The Department of Children and Families (DCF) protects children and helps troubled families. To do this, the agency investigates reports of child abuse or neglect, and provides services to help families in need. These services can include daycare and counseling, but DCF may also remove children from the home if they think they are in danger. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, however, DCF is comprised of humans, and humans make mistakes. It is not uncommon for kids to be removed from the home due to false accusations or misunderstandings. That being said, it’s important to know – If DCF is investigating your family, what are your rights?
In addition to investigating reports of abuse and neglect, DCF is a licensed child placement agency. As such, the agency can place kids in foster care or arrange for their adoption. If DCF investigates your family, you may be asked to accept services as a condition of your children remaining in the home. If your children are removed from the home, the agency may require you to accept services before getting them back. In addition to daycare and counseling, DCF may also provide (or require) homemaker and parenting skills education services. If the court orders you to complete certain programs or partake of certain services, they will be presented to you in the form of a service plan. It is a good idea to contact a Boston defense attorney before you sign your service plan.
Why Am I Being Investigated?
In MA, any report of abuse or neglect (known as a 51A report) must be investigated. There doesn’t have to be probable cause, beyond the report itself. For this reason, anyone from a jealous ex-spouse to an angry neighbor can make false or exaggerated accusations. And to make things even more frustrating, these reports can be made anonymously. In most cases, emergency reports are investigated within 24 hours and non-emergency reports within 10 days.
Can DCF Take My Kids if I Don’t Know the 51A Has Been Filed?
Depending on the circumstances of your case, DCF can take your children before notifying you. This is almost exclusively in the event of an emergency situation. In these cases, police may appear at your home with a social worker and an order obtained from the judge to remove your children immediately. If this happens, contact a MA defense attorney right away. You will need to go to court, which sometimes happens immediately after the children have been removed from the home. It is your right to be granted a hearing within 72 hours, at which point the judge will decide if your child will be in danger if he or she remains in the home pending the full hearing. Having a lawyer by your side throughout this process is essential.
What Are My Rights?
Although there’s not much you can do, in the moment, to stop an emergency order to remove children from your home, you do have rights. And any violation of these rights can be used in your favor. When the social worker tells you the details of the allegations against you, he or she must be as specific as possible. If you believe that the accusations were made out of spite, you may wish to tell the social worker. But be careful. As in any interaction with law enforcement and social workers, anything you say can be used against you.
- You have the right to request a copy of the report, as well as the investigative summary.
- If a social worker notifies you of an investigation, you have the right to have an attorney present during the investigation.
- You have the right to refuse to speak with the social worker, and you can refuse to let the social worker into your home. However, DCF will likely obtain a court order to enter.
- It is also your right to have an attorney view any documents before you sign them.