If your children may be taken from you due to false allegations of child abuse or neglect, it is important to know your rights. Unfortunately, false accusations are more common than most people think. This is especially true in dysfunctional family situations, or during parental custody disputes. In addition to being extraordinarily damaging to an individual’s reputation, accusations of child abuse and neglect can result in removal of the child from the family home, and even jail time.
When reports of child abuse and neglect are made, the Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) will investigate the situation to determine whether the reports are credible. In MA, anyone can report another person to DCF, whether or not a problem actually exists. These reports of abuse and neglect are called 51A reports, and they are often made by ex-spouses and others who seek some sort of revenge or advantage.
If DCF believes that the report of abuse or neglect is an emergency, the agency may present a judge with the 51A to obtain permission to remove the children from the home without prior notification. In these situations, you may hear about the 51A report for the first time when the police are at your door.
A Fair Hearing is basically your opportunity to tell your side of the story. If the Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) supports a decision of abuse or neglect against you, you may file for a DCF Fair Hearing. In most cases, you will have 30 days in which to file this request. However, if DCF removes a child from your home, that time frame decreases to 10 days.
Seek Legal Counsel
At the fair hearing, you will have an opportunity to address decisions made by DCF. In fact, a fair hearing is the only way to reverse a decision of abuse or neglect. If you believe that DCF’s decision is based on inaccurate or false information – or a misunderstanding – it is critical to act fast, and contact an experienced Boston defense attorney immediately. An attorney can help you obtain the necessary documentation and records, call and subpoena witnesses who can substantiate your claims, and build your overall case.
Following the fair hearing, you will receive a written decision, but this can take several months. If the decision is unfavorable, you have the right to appeal it to the Superior Court. A MA defense lawyer can help you protect your rights if you are dealing with DCF or facing child abuse charges.
Who is Entitled to a DCF Fair Hearing?
In most cases, the person requesting a fair hearing is a parent. However, any of multiple parties may request a DCF fair hearing. These include:
- a parent
- a caregiver
- the child who is the subject of the report
The hearing officer must notify the aggrieved party of the scheduled hearing date within 20 business days of the request, and the hearing must occur within 65 business days of the request. If, however, circumstances deem it necessary, DCF may expedite the hearing date. Reasons for expediting include:
- removal of a child from the home,
- reduction or termination of a particular service or services,
- a denied subsidy, or
- closure of a case.
Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Top Child Abuse Defense Law Firm
If DCF has removed a child from your home, or plans to do so, the skilled legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have been protecting the rights of individuals charged with crimes for more than 50 years. Child abuse laws, and agencies such as DCF, exist to protect children from harm. Unfortunately, angry ex-spouses often use these laws and protections for their own benefit, at the expense of the child’s well-being. Our compassionate, knowledgeable attorneys understand the emotional complexities of cases involving accusations of child abuse and neglect. We will ensure that you fully understand your rights and options and remain by your side throughout the entire case. Don’t go through this difficult time alone, we can help. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.