Essex County NJ prosecutors have upgraded serious criminal charges against a mother and her boyfriend stemming from the death of the female suspect’s seven-year-old child.
According to law enforcement officials, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office first charged both suspects with endangering the welfare of a child. However, those criminal charges were later upgraded to aggravated manslaughter when the injured boy tragically died. On October 2, 2016, Newark NJ police officers were dispatched to the couple’s residence in Newark NJ and found the seven-year-old boy unresponsive and suffering from traumatic injuries. An Essex County medical examiner later determined that the boy’s injuries were caused by multiple blunt force traumas.
It was also revealed later on that the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCP&P”), formerly known as “DYFS,” previously determined that the young child was a victim of abuse or neglect and that the male suspect had committed the child abuse. DCP&P investigators specifically “established” an allegation of child abuse.
In accordance with the child abuse and neglect laws in New Jersey, there are four possible outcomes of a DCP&P investigation into allegations of child abuse and neglect:
- Not established
The threshold question asked by DCP&P investigators is always whether the alleged victim has been abused or neglected, as defined by Title 9 (N.J.S.A. 9:8.21, et. seq.). If DCP&P investigators find that the child has been abused or neglected, the Division applies an analytical framework of aggravating and mitigating factors to decide if the allegation is “substantiated” or “established.” When the factual scenario does not meet the statutory definition of child abuse or neglect under Title 9, the Division will “not establish” the allegation and will likely find that the allegation is “unfounded.”
The tragic child abuse case in Newark highlights the very fine line that exists between preserving a family unit and subjecting a victimized child to the pain of being removed from his or her family. When NJ DCP&P investigates an allegation of child abuse or neglect, there are two important issues that need to be addressed: (1) 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 and (2) whether it would be contrary to the child’s best interests to stay in the residence. This means that there is an important distinction between determining if a child has been abused or neglected and assessing if the child should actually be taken away from his family in the present. Many times, an instance of past abuse is considered relevant to a determination of whether the child is in immediate danger of physical harm. However, DCP&P investigators still recognize the importance of maintaining the family unit and will not automatically conclude that past abuse of a child means that the child should be removed from the family home.