The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the state agency in Massachusetts tasked with investigating reports of child abuse and neglect, monitoring families in need, safeguarding children in their custody, ensuring permanency and stability for children at risk of abuse and neglect, and supporting children who are available for adoption.
A 51A report is an allegation of abuse or neglect reported to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF). Anyone can file a 51A report, and certain mandated reporters must file. DCF decides whether to screen out the report or screen in the report for further investigation. The term 51A comes from the related law in Massachusetts General Laws chapter 119, section 51A.
A 51B investigation occurs after a 51A report alleging abuse or neglect against a caretaker is screened in for further investigation. An investigative social worker from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is assigned to the case and typically conducts a home visit and an interview of the child, speaks with the original reporter, and follows up with collateral contacts, such as a pediatrician and the school. The investigatory process is different for emergency situations. The term 51B comes from the related law in Massachusetts General Laws chapter 119, section 51B.
The way to appeal most adverse decisions from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is to go through the Fair Hearing process. You have 30 days from receiving the notice of the adverse decision to request a Fair Hearing. The Fair Hearing is an opportunity to convince a Fair Hearing Officer, who is employed by DCF, to overturn the adverse decision. The appeal may continue into Superior Court if necessary but the evidence is limited to what was presented at the Fair Hearing.
With the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the typical way to appeal an adverse decision is to go through the Fair Hearing process. However, DCF policy does not always allow this, instead providing the alternative option of filing a grievance with the Area Director of the DCF office involved. There are no clear guidelines on the process, legal standard, or timeline for a grievance.
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