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Department of Children Christine and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer. (Photo: Department of Children and Families).

Comptroller criticizes Department of Children and Families in new report

DCF failed to assign caseworkers to many child abuse cases, report alleges

By Joey Fox, February 08 2023 4:59 pm

The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) changed its policies and stopped assigning caseworkers to certain child abuse cases without alerting or consulting law enforcement, a new report released this morning by the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) alleges.

According to the OSC’s report, in early 2020, the DCF started limiting the cases that its Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) would take, in apparent contradiction with the department’s published policies dictating that the DCPP is required to investigate any case in which a child may be endangered.

In most cases where a child was being abused by a non-caregiver, “no caseworker would be assigned to follow up, investigate or coordinate care,” the report says. “Likewise, most cases involving inappropriate sexual activity between children (including sexual assault) would not receive services from DCPP.”

“These findings are troubling,” acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh said in a statement accompanying the report. “DCF made a significant change in its approach, then kept police, prosecutors, and other partners in the dark. The ramifications of DCF’s decisions were serious for children and the system as a whole.”

The OSC said its investigation began in February 2022 after a tipoff from law enforcement. The DCF reportedly told investigators that it had made no changes to its policies and that many of the cases in question were outside the department’s jurisdiction, but the report says that those claims were found to be “unsupportable.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Phil Murphy – who presides over the DCF and nominated its commissioner, Christine Norbut Beyer, at the beginning of his first term – said in a statement that the governor is looking into the report’s findings.

“The governor is reviewing the report and understands the critical importance of this issue and the need to provide compassionate, comprehensive support to New Jersey children,” said Christi Peace, the governor’s deputy press secretary. “Much progress has been made in reforming our state’s child welfare system, as recognized by the plaintiffs, judge and monitor involved in the recent Charlie and Nadine H. settlement. The administration will continue our work to make New Jersey’s response to allegations of abuse as effective and thorough as possible.”

A spokesperson for the DCF, meanwhile, said that the department has taken steps over the past year to determine how best to handle complex child abuse cases, steps which were not covered by the OSC’s report.

“Recognizing the complex nature of non-caregiver sexual abuse situations and the need to clearly define the responsibilities of each stakeholder involved in responding to these cases – including DCF, law enforcement, and service and support providers – the Department of Children and Families has taken and continues to take proactive steps to ensure that no child falls through the cracks,” DCF spokesperson Jason Butkowski said. “Those steps include the creation, in February 2022, of a statewide workgroup to analyze the needs of those families affected by these abuse cases, which led to the recent announcement of a Child Treatment Assistance fund to ensure children and their families can access the supports they need.”

This story was updated at 6:26 p.m. with a statement from the DCF.

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