Why Does Massachusetts DCF Investigate Allegations of Child Emotional Abuse?

 The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (Massachusetts DCF) investigates child emotional abuse because they consider it to be child neglect.

  • Massachusetts DCF considers anything that puts a child’s emotional stability and growth at risk to be child neglect.
Massachusetts DCF has the affirmative duty to investigate all legitimate allegations of child neglect. The Department’s is to protect children. This includes any threats to children’s emotional health.

What is Child Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse of a child is a form of child neglect, as “any type of abuse that involves the continual emotional mistreatment of a child.”
  • Emotional abuse can be synonymous with causing emotional injury to a child.
Massachusetts DCF’s official definition of “emotional injury” is: “impairment to or disorder of the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by observable and substantial reduction in the child’s ability to function within a normal range of performance and behavior.”  (as stated in 110 CMR 2.00)

Emotional abuse of a child would include doing any of the following to a child:
  • Threatening
  • Scaring (on purpose)
  • Verbally assaulting
  • Isolating 
  • Injuring their self esteem
  • Ignoring
  • Rejecting their thoughts, ideas, and feelings
  • Insulting
  • Gaslighting
  • Manipulating
  • Humiliating 
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When does Massachusetts DCF Respond to Allegations of Child Emotional Abuse?

Massachusetts DCF has the duty to investigate every appropriate report of emotional neglect it may receive. Massachusetts DCF may choose to respond and file a 51A report on an emergency basis or non-emergency basis. This depends on the severity of the allegation.

Who Reports Instances of Child Emotional Abuse to Massachusetts DCF?

Mandated and Private Citizens:
 Mandated by state laws or concerned private citizens
Common Reporters:
  • Teachers and School Staff: Detect behavioral signs in children indicating emotional abuse.
  • Medical Professionals: School nurses, doctors, nurses, and Emergency Medical Technicians.
  • Other Adults in Child’s Life: Coaches, babysitters, camp counselors, and parents with close relationships.
Detection Method:
  • Behavioral Signs: Indicators of emotional abuse observed by reporters.
Reporting Process:
  • Reporters communicate observed signs and concerns to Massachusetts DCF.
  • Instances of emotional abuse are flagged for further investigation.

What is the Prevalence of Child Emotional Abuse Reports in Massachusetts?

In 2017, there were 25,092 victims of child abuse or neglect in Massachusetts, a rate of 18.3 per 1,000 children.

  • Of these children, 93.9% were neglected (about 23,561 children). 

What are the Signs, Indicators, and Effects of Child Emotional Abuse that Massachusetts DCF Looks For? 

Signs of Abuse:

  • Belittling, ridiculing, rejecting, blaming, scapegoating, bullying.
  • Terrorizing, threatening violence, or fearful conditions.
  • Isolating, restricting the child from social interactions, etc.
  • Verbal aggression
  • Corrupting or exploiting
  • Refusing space for an emotional response
  • Deliberately ignoring for an extended amount of time.
  • Controlling behaviors
Behavioral indicators of emotional abuse:

  • Child has severe developmental gaps
  • Child experiences symptoms of depression, anxiety, withdrawal, or aggression
  • Self-harming
  • Child shows symptoms of self-destructive behavior that could include 
  • Suicide attempts
  • Child is abnormally compliant; too well-mannered; overly neat and clean
  • Engaging in drug or alcohol abuse
  • Child exhibits attention-seeking behaviors or extreme inhibition in play
  • Child might show negative behavior and language learned from home

What are the Standards of an Allegation of Child Emotional Abuse by Massachusetts DCF?

Allegations of Child Emotional Abuse refer to allegations of the infliction of emotional injury to a child. The intent of the parent or caregiver is irrelevant in the eyes of Massachusetts DCF. 

  • It is DCF’s responsibility to investigate and uncover any potential instance of child abuse or neglect. If they receive any report of potential child emotional abuse, they will take extreme measures to uncover further abuse or neglect. 
A mandated reporter is required to file an allegation of child emotional abuse when they believe that a child is suffering from emotional abuse.
How Does Massachusetts DCF Prove Historical Emotional Abuse of a Child?
  • Interviews Conducted:
      • Interviews Conducted:
        • Involving various parties: child, parents, caregivers, family, school personnel, and medical specialists. 
        • Focus on physical and behavioral indicators (e.g., bedwetting, depression).
      • Behavioral Source Determination:
        • Massachusetts DCF investigates the source and origin of behavioral issues. 
        • If parental/caregiver actions are identified as the cause, further investigation into past instances or related problems is initiated.
      • Severity Assessment:
        • Removal Consideration:
          • If emotional abuse severity warrants, Massachusetts DCF may consider removing the child from the environment. 
          • Decision depends on the seriousness of the child’s behavior or reported behaviors.
      • Credibility Consideration:
        • Massachusetts DCF’s Approach:
          • Takes all accounts at face value, including implausible versions of events. 
          • Extends their duty to protect based on their perception of the child’s safety.

How Do You Deal with False Child Emotional Abuse Allegations?

In the same way that Massachusetts DCF collects evidence supporting their case to confirm their allegations of child physical abuse, it is up to parents with their attorney to take similar or other related evidence to disprove Massachusetts DCF’s claims.
The best way to show that you are a good parent is to provide Massachusetts DCF with a strong argument that shows your good parenting skills.

  • Gathering information, testimony, as well as evidence of past care showing that this incident is not indicative of further emotional abuse will help build a strong case. 

What are the Consequences of a Supported Allegation of Child Emotional Abuse?

If Massachusetts DCF supports allegations of emotional abuse, this means that the Department has reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected. The actions of a parent or caregiver were found to pose a substantial risk to a child’s emotional well-being.

  • A social worker will consider the level of risk and create an Action Plan that addresses these issues. The Action Plan will require the family or individual to take part in corrective services. 

How Can Emotional Abuse Affect Child Development?

  • Physical health problems, including diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis, headaches, gynecological problems, stroke, hepatitis, and heart disease
  • Research suggests that adults, particularly women, who were victimized as children are at risk of being victimized in later life 
  • Mental health problems
  • Personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, and psychosis
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Eating disorders and obesity
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Aggression, violence, and criminal behavior
  • Homelessness