Massachusetts DCF (DSS) Law
Abuse & Neglect
Few will argue that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (formerly the Department of Social Services), performs invaluable services, protecting children from Abuse & Neglect and helping families access critical services across the Commonwealth. In many cases, children are not properly cared for and are in need of assistance. In other cases however, reports are filed by angry ex-spouses, family members, or even upset neighbors. And in a disturbing trend, mandated reporters such, as teachers, guidance counselors, therapists, pediatricians, police officers and even social workers, are filing 51As at alarming rates, often with little more than a statement made by a child. Attorney Ianiri has seen first hand that often these mandated reporters actually initiate such questioning and ask a child leading questions about his or her homelife and even how the child is disciplined. More recently, hospitals, and particularly Boston Children's Hospital, are filing 51As and referring complex medical cases to their Child Protection Team and accuse parents of "medical child abuse," formerly known as Munchausen By Proxy. Of course, the recent Justina Pelletier case has brought this very disturbing phenomenon to light.
51A reports can also be filed anonymously in Massachusetts, making it even easier to report (and harder for parents to know who the source of the report is).
Children are victims of abuse when a child is harmed by anyone caring for them. Neglect occurs when children are not adequately fed, clothed, supervised or housed. However, an overwhelming majority of 51As that are supported for neglect are because the Department claims the parent failed to provide a child with minimal "emotional stability and growth." Parents should appeal such decisions by requesting a fair hearing.
If you are being investigated, you need representation immediately. Once DCF receives a report, it begins an investigation. The report may be investigated within 24 hours if it is an emergency and within 15 business days if it is not. During this time, the Department of Children and Families will do home inspection and visits, talk to the children involved or siblings, interview family members inside and outside the household and even interrogate you. You absolutely have a right to have an attorney present during interviews at your home. Usually, DCF will not allow parents to be present during interviews with the child or children. However, Attorney Ianiri always insists that he be present during the questioning of a child by a social worker in the parent's home to ensure that the investigator follows accepted interviewing techniques and protocals for children and to verify that the resulting 51B or Assessment accurately documents what the child actually said.
Parents should know that DCF is required to make sure children are safe in their home. Therefore, simply refusing a social worker into your home is NOT advisable, contrary to what some other attorneys and websites might suggest. If DCF is not allowed access to a child, its own requlations require a consult with an attorney, who may advise that a petition for Care and Protection is warranted. On the other hand, parents are not required to meet a DCF social worker whenever he or she tells you to. Attorney Ianiri regularly re-schedules such meetings so that he has time to meet with the family first and prepare for the interview.
Contact IaniriLaw LLC before you lose control of the situation and you find yourself having to defend yourself in court desperately trying to regain custody of your child and before you have to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees. Care and Protection cases can easily cost upwards of $10,000.00 or more in legal costs and generally stay open for one to two years, and in some cases, much longer than that.