Defending Parents Accused of Neglect or Abuse by DCF
Once DCF has initiated an investigation into a parent’s alleged child abuse or neglect, that parent would be wise to reach out to an experienced DCF lawyer. Being properly advised, especially in the very beginning of an investigation, can save a parent or caregiver from making costly mistakes and leaving himself or herself vulnerable to the sometimes sharp practices employed by DCF staff. DCF, after all, has earned a reputation for bullying, unprofessionalism, and underhandedness.
We defend families and individuals from DCF in Cambridge, Arlington, Malden, Framingham, Chelmsford, Salem, Lynn, Leominster, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Taunton, Worcester, Whitinsville, Boston and southeastern Massachusetts. If you would like to make an appointment for an in-office consultation, kindly telephone our office at 617-492-0055. We are available to respond to emergencies.
DCF Initiates Investigation
When DCF launches an investigation pursuant to G.L. c. §51A against a parent or caregiver, it will initially attempt to separate the well-founded allegations from those that foundationally fail to qualify as abuse or neglect or simply lack credibility. Following the investigation, DCF will label the allegations as “supported” or “unsupported.” DCF may also classify as allegations as “unsupported with concern” where its findings fall short of “supported,” but the agency remains wary of the parent’s capacity for abuse or ability to meet the basic needs of the child or children.
DCF Investigations and Fairness
A seasoned lawyer will work to persuade DCF to classify the allegations as “unsupported.” If a finding of “supported” is unavoidable, an experienced lawyer will, with your cooperation, strive to mitigate the consequences by allaying DCF concerns. Much depends on the parent’s efforts to address the factors that led to the unfavorable classification. This, of course, implies that these factors were, indeed, valid. After all, DCF investigations are often flawed and conducted by staff who can be, to put it charitably, disingenuous, if not dishonest, in construing the evidence and making findings.
DCF Seizes Your Children
To seize your children, DCF must, in accordance with G.L. c. 119, §24, persuade a Juvenile Court judge there “is reasonable cause to believe that: (i) the child is suffering from serious abuse or neglect or is in immediate danger of serious abuse or neglect; and (ii) that immediate removal of the child is necessary to protect the child from serious abuse or neglect.” Upon such a showing, the Court will issue an emergency order transferring custody of the child to DCF for up to 72 hours. Under G.L. c. 119, §24, the Court is obligated to hold a temporary custody hearing within 72 hours of removal of the children from the home. Discrediting the allegations at the 72-hour hearing – if possible – and persuading the Court to order DCF to return your children to you is, obviously, critical, though no small task.
How We Defend You
Well thought out and skillfully orchestrated cross-examination wins trials, hearings, and cases. No other asset – not legal acumen, cleverness in crafting an argument, or oratory artistry – is so critical to success. Attorney Mahoney has been successfully defending individuals accused of wrongdoing for over 25 years, honing his analytical and cross-examination skills in nearly 100 trials, and more than 300 evidentiary hearings. He has cross-examined thousands of police officers, detectives, forensic experts, medical examiners, eye witnesses, and individuals accusing clients of crimes, including murder, rape, sexual assault, assault & battery, child endangerment, child neglect, and child abuse and authored “Relentless Criminal Cross-Examination,” the fastest selling book in James Publishing, Inc.’s history.
No matter how accomplished a cross-examiner becomes, he cannot successfully cross-examine anyone unless he has mastered the facts of the case. To gather all the necessary information, Attorney Mahoney spends hours meeting with his clients, reviewing reports and other documentation, and gathering available information about the accusers, including witnesses, alleged victims, and law enforcement. It is only after exhaustive review and parsing of the evidence is a lawyer prepared to craft his cross-examination.
Thorough preparation has always been the key to winning.
Kevin J. Mahoney is a Massachusetts Children & Family lawyer, on-air legal analyst, and published author. If you have been accused of child abuse or neglect, contact us at 617-492-0055 to schedule a free in-office consultation.
Additional Information on DCF Investigations
Under G.L. c. 119, §51A, a mandated reporter who has “reasonable cause” to believe that a child is “suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from” abuse or neglect must report the same to the DCF, medical institution, school, facility or law enforcement, depending on the circumstances. To properly interpret signs of abuse or neglect, mandated reporters professionally licensed by the Commonwealth must complete appropriate training. To protect them from criminal prosecution and/or civil liability, and encourage them to abide by their statutory obligations, mandated reports are immune from criminal prosecution and civil liability, as long as the report was made in good faith and not otherwise frivolous.
Under G.L. c. 119, §51A, the following occupations are designated as mandated reporters: school personnel, law enforcement, therapists, day-care providers, probation officers, social workers, clergy, and child advocates. While a mandated reporter may notify DCF or other authority of child abuse or neglect despite any confidentiality or privilege that would otherwise protect the communication from disclosure, members of a church or religious body or institution, such as a priest, licensed minister, leader of a church or accredited Christian Science practitioner, who learn of such abuse or neglect solely through the sacrament of confession or, for other faiths, communications with a similar expectation of the sacramental inviolability, are not obligated to report the abuse or neglect.
Any person not mandated by law to report suspected abuse or neglect may file with allegations of such abuse or neglect with DCF. Unlike mandated reporters, non-mandated reporters may report child abuse or neglect anonymously. Non-mandated reporters may not be prosecuted or face civil liability for filing a report so long as they are not the alleged perpetrator of the abuse or neglect and the report was not filed frivolously or in bad faith. DCF is obligated to follow through with all reported allegations of child abuse or neglect, even if those allegations originate from an anonymous caller.
DCF Child Abuse Screening Process
The DCF screening process attempts to determine whether the allegations meet the criteria for suspected abuse or neglect and if the child or children are in imminent danger of abuse or neglect.
DCF Investigation of Child Abuse
The social worker assigned to investigate the allegations of abuse and/or neglect is known as the “DCF Investigator. The DCF Investigator’s investigation will include the following:
- An evaluation of the parents/caretaker and the home environment.
- Assessment of physical and emotional health and well-being of children residing in the home, including examination of any injuries, identification of the cause or causes of those injuries, and possible identification of person or persons responsible for causing or inflicting those injuries.
- Interviews of neighbors, school administrators, teachers, nurses, family members, pediatrician, etc.
When the DCF has finished its investigation, it will find the allegation of child abuse and/or neglect “supported” or “unsupported.” If DCF determines that the allegations are unsupported, it closes the case. If, however, the allegations are determined to be supported, DCF will assign a social worker to complete a 60-day assessment.
Supported decisions are automatically reviewed. DCF will consider all information collected during the assessment and investigations to determine if the supported decision should be changed to unsupported.
If DCF overturns “supported” finding to an “unsupported” finding DCF will remove the alleged perpetrator’s name from the Department’s Central Registry and contact the interested parties to inform them of the decision.
DCF Assessment Process
A supported finding requires DCF to perform, within 45 working days, to do an “assessment” of your family to determine if a family needs an intervention and/or services. If, during this assessment, a family refuses to cooperate, DCF may initiate legal action and possibly take custody of children.
Requesting a DCF Fair Hearing
To challenge a “supported” allegation of child abuse or neglect, the individual found responsible by DCF for the abuse or neglect will appeal the decision to the Department’s Fair Hearing Unit within 30 days following receipt of the decision.
District Attorney Referrals
Allegations of sexual abuse, exploitation of a minor, and serious assault and battery are referred to the appropriate District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution.
Filing Care & Protection Petition in Juvenile or Probate Court
If DCF determines that a child is at risk of serious abuse and/or neglect and the caretaker is unfit to care for the child, it will file a Care and Protection petition within the Juvenile or Probate court and seek emergency temporary custody of the child or children. In some cases, DCF has the legal authority to remove children from the home without first seeking authorization from the Juvenile or Probate court. The parents are entitled to a hearing within 72 hours of removal of the children. Unless the case is dismissed, a trial will be held before a judge.