Massachusetts DCF (DSS) Law
A 51A Report is in response to a state law that requires professionals who have contact with children (such as doctors, nurses, school teachers, guidance counselors, police officers, or child care workers) to inform DSS (DCF) if they suspect that a child is being abused or neglected. These mandated reporters must report suspected child abuse or neglect, or they can be fined. They are not supposed to make credibility decisions, so if a child, for example, reports to a school official that her father hit her the night before, that individual is required to report the allegation to DCF. The law also allows other individuals, such as a relative, friend, or neighbor, to file a 51A report if they suspect a child has been abused or neglected. These people are called "non-mandated" reporters. A 51A report is made on behalf of a children, it is not made against a parent or a family. For more information about 51A reports and the definitions of key DCF terms, make sure you see Attorney Ianiri's blog, "Let's Define Some Key Terms."
If someone files a 51A report, DSS (DCF) is mandated to investigate. However, under the relatively new "Integrated Casework Practice Model," DCF may either conduct a formal investigation (in which case it either 'supports' or 'unsupports' the 51A) or performs an "initial assessment" or IA, which will result in either a 'concern' or 'no concern' finding. DCF must complete either an investigation or an IA in 15 business days. While an investigation is generally more serious than an IA, both can have serious consequences to a family and can lead to a 45-day assessment and possibly ongoing services by DCF for well into the future. Moreover, such initial encounters with DCF may result in criminal charges and possibly emergency removal of your child or children and the filing of a petition for Care and Protection. Therefore, 51As should not be taken lightly.
It is absolutely critical that you contact an experienced attorney as soon as you learn that you are under investigation or that DCF is conducting an Initial Assessment. Time is always of the essence, given the short time frame. Contact Attorney Ianiri immediately to better understand what is at stake and whether it makes sense for you to have legal representation before you meet with an investigator from DCF. And make so mistake, you absolutely have a right to have an attorney present. And having experienced counsel at your side does not, as parents often think, make the parent look "more guilty." Instead, it makes the parent look smart, assertive and unwilling to be taken advantage of by DCF.