How Can Understanding DCF Child Neglect Save Happy Families?
What is Child Neglect?
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (MA DCF) says child neglect is the inability to provide a child with adequate food and clothing or care in general. It is important for a child’s wellbeing to report instances of neglect to DCF. However, it is often unclear when that call should be made. So, to clarify the decision to call DCF, we address a list of FAQs about DCF child neglect in MA.
How do I respond when a child who reports child neglect or abuse to me?
Respond by telling the child you believe them and you are going to contact people who can help. Respect the privacy of the child. Because the child will need to tell their story in detail later, don’t press for details. Do not show shock, disapproval of parents, the child, or the situation, and do not blame or make judgments of the parent or child. Believe the child if they report sexual abuse because it is not common for a child to lie about sexual abuse.
What information should I report?
When making a report, a reporter must provide the names and addresses of the child and their parents or caregiver. You must also report the child’s age, gender and extent of injury or neglect. You must also report the approximate date and time the injury or neglect occurs.
Who do I need to contact if I suspect child abuse?
The Department has a single point of contact when reporting child abuse and neglect. The Child Abuse and Neglect Careline operates 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Because of its severity, anyone who suspects child abuse should call the Careline.
How do I report child abuse or child neglect if I suspect it?
You must report orally to DCF Careline or a law enforcement agency within 12 hours of suspecting abuse. You must submit a written report (DCF-136 form) to DCF within 48 hours of making the oral report.
Police must report to DCF immediately after receiving any oral report of abuse or neglect. After receiving a report alleging sexual abuse or serious physical abuse, DCF must report to state and local law enforcement agencies within 12 hours.
Can my report result in a lawsuit?
When anyone making a report of child abuse has reasonable grounds for making the report, they are free from any liability, civil or criminal. Employers can’t retaliate against an employee for making a report, and the Attorney General can bring a court action against any employer who violates this.
Failure to report could often results in fines ranging from $500 to $2,500, and the Department may require the individual to participate in an educational and training program. Anyone who makes a false report of child abuse can receive fines up to $2,000. So, the identity of this person can be given to local and state law enforcement agencies.
What happens after I report?
DCF must immediately evaluate and classify all reports of suspected abuse or neglect. If the report contains information that requires an investigation, DCF must begin an investigation within two hours if it is an emergency. The investigation must be complete and have a finding in 45 calendar days.
What happens in a DCF Child Neglect or Abuse investigation?
When conducting a child abuse or neglect investigation, DCF must limit the number of interviews with any child. In addition, DCF must have consent from the parent or guardian responsible for the child’s care for any interview.
If, after the investigation is complete, serious physical abuse or sexual abuse is substantiated, DCF must notify the local and state police.
Will my report be confidential?
Mandated reporters must give their name when they make a report to DCF. However, reporters may remain anonymous. So, this means that DCF would not disclose their name or identity unless they must by law.
Do I have to notify parents about a report?
You do not need to inform parents that you are making a report to DCF about their child. But, depending on the circumstances, it may be beneficial to do so. It is DCF’s responsibility to notify the head of the school, facility or institution that a report is being made.
Health care professionals may have to talk with parents to determine the cause of the child’s injuries. In addition, Mental health professionals or members of the clergy may talk with parents to offer support and guidance. However, in cases of serious physical or sexual abuse, it may not be wise to talk with parents before reporting the situation to DCF. Talking with the parents before could put the child at greater risk and could interfere with a potential criminal investigation.
To make a child abuse or neglect report, call 1-800-842-2288 (TDD: 1-800-624-5518)
Kevin Seaver is a trusted Massachusetts DCF Lawyer Specialized in DCF since 1991.