What happens at the Conference and Disposition Hearing in a Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) case?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created February, 2021

After the judge decides your child is a “Child Requiring Assistance,” the court schedules:

  • A Conference and
  • A Disposition Hearing.

The court tries to schedule both the conference and the hearing on the same day.

The Conference is a discussion about next steps.

At the Disposition hearing the judge makes decisions about how to deal with your child.

At both the Conference and the Disposition Hearing your child and your child’s lawyer must be present.

You, your child, and whoever filed the CRA application, all have a chance to speak.

The Conference

The Conference is a discussion about what your child needs. The Conference happens in the courtroom.

Who participates in the Conference?

The Conference participants may include:

  • The probation officer who conducted the Preliminary Inquiry.
  • A representative from a family resource center or other community-based services program that was involved with your family.
  • The applicant for assistance.
  • A representative from your child’s school.
  • Your child’s parent, legal guardian, or custodian.
  • Your child and your child’s attorney.
  • A representative from the Department of Children and Families if they were involved with your family. And
  • Any other person who may be helpful in figuring out the best way to help your child and family.

What do the participants do at the Conference?

The probation officer gives the judge a written report with recommendations. The report describes the officer’s view of the case and what they think is best for your child. It also includes the probation officer’s opinion about how safe it is for your child to stay at home.

The probation officer and the other Conference participants tell the judge what they think are:

  • Appropriate treatment and services for your child and family.
  • Appropriate placement for your child. And
  • Appropriate conditions, rules, and limits for your child.

The other people at the Conference can also give the judge written recommendations.

The Disposition Hearing

At the Conference, the judge also schedules a “Disposition Hearing,” usually on the same day as the Conference. This is when the court officially orders your child to do things.

Will the judge order where my child will live at the Disposition Hearing?

At the Disposition Hearing the judge, takes into account your child’s physical and emotional welfare. The judge can make any of the following orders:

The caregiver must follow the judge’s specific conditions, rules, and limits and provide your child with the specific services the judge ordered.

  1. Allow your child to stay with you, their legal guardian, or a "custodian" as long as:
    • your child participates in specific, court-ordered medical, psychiatric, psychological, educational, occupational, or social services. and
    • a court clinic or counselor supervises your child.
  2. Place your child in the care of a qualified
    • Relative, probation officer, or other adult,
    • Child-care agency, or
    • Private organization. If this organization does not have the legal qualifications the judge can investigate and decide that the organization is qualified.
    • Place your child in the custody of the Department of Children and Families (DCF). When the judge gives custody to DCF, the judge may also order conditions and limits that DCF must follow.

How long does the Disposition Order last?

The first Disposition Order can be in effect for up to 120 days.

At the end of the first Disposition Order, the judge can extend it after holding a Disposition Review Hearing.

At the Disposition Review Hearing the judge can dismiss the case. Or, they can extend the order for up to 90 days if they decide

  • Your child has not been able to meet the goals in their order. And
  • Your child has a better chance of meeting the goals if the order lasts up to 90 days longer.

The judge can extend the order 3 times. The total period of the Disposition Order can be 390 days.

At the end of the Disposition Order and all extensions, the judge must dismiss the case.

No order can be in effect after your child’s 18th birthday if a parent, legal guardian, or police officer filed the application.

No order can be in effect after your child’s 16th birthday if the school filed the application.

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