If a report has been filed with the Department of Social Services (DSS) regarding your family, the most important thing to know is that DSS does NOT want to take away your children. DSS knows that it is much better for a child to remain with his or her family. Their goal is help make sure that your children are safe, and that you have all of the resources you need to care for your children in the best possible way at home.
After a report has been filed, a social worker may visit your home to talk with you and to see how the Department can best serve you and your family. Parents or guardians and other family members and friends usually have a lot of questions about what is happening. The following information is from a guide written by the Massachusetts Department of Social Services to answer some of these questions.(1) Although this information is for residents of Massachusetts in particular, most other States have similar procedures. For information specific to your State, please call your local child protective services agency. If you do not know know how to contact your local agency , you can call your States toll-free child abuse reporting number (click here for a list) and ask for the phone number of your local DSS agency. For a list of local DSS numbers in Massachusetts, click here.
Why is a social worker from DSS coming to my home?
A social worker will come to your home if the Department received a report that your child may have been abused or neglected, or may be at risk of being abused or neglected. This report is in response to a State law that requires professionals who have contact with children (such as doctors, nurses, schoolteachers, police officers, or child care workers) to inform the Department if they suspect child abuse or neglect, or they can be fined. The law also allows other people (such as a relative, friend, or neighbor) to file a report if they suspect a child has been abused or neglected. A report is made on behalf of a child or children; it is not made against a parent or family.
A social workers visit to your home is part of the investigation of a report. You will be asked to discuss the allegations in the report, and may wish to have someone with you during this visit. In Massachusetts, State law requires that the investigation be completed within 10 days after the date of the report. (In some situations, the investigation will be completed within 24 hours after the report is labeled as an emergency). You will be notified by the Department, in writing, of the results of the investigation.
What happens during an investigation?
The social worker gathers information about the allegations of abuse or neglect by speaking to you and members of your immediate family. The social worker will want to see all of the children in your home, and particularly the child on whose behalf the report was filed. The social worker may also want to speak to your childs schoolteacher, pediatrician, school counselor, or other people who may have relevant information concerning the case. You may also want to give the social worker the names of other people who know you, such as a member of the clergy or a neighbor. These interviews with your family and other significant people form the basis of the social workers investigation. After the investigation, DSS will decide if there is reason to support the report. If there is, the Department will work with your family to ensure the safety and well-being of your child or children.
What if I dont want a social worker to investigate my family?
In most cases, families prefer to work with the Department during the investigation process. However, there also are times when a family is not willing to talk with a social worker. While it is your right to refuse to participate in the investigation, please understand that they come out of concern for your child and your family. During an investigation, the Department is required to meet with parents/guardians and all children in the household. If a family member refuses to allow a home visit or otherwise prevents the social worker from seeing a child, the Department may seek help from the police or court.
Who filed the report? May I read it?
The Department cannot reveal the identity of the reporter. The social worker will be as specific as possible in relating the details of the reported allegations. Remember, the social worker is coming to your home to ensure the safety and well-being of your child. Once the social worker completes the investigation, you may request a copy of the report as well as the investigation report (which, in Massachusetts are known as 51A and 51B, respectively). Most of the requests are granted. Individual requests are carefully considered and decisions are based on what is in the childs best interests. If the information is made available to you, the identity of the reporter(s) will be withheld.
Will my children be taken away?
In the vast majority of cases, NO. In fact, most of the children served by DSS remain in their homes. The Departments goal is to ensure that childrens health and safety needs are being addressed and to help parents care for their children in their own home. Unless your child is at risk of harm, we will assist you in getting services to help your family care for the child at home, thereby keeping the family together.
When a child must be removed from his or her home, DSS may ask the parent(s) or guardian(s) to identify family members or friends who could care for the child. In the small number of cases in which the Department determines a child is at immediate risk of harm, we will ask the court for permission to remove the child and provides an immediate placement. In very rare cases, the Department can remove a child before getting the courts permission, but is required to appear in court to request approval the first court day following the childs removal. Remember, if a child is removed from your home to ensure his or her safety and well-being, the Departments goal is to return the child as soon as it is safe to do so.
Does the Department file criminal charges?
NO. The Department does not file criminal charges and does not have the authority to arrest. However, if they support a report of sexual abuse or exploitation, serious physical injury, or death of a child, the law requires the Department to notify the District Attorney who does have the authority to file criminal charges.
What are my rights?
In Massachusetts, your rights under the law include, but are not limited to, the following:
The right to
have the investigation conducted in your preferred language.
The right to speak with an attorney or to have one with you at any time. If the Department seeks help from the court, you should consult an attorney. If you are unable to pay for an attorney, the judge will appoint one for you.
The right to be notified in writing of the Departments decision whether or not to support the report.
The right to ask and to have answered any questions you might have about the process, including the allegation(s) and the investigation(s).
What happens after an investigation?
After completing the investigation, the Department determines whether the allegation in the report will be unsupported or supported. Unsupported means that the Department did not find reasonable cause to believe that your child has been abused or neglected by a caretaker. The Department will not have any further involvement with your family unless you already have an open case with them or unless you voluntarily request their services.
Supported means the Department found reasonable cause to believe that your child was abused or neglected by a caretaker. If, during the course of the investigation, the person alleged to be responsible for the abuse or neglect is identified, the social worker will include the information in the investigation report. After the investigation is completed, if you and your family need services, a social worker will begin a family Assessment.
What is a Family Assessment?
An Assessment refers to the process the Department uses to gather and evaluate information about your family. This is an opportunity for you and your social worker to get to know each other in order to learn more about your familys particular strengths and needs. You will be encouraged to participate in the process, and to identify other family members and professionals who know your family and can help by providing additional information.
An Assessment enables the social worker to determine whether services are necessary, which services would be appropriate, and who could best provide them. It also lets you know the reason for any continued Department involvement.
If you already have an open case with the Department and an Assessment has been completed, DSS will not conduct another. However, your social worker may wish to make some changes to your familys current Service Plan.
If the Assessment indicates that services are needed, a Service Plan is developed by your social worker with your participation. It will describe the assistance your family will receive, and my include tasks such as making and keeping medical appointments for your children; making sure your children get to school, child care, or counseling; and time frames in which DSS hopes these tasks will be completed.
In Massachusetts, the Department requires that an Assessment be completed within 45 working days. If it is determined that a service is needed before the Assessment is completed, referrals will be made as soon as such needs are identified.
Is there an opportunity to disagree with a Department decision?
Yes. In Massachusetts, if you disagree with a decision, you may:
Notify the social
worker and his or her supervisor of your disagreement.
Submit a written statement with the facts you feel are important and request that this be added to the Departments files.
Participate in one of the Departments appeal/review processes, such as a Fair Hearing.
A Fair Hearing is an opportunity to dispute certain decisions or actions by the Department of Social Services or a DSS-contracted agency. Examples of situations when you may request a Fair Hearing include, but are not limited to, the following issues:
with the fee being charged for services.
You did not receive notification from the Department about services that were reduced.
You believe the Department failed to follow its regulations, resulting in substantial harm to you.
The Grievance Process provides opportunity to resolve disagreements about any matter that cannot be appealed through a Fair Hearing.
The following is a list of State toll-free child abuse reporting numbers.(2) The people at these numbers should be able to give you the phone number for your local DSS agency. For States not listed, you can call 800-4-A-Child (800-422-4453).
The following is a list of DSS phone numbers in Massachusetts. These offices are open from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. At any other time, please call the Child-At-Risk Hotline at 1-800-792-5200. The Department also has an Ombudsmans Office available from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. to help resolve problems and concerns. Please call 617-748-2444.
(1) Massachusetts Department of Social Services. Child Protective Services: Parents Guide. July 2000.
(2) National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information. (February 2002). State Toll-Free Child Abuse Reporting Numbers Resource Listing. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
June 21, 2003