Appealing MA DCF: What to do When Not Content with Your Social Worker?
When the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (MA DCF) treats children unfairly, appealing MA DCF actions and decisions is the best plan of attack. Everyone has United States constitutional rights. That includes parents and their children. A lot of the time, parents feel hopeless, lost and overwhelmed by DCF’s demands. And DCF demands so much because they have to make sure children are totally safe. Unfortunately though, parents and their social workers sometimes just have irreconcilable differences. They just cannot get along no matter how hard they try. But when a social worker oversteps or does something that crosses the line, there are a number of things you can do to stop this treatment.
What Can You Do When You Don’t Like Your Social Worker?
When you think you’ve been wronged, it’s your responsibility to change the equation. Sometimes, parents forget that DCF has a job to do; they have to make sure the children are safe. And quite frankly, it’s not the most pleasant job to be constantly dealing with families. However just because the social worker’s job is unpleasant, it does not mean they can treat parents or their children unfairly.
There are some spectacular social workers who will bend over backwards. Some parents aren’t the best. If they have substance abuse issues, the parent may not wrap their head around being involved with DCF.
These cases are a 2 way street. Kindness isn’t necessarily reciprocated. Parents have been extremely nice to social workers and still received rude treatment.
When social workers treat lawyers with disrespect, it makes one think. How are they treating the clients when the lawyer isn’t around?
When the social worker isn’t nice to a parent or caretaker, it may also extend to service providers. Social workers can put their stink on services. This can have a dreadful effect on services given to the family. This exists as a snowball effect.
What if Your Social Worker is a Jerk?
If you’ve got a social worker and you know what they are, navigate around them. You can speak to their DCF Supervisor about the social worker’s behavior. Also, keep in mind that when everything is in writing, the facts speak for themselves. But try to work it out calmly with your social worker first. Try to fix the issues between you two by being open, honest, and genuine. But if you feel like the conversation is not going anywhere, then you can take further steps.
Focus on clarity. If you request a new caseworker, you may get one that’s even worse. Ask for a sit down meeting between the employee on your case and their supervisor. The source of your problems could be miscommunication.
Perception is not always reality. We all have bad days. Your social worker is just a human being, after all. We all make mistakes.
Social workers have to deal with many different clients. They have to engage daily with issues such as child abuse, child sexual abuse, child emotional abuse, and domestic violence. They often engage with people of mental health issues, and who have had to endure abuse or neglect, leading to a difficult process. Social workers are paid to lookout for abused children and other types of child abuse. Making a social worker’s job easier, simple, and user friendly is the best way to go.
When you have a gripe, ensure the problem’s legitimacy. Take a step back and think. Give your social worker the benefit of the doubt. Again, put everything in writing.
Case Example: Client
One client believed her social worker was picking on her. It was entirely a misperception. She didn’t understand the action plan. She believed her social worker to be a bully for making her follow through with the plan.
Most cases require this plan to ensure you’re a fit parent. When I explained to this parent that this was a regular course of action, she actually smiled. She informed me she was glad she spoke with me. Perception is not always reality.
In another case, the social worker had a death in the family. The social worker’s mind being occupied led to unideal treatment of the client, who took it the wrong way. The social worker apologized to the parent and vice versa.
The situation went back to normal. Again, perception is not reality. DCF workers can overstep their bounds. It’s difficult to know the extent of what’s happening in a social worker’s personal life.
Case Example: Social Worker
I had a social worker show up for an assessment quite tardily. She explained that she had a flat tire, and waited for AAA to come: an unfortunate event. I went from irritated to sympathetic and thanked her for coming after business hours.
She wanted to honor her word and visit the family. She proved herself an outstanding social worker. Despite facing adversity and being stranded in the middle of the highway. The client understood and eventually became shifted to an empathetic mindset.
Life as a social worker is difficult. Be patient: give it 24 hours to see if they had a bad day or are dealing with personal matters.
It’s wise to give social workers the benefit of the doubt. Allow the social worker to see and enjoy your children. The social worker will likely conclude that you and your family are decent, responsible people.
Appealing MA DCF Social Workers: Should You Change Your Social Worker?
Some parents and caregivers feel they were wrongfully accused. They feel unfairly targeted and harassed by their social worker in their Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (MA DCF) investigation. They may want to appeal MA DCF for a new social worker. But this may not be the best idea. When clients ask me if they can exchange their social worker, I tell them, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know”. Switching a social worker does not guarantee a better situation. Your best option is to keep the current social worker.
The absolute sharpest way to deal with a burdensome social worker is to ‘kill them with kindness’. It is crucial to remember that your relationship with your social worker is a professional relationship. No matter how much they attempt to persuade you of their friendship, they remain a professional. This remains if they are impolite and uncooperative: they are not your enemy.
Why Should You Be Civil With Your Social Worker?
As much as it may pain you, your best hope is to establish a code of civility with your worker. DCF may hold it against you if you cannot get along with your worker. They can convolute it to show on the official reporting that you are not cooperating. It is in your best interest to get along with your worker, even if you believe they are not working towards your prosperity.
Consider this idea: making a meaningful effort to talk to your worker is taking the first step in the right direction of regaining control over your investigation. Think about any misunderstandings. Be sure to speak nicely and remain in control of the situation. If you feel the hostility escalating, do everything in your power to maintain a level head.
Muhammad Ali said float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. In front of your social worker, practice floating. Save the stinging for where you can really hurt them by disproving their claims with your attorney.
Another reason to treat your social worker with kindness is because they are your lifeline to the DCF office for your Fair Hearing. Having them vouch for you is immensely valuable, especially if your allegations are supported and the case reaches Probate and Family Court. For example, if you have a custody case down the line, your social working is one more resource you can reach out to.
How Should You Handle a Difficult Social Worker?
If there is a real problem with your worker, consult with your attorney to file a formal complaint, and be sure you are as specific as you can be about your issue with your social worker. Do not just say that you dislike your worker. Tell the supervisor specific wrongs that the worker has committed.
Most importantly, explain that you want to cooperate with DCF but need help with the problems you are having with your worker. You must only use this in dire circumstances.
Appealing MA DCF Supported Allegations: What Should You Do When DCF Supported the Allegations?
When you are interested in appealing MA DCF’s supported decisions, you can request for a “fair hearing.” This is an administrative hearing presided over by a Fair Hearing Officer (FHO), where DCF and your attorney/counsel have the opportunity to present their cases. A hearing officer will listen to DCF’s side of the story and your side of the story. They will also hear the testimony of any collaterals. The FHO will then make their own decision about whether or not the allegations should have been supported for child abuse or child neglect. The FHO will also decide if DCF violated any of their own rules and regulations. This is the most important step of DCF involvement, so you must make sure you have the right information to maximize your chances of reversing the false allegations against you without losing your children.
Why Do Parents Request a Fair Hearing?
Some of the reasons parents choose a Fair Hearing when appealing MA DCF decisions are:
- DCF wrongfully “supported” a 51 report against you
- The Department wrongfully put your name on the “Registry of Alleged Perpetrators” (a list of people DCF says abused or neglected children
- DCF stopped or reduced your services without giving you any advance notice; or
- Your social worker decided to stop or reduce your services;
- You feel like DCF did not follow its own regulation and this caused a lot of harm.
How Can Parents Request a Fair Hearing?
Write to the DCF Fair Hearing Office, 600 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111, to ask for a Fair Hearing. You have to ask for a Fair Hearing within 30 days after you get the decision that you want to appeal. Be sure to include the following in your letter:
- Your contact information (your name, address and phone number)
- the name of your child
- the name and address of the DCF office
- a copy or description of the decision you want to appeal
- the date of the decision
- If you need an interpreter for the hearing, say so and tell DCF what language you speak
Make two copies of the letter before you mail it to the DCF Fair Hearing Office. Send one copy to the director of the local DCF office that made the decision you are appealing. Keep the other copy of the letter for yourself.
If you lose a fair hearing, you can file an appeal in Superior Court. Try to talk to a lawyer when you think you are ready for a Fair Hearing Or if you want to appeal a Fair Hearing decision in court. Call your local legal services program to see if you can get free legal help. You can also call a lawyer referral service to try to find a private lawyer to help you at a price you can afford.
What if I Don’t Speak English Well Enough to Do a Fair Hearing?
DCF regulations allow you to seek assistance from an interpreter for the hearing. DCF’s notice about your right to a hearing tells you how to get them to appoint an interpreter for you. If you want DCF to give you an interpreter, make sure you explicitly mention that you want to have a translator at the Fair Hearing in your request for the Fair Hearing. You should also make sure you include what language you speak. Be sure to file this with ample time ahead to avoid risking miscommunication without a translator in time for your Fair Hearing.
Appealing MA DCF Actions: What if I Disagree with a Different Kind of DCF Decision?
A DCF Fair Hearing only applies to DCF’s decisions to support the allegations. The complete list of decisions that you can appeal to a Fair Hearing is in the DCF regulations.
You can appeal these DCF decisions that are not on the list through DCF’s “grievance process.” For example, when you as a parent/caregiver feel you were mistreated or explicitly disparaged by a DCF worker or other DCF, you may file a grievance against them and the area office they belong to. .
To start a grievance, file a written complaint at the office that you are complaining about. You can file a grievance to the following DCF offices:
- Area Office;
- Regional Office; or
- Foster Care Review Unit.
Remember that when appealing MA DCF decisions or actions, you must file your written request within 30 days of the date that you had the problem. Also remember to include all of the facts and arguments that you want DCF to consider. DCF should send you a letter describing whether or not they approved your request within 21 days. But, sometimes DCF fails to do this on time. Keep in mind that even if DCF does not follow their own time standards, you still have to. The Department has great powers. Do not give them a single chance to take your children away from you. To prevent DCF from violating your rights, hire an experienced DCF attorney to guide and help you.
Kevin Seaver is a trusted DCF lawyer specialized in Appealing MA DCF since 1991