make that decision without the advice of a lawyer. There are serious consequences that you will face if the court determines that you have abused or neglected your child. Specifically, your name will be placed on the DCPP Child Abuse Registry, which is a list of confirmed perpetrators of child abuse or neglect. In this post I will discuss the Central Registry and the consequences of being on it.
How does your name get on the Child Abuse Registry, and can it be removed?
If you stipulate to an act or omission of abuse or neglect, or the judge makes a finding of fact against you, DCPP will place your name on its child abuse registry. If you have stipulated to an act or omission of abuse or neglect, your name will remain on the registry forever, and you give up any ability to challenge the inclusion of your name on it. You cannot appeal the Judge's finding of fact in court, and you cannot challenge DCPP's internal finding of abuse or neglect in an administrative law court.
If the Judge has entered a finding of fact after trial, you do retain the right to challenge the administrative finding and appeal the Judge's decision. As I discussed in my post on appeals, a successful appeal can lead to removal of your name from the registry only for the allegation that triggered that particular case. That means if you have had a prior substantiation, your name will remain on the registry for the prior acts even if your appeal is successful. However if the earlier substantiation was many years ago or less serious, an appeal may still be worthwhile even in that circumstance.
Consequences of being on the Child Abuse Registry
Judges are required to notify defendants that:
"Placement of your name on the child abuse registry can negatively affect your opportunities for employment with organizations that provide services to children. Certain individuals or entities must conduct background checks or employment-related screening of an individual who seeks employment. Examples include employment in a day care center, a residential facility, or certain other such settings. Being on the registry may also limit your ability to be a foster parent or even a caregiver to your own grandchildren in the future. Doctors, courts, child welfare agencies and any person or entity mandated by law to consider child abuse or neglect information will be entitled to the information in the child abuse registry."
Can anyone access the information in the Registry?
Because of these serious consequences, it is important to discuss the Child Abuse Registry with a lawyer before considering a stipulation or going to trial. These consequences sound dire because they are. You do not want your name to be on the registry, but you also need to know the information in it is not accessible to the general public. However, the following categories of individuals are subject to Child Abuse Record Information (CARI) checks:
• Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer (N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-92).
Again, I don't want to diminish the consequences of having your name placed on the registry, but at the same time, being on it can only affect your life in certain ways. You won't be able to adopt, be a foster parent, and you may not be able to get employment in a job involving contact with children. You may lose the ability to care for your own grandchildren in the future. However, the general public cannot access the information on the registry. A substantiation for child abuse or neglect is not a criminal conviction. The information can be checked only if you are in one of the categories specified above, according to the sections of law that are cited above.
Most importantly, do not assume that you cannot get your child back if you have been substantiated by the court at trial, or admitted to an act or omission, of abuse or neglect. You will not automatically lose your parental rights just became your name is on the registry. DCPP cannot terminate your parental rights if you do not consent, and if the court approves TPR as a plan, you have the right to a trial if you do not want to surrender your rights. As I explained earlier, DCPP has to work with you and offer you services to attempt to reunify your child with you.