Department of Children & Family Matters
Massachusetts Department of Children & Family (DCF) (formerly Department of Social Services or DSS) Law.
One of the most stressful, distressing, and awful occasion in life is when the Department of Children and Families (DCF) attempts to or does remove a child from the care of parents. It’s terrible for the parents, it’s often very unpleasant for the social workers involved and usually, even if the children are being neglected, it is frightening for the children. The Department of Children and Families has a team of attorneys at their disposal. It is important that interested parties act quickly and hire an experienced attorney to represent their interest to protect what the Supreme Court of the United States has characterized as:
‘The rights to conceive and to raise one’s children’ are ‘essential … basic civil rights of man … far more precious … than property rights.’ … The interest of parents in their relationship with their children has been deemed fundamental, and is constitutionally protected.”
In Massachusetts, the state may not attempt to force the breakup of a family without an affirmative showing of parental unfitness. DCF normally becomes involved with a family after receiving a report of suspected abuse or neglect called a 51A report. The 51A report is named after a section of Massachusetts General Laws, G.L. chapter 119, section 51A. A 51A report is a report of abuse or neglect filed either by a mandated reporter or another person. Once a 51A report is filed, DCF is required to determine whether the children named in the report are safe. Some of the consequences of having DCF involved in the life of a family include:
- A supported report of child abuse or neglect. This would mean that DCF has found that the persons or persons named in the report have abused or neglected a child in some way.
- Once supported, the person or persons named in the report are listed in the DCF Central Registry as an alleged perpetrator of child abuse or neglect. If the neglect is serious enough, the person may be referred to the District Attorney’s office leading to possible criminal charges and jail.
- Once a report is supported DCF may remove children from a home on an emergency basis and apply to a judge for emergency custody.
- Once removed from a home, children may be placed in foster care.
- Visitation with your children may be limited depending on the circumstances of the case.
- If after a trial, parents are found to be unfit, parental rights may be terminated and the children adopted.
- DCF involvement may affect employment and could interfere with a parent’s capacity to become a foster parent or to adopt a child.
Once DCF is involved with a family they have a statutory duty to make reasonable efforts to strengthen and encourage the integrity of the family before starting any action to sever family ties. Massachusetts courts have ruled that a child’s welfare is best served in the care and custody of its parents. The inquiry a court makes at 72 hour hearings, care and protection trials and termination of parental rights trials is not whether the parent is a good one, let alone an ideal one, rather, the inquiry is whether the parent is so bad as to place the child at serious risk of peril from abuse, neglect, or other activity harmful to a child.
Attorney McCarthy has twenty years of experience helping parents, children, foster parents, pre-adoptive parents and guardians in DCF matters including:
- Fair Hearings
- 72 Hour Hearings
- Termination of Parental Rights
- Permanent Custody
- Paternity and Maternity
- Permanency Planning Hearings
- Trial on the Merits
- Pre-trial Conferences
- Adoption agreements
- Motions in Limine
- Abuse of Discretion Motions
- Foster Care Reviews
- Court Investigations
- Guardian Ad Litem matters
- Representing foster and pre-adoptive parents
- Representing children and teenagers
- Representing parents accused of abuse and neglect
and all matters involving families and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.