What is the MA DCF Intake Call?
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (MA DCF) first becomes involved with your family with the intake call. The MA DCF intake call is a report that a child is being abused or neglected.
After or while DCF receives the report, they will decide to either to “screen-in” or “screen-out” the report. When DCF receives an incomplete report, such as when the child abuser or the reported child is unknown or unidentified, they must hold off on whether or not they should screen in or screen out the report.
The Department will start an investigation into a family only when the child abuse or neglect allegations are screened-in.
What Happens During the MA DCF Intake Call?
During a MA DCF intake call, a social worker will take notes on what the reporter tells them. The notes will be about the specific incident of child abuse or neglect, the reported child or children, and the reported family. The DCF social worker will analyze their notes to determine whether the incident meets the Department’s definition of abuse or neglect. These notes will go into an official DCF form, called the “51A report.” Regardless of whether or not DCF screens in or screens out the allegations of child abuse or child neglect, the Department must create a 51A report.
During or right after the call, the Department will decide whether or not they want to intervene in the reported family’s life. If they think they should get involved, they will “screen in” the report. If they do not think they need to get involved, they will “screen out” the report.
DCF will screen out a report when it does not involve the abuse or neglect of children (i.e. when the report is about the abuse of young adults who are over the age of 18 years, or the abuse of elderly people). They will also screen out reports about regular parenting practices which are not actually abusive or neglectful as well (i.e. a teen not being given money for an event or not being allowed to date). Another reason why DCF will screen out a report is because a caretaker did not abuse or neglect the reported child. For example, when a magazine contains pornographic pictures of children, DCF will screen out the report.
Even if DCF screens out the report, they can contact the District Attorney’s office to deal with the situation when the allegations are criminal in nature.
Who Can Make the Intake Call to MA DCF?
Anyone can make the intake call to MA DCF when they suspect a child is being abused or neglected. Some people are required by Massachusetts law to report to DCF. There are three (3) types of reporters:
Mandated reporters must make a report to DCF over the phone or in person. They must also make a written report to the Department within 48 hours after making the report over the phone or in person.
Mandated reporters must identify themselves to the Department. They have to state their name, address, and telephone number during the intake call. Non-mandated reporters can choose whether or not they would like to make their report anonymously. Anonymous reporters do not have to provide any personal or sensitive information to the Department at all.
Is There an Intake Call Checklist?
There is no official “intake call checklist” for what to include in a report to MA DCF. But when a report is made, DCF is supposed to have the following information:
- The reporter’s name and contact information
- How the reporter became aware of the alleged child abuse or neglect
- The name, sex, age and address of the reported child
- The names and addresses of all parents and caregivers in the home
- The name of the person(s) responsible for the alleged child abuse or neglect
- The nature and extent of the suspected child abuse or neglect
- Evidence of prior abuse or neglect of the reported child
- Actions which have been taken to treat or help the allegedly abused or neglected child
- Other information the reporter thinks would be helpful in identifying the cause of the child’s physical or emotional injuries
Does MA DCF Contact the Reported Family After the Intake Call?
After the intake call, MA DCF will contact the reported family only if they screen-in the report and begin and investigation. DCF is supposed to call you or send you an email or letter to let you know they are investigating you. Unfortunately, DCF may never tell you they are investigating you. Contact your local MA DCF area office to request all the documents they have regarding your family when that happens.
Sometimes, a MA DCF social worker might show up at your doorstep and tell you that the are starting an investigation against you right then and there. At that point, they still might not tell you exactly what the allegations are against you. This is a violation of your U.S. Constitutional “due process” rights. As a parent, you should kindly request what information DCF has regarding the allegations against you. You should also politely ask for their identifying information and credentials to make sure they are actually from DCF.
You do not have to let a MA DCF social worker into your home, but sometimes that can work against you. The social worker might try to get a court order to forcefully remove your children from your home. The better way to go about the situation is to have a conversation with your social worker. Ask them (very nicely) about the allegations against you. You should never answer questions you are not comfortable with. Kindly reschedule the meeting to another time where you can have Attorney Seaver present to allow you to come prepared for the meeting.
Think Twice Before Calling MA DCF to Report Child Abuse or Child Neglect
Being a reporter comes with a great deal of responsibility. Reporters have the power to keep children safe from harm. But differences in perspective, culture, background, and religion can lead people to make false reports to MA DCF.
What you may consider child abuse can very well be a normal practice in another culture. In Russia, for example, young children are tossed into the snow to help them get used to the cold weather. Though Russians have been familiar with this practice for centuries, Americans may view a parent tossing their child into the snow as physical abuse.
Mandated reporters might be more inclined to report all suspicions of child abuse or neglect to MA DCF even when they are not fully aware of the family’s circumstances. This is because they may lose their job or face serious consequences when they ignore signs of abuse or neglect in a child. Non-mandated reporters, however, will not face penalties for failing to report a family to MA DCF.
Kevin Seaver is a trusted MA DCF Attorney Specialized in DCF Law since 1991.