Mandated Reporters and MGL c. 119 § 51A
Generally, a Care and Protection Petition is initiated by DCF after a 51A report is screened-in, investigated and supported. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts MGL c. 119 § 51A requires mandated reporters to report any reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering a physical or emotional injury resulting from abuse, neglect, physical dependence upon an addictive drug at birth, is being sexually exploited child, or being a human trafficking victim. Failure to report can result in fines and, in some cases, incarceration. MGL c. 119 § 21, defines ’Mandated reporter’, as a person who is:
a physician, medical intern, hospital personnel engaged in the examination, care or treatment of persons, medical examiner, psychologist, emergency medical technician, dentist, nurse, chiropractor, podiatrist, optometrist, osteopath, allied mental health and human services professional licensed under section 165 of chapter 112 , drug and alcoholism counselor, psychiatrist or clinical social worker;
a public or private school teacher, educational administrator, guidance or family counselor, child care worker, person paid to care for or work with a child in any public or private facility, or home or program funded by the commonwealth or licensed under chapter 15D that provides child care or residential services to children or that provides the services of child care resource and referral agencies, voucher management agencies or family child care systems or child care food programs, licensor of the department of early education and care or school attendance officer;
a probation officer, clerk-magistrate of a district court, parole officer, social worker, foster parent, firefighter, police officer;
a priest, rabbi, clergy member, ordained or licensed minister, leader of any church or religious body, accredited Christian Science practitioner, person performing official duties on behalf of a church or religious body that are recognized as the duties of a priest, rabbi, clergy, ordained or licensed minister, leader of any church or religious body, accredited Christian Science practitioner, or person employed by a church or religious body to supervise, educate, coach, train or counsel a child on a regular basis;
in charge of a medical or other public or private institution, school or facility or that person's designated agent; or
the child advocate.
Once a report has been made to DCF, MGL c. 119 51B mandates that the allegations be investigated. DCF has a department dedicated to investigations. These investigative social workers interview witnesses, parents and children, as well as review records and conduct home visits. If the investigative social workers find sufficient evidence to conclude that leaving the children in the parent or caregiver’s custody creates an imminent risk of abuse or neglect, DCF will likely petition the Juvenile Court for the district in which the parent(s) or caregiver(s) reside, for emergency temporary custody of the children. “If the court is satisfied after the petitioner testifies under oath that 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, the court may issue an emergency order transferring custody of the child for up to 72 hours to the department or to a licensed child care agency…” MGL c. 119 § 24. Thereafter, the parent(s) or caregiver(s) is entitled to a “72-hour Hearing,” wherein DCF must prove by a preponderance (prove more likely than not) of the evidence that there exists an imminent risk of abuse or neglect should custody be returned to the parent(s) or caregiver(s). If the court is satisfied that an imminent risk of abuse or neglect exists they will award temporary custody to DCF pending a “Hearing on the Merits.” Once the court grants temporary custody, after the 72-hour hearing, the child(ren) may be in the custody of DCF for an extended period while additional court investigation takes place and discovery is completed.