Who Handles Child Abuse?

Every State has set up a government agency to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect and to help families when they are having problems. In Massachusetts, this is the Department of Social Services (DSS). In other States, it is sometimes called Child Protective Services (CPS) or the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). In every State, the purpose of this agency is to ensure the safety and well-being of children.

Anyone may report suspected child abuse or neglect, but some professionals are “mandated reporters,” which means that they are required by law to file a report with DSS if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected. In Massachusetts (and in most other States), mandated reporters include:

• Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals
• Schoolteachers, administrators, and day-care workers
• Psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals
• Police officers, firefighters, and other public service officials
• Pastors, priests, rabbis, and other clergy members and religious educators (this varies widely from State to State)

If DSS receives a report that a child may have been abused or neglected or may be at risk for abuse or neglect, they may send a social worker to the child’s home to talk with members of the child’s immediate family. This social worker is NOT a police officer and cannot arrest anyone. DSS does NOT file criminal charges - but may be required to notify the District Attorney in cases of serious injury, death, or sexual abuse or exploitation.

In the majority of cases, DSS will NOT remove a child from his or her home. The DSS social workers know that it is much better for a child to remain with his or her family, so unless the child is at risk of harm, DSS will provide the family with services to help them care for the child at home.


Last Updated: June 21, 2003
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