MA DCF Domestic Violence Allegations
What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive and controlling behavior. It is a type of abuse that can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial, and/or psychological. Domestic violence also includes making threats. It can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Isolated incidents, such as an occasional disagreement, are not cases for domestic violence. Again, domestic violence is a pattern of behavior.
What are the Warning Signs of a Domestic Abuser?
- They move fast in a relationship
- It seems like they are “too good to be true”
- They keep you from seeing your friends and family
- Extremely jealous or controlling behavior
- They fail to take responsibility for their actions
- They criticize you and frequently put you down
Can Domestic Abusers Ever Change?
Nothing is impossible. However, just because an abusive partner stops one form of abuse (ex. Physical violence) does not mean they will not abuse you emotionally, financially, or sexually.
Remember however, it’s not the victim’s responsibility to change the abuser. The change muse come from within.
Are men victims of domestic violence?
Domestic violence does not discriminate based on age, economic status, race, or gender. Anyone can be a victim. While it may be less common for a man to be a victim of domestic violence, it is possible and does happen.
Can You Tell When Someone is a Victim of Domestic Violence?
There are several warning signs depending on the type of abuse someone is suffering from:
- Frequent bruises, broken bones, and other injuries
- Isolation and making excuses not to go out and see people
- Witnessing controlling or jealous behavior from someone’s partner
How Can You Help a Victim of Domestic Violence?
The most important thing you can do is listen to the victim. Reassure them that this is not their fault. If they are open to it, let them know that there are resources available to help them including therapists and advocacy groups. Do not report the family to DCF, as this may make matters worse.
What Domestic Violence Resources are Available for Victims?
There are many available resources available for victims of domestic abuse. Victims can use nationwide resources such as the Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE ) and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (1-303-839-1852). There are also hotlines and shelters within Massachusetts that can be found on Mass 211.
Why do victims sometimes return to/stay with abusers?
Abusive partners work to keep victims trapped in the relationship, making it seem impossible to leave. Here are a few factors that may prevent someone from walking away from an abusive relationship:
- Their abuser controls the finances
- The abuser isolated the victim from their family and friends
- An abusive partner may “gaslight” a victim, or convince them they are responsible for the abuse and the failed relationship, making someone want to stay and prove otherwise
- Abusers may claim that they are going to change just to keep the victim from leaving
- Fear that the situation will escalate if they leave
How does Massachusetts DCF define neglect?
Neglect is failure by a caregiver to take those actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, or other essential care. It does not matter to DCF if this neglect is deliberate or because of an inability to provide for your children.
Does MA DCF Domestic Violence = MA DCF Child Neglect?
When there are domestic violence allegations against you, DCF can accuse you of child neglect. In 2019, 74.4% of allegations made to DCF were of neglect. That same year, neglect allegations made up 85.9% of cases that were supported. DCF will claim that you are “neglecting” your child by letting them see and hear the abuse. These accusations are very serious and can have tragic effects for your family.
What Happens in a DCF Investigation for Domestic Violence Allegations?
DCF usually starts an investigation after a reporter calls their office. There are three (3) types of reporters: mandated, non-mandated and anonymous reporters. Mandated reporters legally have to report every single suspicion they have that a parent/caretaker is abusing or neglecting a child. Non-mandated reporters are not required to report anything. Anyone can be a non-mandated reporter. A DCF worker will take down all necessary information in a 51A report. Once that report is complete, they will decide whether the matter is worth looking into. Then DCF will either screen-in or screen-out the 51A report. If it is screened-in, they will start an investigation because they believe there is “reasonable cause to believe” the allegations are true.
A DCF investigation involving domestic violence can do more harm than good. A DCF worker can contact anyone involved with your family and ask them questions about your relationship with your partner and your children. They can make you feel like you did not protect your child or that you may have failed as a parent.
What if You’re the Victim?
Even when you are a victim of domestic violence, there is always room for DCF to treat you like the perpetrator. Instead of understanding that you may be the wronged party, they can choose to accuse you or your partner of neglecting your children. This is not right. No one deserves to be treated like a failure for something they did not do. Especially if these domestic violence allegations are false, or you are a victim of domestic violence.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, it is important to get the help you and your children need. It is better to discuss your relationship problems to a therapist than a DCF worker. If DCF is in your life, do not sign any releases from them before speaking to your lawyer. If you sign a release of information for DCF to speak to your therapist, they may have to report what you told them in therapy. While therapy is usually confidential, DCF can retrieve information from your therapist about your relationship and have them testify in court.
Make a plan and obtain legal representation. Do not try to go this alone. Your main priorities should be to keep your children and get DCF out of your life forever. Do not become a DCF statistic by being ill-prepared. It is important to have a DCF attorney that can clarify the process for you and help you keep your head above water.
What is Attorney Seaver’s Experience with MA DCF Domestic Violence Allegations?
I once had a case where a neighbor called the police because of altercation between the mother and father. The father accidentally hit the mother when trying to get her phone–the father had never done this before. Still, DCF made allegations that this was a case of domestic violence. The Department also assumed the children saw the incident, even though they did not have any evidence to prove this.
DCF supported the allegations against the father for neglect after visiting the home just once for the 51B investigation. Luckily, the father was granted a Fair Hearing, where we explained to the Fair Hearing Officer that the investigation was not thorough and led to wrongfully supported allegations. DCF had no choice but to see the facts and unsupport the allegations.
I had another case where DCF was accusing a victim of domestic violence of neglect. This mother had suffered abuse from her husband and was looking to leave him. She went to get a restraining order, and at the hearing for the restraining order, the judge ordered DCF to investigate the father. Instead, DCF supported neglect allegations against both parents for exposing their child to domestic violence. But since the child was never in the room during these altercations, DCF eventually overturned the allegations. However, this was a case that should have never happened. My client had sought help by filing for a divorce and a restraining order, and DCF accused her of neglecting her child. The same child she was protecting by leaving her husband.
Can Parents Fight False MA DCF Domestic Violence Allegations?
If you have a disagreement in front of your children, or even just in your house, DCF can accuse you or your partner of domestic violence. Then DCF may support allegations of child neglect against you. These accusations are very serious and can have tragic effects for your family. False allegations of domestic violence are devastating for families. Despite not committing any crimes, parents and caregivers are faced with criminal penalties and child custody battles. If you are a professional, your license can be suspended.
DCF has specific policies and procedures, but they also make mistakes. DCF handles many cases on a daily basis, which makes it too easy for them to miss details. Sometimes, DCF’s mistakes could have disastrous consequences for your family.
When MA DCF accuses you of neglect because of domestic violence, you must have a plan to keep your kids and get DCF out of your life. DCF can rip a family apart. For example, DCF can insist that you get a restraining order against your partner or else they will take your child. They do this even if the domestic violence allegations are completely false. If DCF does this to you, you should take out the restraining order. Then at the hearing for the restraining order, you can tell the judge you only filed for the restraining order because DCF told you to and you had to do what was in the best interests of your children. Sometimes, the judge may deny the order if you are not filing for the right reasons.
Kevin Seaver is a trusted Massachusetts DCF Lawyer specialized in DCF law since 1991.