Prosecutors in Essex County recently made the decision to upgrade criminal charges against a mother and her boyfriend related to the death of the female suspect’s seven-year-old kid.
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office initially filed criminal charges against the adult suspects for child endangerment. However, the criminal charges were eventually upgraded to aggravated manslaughter when the child tragically died as a result of his injuries. The incident unfolded on October 2, 2016, with Newark cops being dispatched to the couple’s home in Newark, New Jersey. Newark police officers found the seven-year-old boy at the residence, where he was unresponsive after having sustained traumatic injuries. An Essex County NJ medical examiner later determined that the boy’s death was directly caused by multiple blunt force traumas.
Authorities also revealed that the NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCP&P”), formerly known as “DYFS,” had previously made a determination that the child was a victim of child abuse or neglect and that the male suspect was the person who committed the abuse. DCP&P investigators specifically “established” an allegation of child abuse, but they did not remove the child from the home.
As set forth by child abuse and neglect laws in New Jersey, there are four potential outcomes of a DCP&P investigation into allegations of child abuse and neglect: substantiated, established, not established, and unfounded. The threshold question that DCP&P investigators ask in these cases is whether the alleged victim was abused or neglected, as defined by Title 9 (N.J.S.A. 9:8.21, et. seq.). If investigators find that the child was a victim of abuse or neglect, the Division goes further and applies an analytical framework of aggravating and mitigating factors to decide if the allegation has been “substantiated” or “established.” When the factual scenario fails to meet the statutory definition of child abuse or neglect under Title 9, the Division will “not establish” the allegation and will probably find the allegation to be “unfounded.”
The recent Newark child abuse and manslaughter case highlights the fine line that exists between preserving the family unit and subjecting a child to the pain of being taken away from his or her family. When DCP&P conducts an investigation into an allegation of child abuse or child neglect, investigators typically address two important issues:
- Whether the child has been abused or neglected to such an extent that the child’s safety, health, and well-being are being placed in immediate danger.
- Whether it would be contrary to the child’s best interests to remain in the home.
There is an extremely important distinction between determining that a child has been abused or neglected and determining whether the child ought to be removed from his family. Of course, an instance of past abuse is usually considered highly relevant when determining whether the child is in immediate danger of being physically harmed. However, DCP&P investigators still take care to recognize the importance of maintaining the family unit, which is why they will not automatically conclude that a past instance of child abuse should lead to removal of the child from the home.