Massachusetts DSS (DCF) Law
Massachusetts DSS (DCF) Cases - Care & Protection, Abuse & Neglect, 51A Reports, Fair Hearings
Every day, it seems, more and more school administrators and guidance counselors, pediatricians and emergency room nurses and doctors, social workers and therapists and police officers—“mandated reporters”— are filing abuse and neglect reports (51As) against loving and caring parents all across the Commonwealth. They file these 51As often with little more than a “concern” that a child is being neglected or abused and frequently based solely on a statement made by the child. Sometimes, these mandated reporters prompt such statements by questioning the child. This trend is in addition to the more routine 51As filed by “non-mandated” reporters such as vindictive neighbors, ex-spouses in divorce and child support cases and “anonymous sources” who claim they saw a child being abused or neglected.
The sad reality is that today no parent or childcare professional is immune to a charge of abuse or neglect pursuant to a 51A or to an investigation by DCF, unquestionably one of the most powerful and dangerous state agencies since it has the legal authority to remove a child from his or her home before the parents are allowed to fight such a removal in court.
If you are currently being investigated by the Department of Children and Families (formerly known as the Department of Social Services), or if your child or children have already been removed from the home or may be removed soon, you really should consult with an attorney immediately. And not just any attorney, but one who specializes in DCF law as well as criminal law, because many DCF interventions can result in criminal prosecutions as well. You need an attorney who understands DCF, the Juvenile Court and the criminal justice system inside and out and who can protect your constitutional and statutory rights as well as your greatest asset, your children, from the trauma of being placed in foster care.
For over the past 14 years, I have specialized in representing parents, minor children, guardians, foster parents, teachers and day care providers throughout Massachusetts in all types of DCF-related cases:
- 51A reports and 51B investigations;
- Fair Hearings;
- Foster Care Reviews;
- CHINS petitions;
- Guardianship petitions in Juvenile and Probate Courts;
- Care and Protection Petitions; and
- Termination of Parental Rights cases
I have handled cases involving all types of issues--from substance abuse, severe neglect, shaken baby syndrome, Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, cases involving kids with special needs and on Individual Education Plans (IEPs), children with autism, severe anxiety and emotional disturbance as well as mental retardation, homelessness, unsanitary housing conditions, incarceration, physical abuse, sexual abuse, DCF cases involving serious criminal charges against a parent, domestic violence and every other situation that leads to an emergency removal of a child. You name it, I have seen it.
With my experience, I can confidently say that the sooner you have an attorney representing you in any DCF matter, the sooner it will be that DCF is out of your life, the sooner you feel more in control of the situation, and also the sooner you reverse the damage caused by a 51A or a petition for Care and Protection. With the proper guidance and advice, you can avoid the tragedy of a social worker knocking on your door with a police officer to take your child away. But you need to know that in these situations, time is always of the essence.
Of course, some cases are less serious than others where removal of your child is not likely. Still, every 51A against you should be taken seriously. Why? Once you have a supported 51A, you now have a “DCF record” that will likely show up during a routine background check. And if another 51A is filed, I can pretty much guarantee you that you will be treated differently (more harshly) the next time by DCF.
The truth is, some professionals can’t afford to have a supported 51A on their record. This includes teachers, foster parents, day care providers, corporate leaders, high-paid professionals, coaches, clergy etc. Depending on what you do, your very job could be at stake. And many parents who are leaders in their community cannot afford to have their good reputations tarnished because of a baseless or exaggerated allegation of abuse or neglect.
Simply put, neither you nor your children should ever talk with a social worker (or, for that matter, a police officer) without legal representation during a 51B investigation. While the social worker may appear pleasant and give you every indication that the matter is “not a big deal,” he or she is not your friend and is there to gather information against you that may support a 51A, and as the familiar Miranda warnings go, whatever you say or do will be used against you.
And if there are allegations of physical abuse (domestic violence, corporal punishment against a child, such as spanking etc.), you should absolutely not talk to a social worker or a police officer without a lawyer because you will likely incriminate yourself and face criminal charges in addition to charges of abuse and/or neglect.
Over more than a dozen years handling these cases, I have too often seen decent, law-abiding citizens witness first-hand the dark side of our government, wrongly finding themselves victims in a seemingly never-ending Kafka-esque nightmare. With one phone call, their world is turned upside down. Suddenly, they can’t sleep at night because they are beside themselves with fear that their children will be removed from their home and are terrified about the meeting they are supposed to have with the DCF social worker. I know how stressed these parents are because I get their telephone calls late at night.
These cases require very skilled handling and are very different from just about any other type of case out there. The worst thing you can do is ignore or refuse to cooperate with DCF. But you need someone who knows to what degree you need to cooperate with the Department and how to handle the social workers. And then you need an attorney who can either prevent a 51A from being supported or get it reversed as soon as possible, and of course, keep your children where they belong: at home.
If any of the above applies to you feel free to call me for an initial consultation.