What Is The MA DCF Investigation?
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (MA DCF) will begin an investigation when they believe a child is being abused or neglected. The MA DCF investigation is a process where a social worker interviews and collects evidence to determine whether an allegation of child abuse or neglect is true or not.
The MA DCF investigation is also known as a “51B investigation.” It is named after Massachusetts General Laws chapter 119 section 51B which explains the regulations surrounding MA DCF investigations. There is no such thing as a 51A investigation.
Once a report made by a mandated, non-mandated, or anonymous reporter is screened in, DCF will determine what type of investigation is necessary. The report will only be screened in when the situation matches the Department’s criteria of child abuse or child neglect.
A MA DCF investigation will be investigated by a social worker who is also known as a “51B investigator.”
When does MA DCF Begin an Investigation into a Family?
MA DCF begins their investigation after they “screen in” the report. The Department will investigate a family only when the situation meets the Department’s criteria of child abuse or neglect.
What Happens During a MA DCF Investigation?
During a MA DCF investigation, the investigator is supposed to see and speak with everyone in the reported family. Every MA DCF investigation must include:
- A home visit where the DCF social worker sees and interacts with the reported child;
- A determination of the extent and cause of the child’s injuries;
- An evaluation of the parents;
- An evaluation of the home environment; and
- A determination of whether the abuse or neglect is actually happening
The investigator must also learn the following during a MA DCF investigation.
- The names and identification information of the alleged perpetrators
- The names, ages and conditions of all other children in the same household;
Your social worker is supposed to interview all relevant collaterals to corroborate and disprove the allegations. These include your child’s teachers, pediatricians, school counselors, and anyone else who is familiar with your family. Your investigator may not ask about who else they can contact for their investigation. When that happens, be sure to give them a list of the names and phone numbers for everyone who can vouch for you.
What are the Two Types of MA DCF investigations?
The two (2) types of MA DCF investigations are:
- Emergency Investigations
- Non emergency Investigations
DCF will do an emergency investigation when they have reasonable cause to believe that a child’s safety or health is in immediate danger. The Department will do a non emergency investigation when the child abuse or neglect meets their criteria, but the child’s safety or health is not in immediate danger.
Regardless of the type of investigation, the investigator must interview the child and caretakers involved in the 51A report. They must always determine whether the reported child is safe at their home as well. Also, for every investigation, the DCF investigator is supposed to interview collateral contacts to get as much reliable information as they can. Collaterals would be neighbors, family members, teachers, therapists and doctors.
MA DCF can remove your child at any point during an emergency or non-emergency investigation. DCF will remove a child from their home when they have a reasonable cause to believe the child’s health or safety is in immediate danger. In those cases, DCF takes temporary custody of the child.
Where does the MA DCF Investigation Take Place?
The MA DCF investigation can take place across various locations. MA DCF will first visit the scene where the alleged abuse or neglect took place to speak to the reported child. This visit is usually to the child’s home, but can happen elsewhere if:
- The child is hospitalized
- The injury or incident occurred outside the home
- The child would be placed at greater risk if interviewed in the home
Wherever MA DCF visits, interviews, and interacts with you or your children is where the investigation takes place.
The 51B investigator might want to interview your children at their school. MA DCF claims to do this to avoid parents’ influence on the children’s narratives. But the Department often chooses this course of action to avoid any lawyers or difficulties the parents may raise. You should not let MA DCF go to your child’s school to interview them alone. You have parental rights to protect your child and their educational needs from harassment by MA DCF.
What Happens During MA DCF’s Home Visit?
The MA DCF home visit is an important stage of the MA DCF investigation. When the investigator visits your home, they are supposed to explain the allegations made against you. You can share your own story regarding the reported incident. You should give the investigator the contact information for everyone who knows you well and can help your case.
During the home visit, DCF will observe and interact with all the parents and children in the home. They will ask everyone questions about the reported incident, and also personal questions to ensure all the children are safe in the home. The investigator will also observe the home and make sure there are no potential hazards.
DCF must take cultural differences into consideration during a home visit. They are supposed to bring a translator with them to the home visit when families don’t speak English well.
You can always invite a friend or relative to support you when DCF visits your home.
How Long Does a MA DCF Investigation Take?
The time frames for a MA DCF investigation depend on whether it is an emergency or non emergency investigation.
Emergency investigations must begin within two (2) hours of the initial report. In these investigations, DCF must determine the child’s safety level and make a decision regarding the child’s custody within twenty-four (24) hours. An emergency investigation must be completed within five (5) working days, not including weekends or holidays.
Non emergency investigations must begin within two (2) working days, not including weekends or holidays. DCF must complete a non emergency investigation within fifteen (15) working days, not including weekends or holidays.
What Happens After the Investigation?
After the investigation, MA DCF will decide whether the allegations were true or false. The 51B report will state this decision at the end.
When DCF believes the allegations are true, the decision will be supported. When DCF believes the allegations are false, the decision will be unsupported. Sometimes, MA DCF is unsure of whether or not the allegations are true. In that case, the decision at the end of the 51B investigation report will be labeled “substantiated concern.”
When you do not agree with a supported decision by the Department, you have the right to reverse and overturn that decision through a “Fair Hearing”. You must request the Fair Hearing within thirty (30) days of the date of the decision. File for a Fair Hearing by writing a letter or e-mail to the Fair Hearing Unit. You may not request for a Fair Hearing over the phone.