ASSEMBLY, No. 4109

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

214th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED JUNE 13, 2011

 


 

Sponsored by:

Assemblywoman  VALERIE VAINIERI HUTTLE

District 37 (Bergen)

Assemblyman  RUBEN J. RAMOS, JR.

District 33 (Hudson)

Assemblywoman  CLEOPATRA G. TUCKER

District 28 (Essex)

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Establishes three categories for investigative findings of allegations of child abuse or neglect, substantiated, not substantiated, and unfounded.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act concerning child abuse or neglect and supplementing Chapter 6 of Title 9 of the Revised Statutes.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.    For purposes of investigating an allegation of child abuse or neglect, the Division of Youth and Family Services in the Department of Children and Families shall determine if the allegation is "substantiated," "not substantiated," or "unfounded."

     As used in this section:

     "Not substantiated" means the available information obtained during the investigation of an allegation of child abuse or neglect, as evaluated by a child protective investigator, provides some indication of a finding that a child has been harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm by a parent or guardian, but does not indicate the child is an abused or neglected child as defined in section 2 of P.L.1971, c.437 (C.9:6-8.9).

     "Substantiated" means the available information obtained during the investigation of an allegation of child abuse or neglect, as evaluated by a child protective investigator, indicates a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that a child has been harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm by a parent or guardian, and the child is an abused or neglected child as defined in section 2 of P.L.1971, c.437 (C.9:6-8.9).

     "Unfounded" means the available information obtained during the investigation of an allegation of child abuse or neglect, as evaluated by a child protective investigator, indicates a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that a child has not been harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm by a parent or guardian, or the parent or guardian was not involved in harming or placing the child at substantial risk of harm, and the child is not an abused or neglected child as defined in section 2 of P.L.1971, c.437 (C.9:6-8.9).

 

     2.    The Commissioner of Children and Families shall adopt regulations, pursuant to the "Administrative Procedure Act," P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), to carry out the purposes of this act.

 

     3.    This act shall take effect immediately.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     The purpose of the bill is to ensure that any issue relating to the safety and well-being of a child identified as a result of an investigation of an allegation of child abuse or neglect is effectively categorized and addressed, even when the investigation does not indicate a finding of substantiated abuse or neglect.

     The bill, therefore, statutorily defines the categories that child protective investigators shall use for investigative findings of allegations of child abuse or neglect, and creates the new category of "not substantiated."

     As defined in the bill:

        "Not substantiated" means the available information obtained during the investigation of an allegation of child abuse or neglect, as evaluated by a child protective investigator, provides some indication of a finding that the child has been harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm by a parent or guardian, but does not indicate the child is an abused or neglected child;

        "Substantiated" means the available information obtained during the investigation of an allegation of abuse or neglect, as evaluated by a child protective investigator, indicates a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that a child has been harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm by a parent or guardian, and the child is an abused or neglected child; and

        "Unfounded" means the available information obtained during the investigation of an allegation of abuse or neglect, as evaluated by a child protective investigator, indicates a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that the child has not been harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm by a parent or guardian, or the parent or guardian was not involved in harming or placing the child at substantial risk of harm, and the child is not an abused or neglected child.

     In 2004, the Department of Human Services amended its regulations (N.J.A.C.10:129-1.1 et seq.) to change the definitions of the categories of investigative findings used by caseworkers to evaluate an allegation of child abuse or neglect, and determine whether a child has been harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm by a parent or guardian.  The changes eliminated the category of "not substantiated" and created a new definition for the category of "unfounded."

     The changes to the categories of investigative findings were based on several considerations, including: the concern that an increasing number of cases were classified in the "not substantiated" category, and progressively fewer reports were filed where investigating workers were willing to conclude either that child abuse or neglect had occurred or that it definitively had not occurred; the concern that the "not substantiated" category provided a middle ground which alleviated the burden on making a more definitive finding of abuse or neglect; and the belief that the changes made during child welfare reform to the operational and training procedures used in abuse or neglect investigations would improve the State’s ability to protect children and best utilize the Division of Youth and Family Services child protective services staff.

     A study conducted by the Office of the Child Advocate in 2008, however, found that the elimination of the "not substantiated" category, and the creation of a new definition for the "unfounded" category required child protective investigators to evaluate two distinct types of unfounded cases, those in which child abuse or neglect could not be legally proven, but concerns were identified, and those cases that were essentially without merit.

     Consequently, the new, more encompassing category of "unfounded," particularly when concerns were found, limited a child protective investigator's ability to develop a record of troubling behavior patterns that would prompt closer scrutiny of a child's home, and made it more difficult for investigators to persuade a parent or guardian to take specific steps to address concerns about a child's safety uncovered during an investigation of child abuse or neglect.