How do I ask the Juvenile Court for Help?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created February, 2021

File an application

File a Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) application at your local Juvenile Court.

The Court website has forms for

  • A stubborn or runaway child application and for
  • A sexually exploited child application

You can also get the forms from the clerk at the courthouse.

Important

If you or a member of your family has American Indian or Native American Heritage, you must tell the clerk. If the judge intends to give custody of your child to someone who is not the person you prefer, the court must notify the tribe.

How much does it cost to file a CRA application?

It costs nothing. It is free to file a CRA application.

Will my child have a criminal record if I file a CRA?"

No. CRA proceedings are not criminal cases. Your child's name will not be placed in any criminal database. When the CRA is dismissed, the court will not keep information about your child.

What happens when I go to court to file?

When you give the CRA application to the clerk for filing, the clerk must:

  1. Tell you about services you can get at:
    • A family resource center,
    • Community-based services programs, or
    • Other community services programs in the juvenile court district where your child lives.
  2. Give you a referral if you choose to try the services,
  3. Tell you that you can return to the court to file the CRA application later, if you need to, and
  4. Give you court materials that explain the whole process and kinds of orders the judge can make. The judge can order that someone else, like DCF, take custody of your child for up to 390 days. The Court's CRA Handbook for Parents is one of the materials the clerk must give you.

What happens when I file my CRA application?

The clerk will ask a probation officer to investigate

The clerk will ask a probation officer to find out if your child needs services. The judge will consider the probation officer's recommendation at the Preliminary Hearing.

The clerk schedules the Preliminary Hearing

The clerk sets a date for a hearing. This hearing is the Preliminary Hearing. The hearing must be no more than 15 days after you file your application.

The clerk sends a notice

The clerk sends a notice that a CRA application has been filed and the date for the Preliminary Hearing to:

  • You and
  • Your child.

The clerk might send a summons your child

If the clerk thinks the only way to get your child to the Preliminary Hearing is by ordering them to come, the clerk can issue a summons that says your child must come.

A constable or police officer delivers the summons to your child, and everyone who lives in Massachusetts that has legal custody of your child. If both parents live in Massachusetts, both parents get served the summons, even if one parent does not have legal custody. If your child is not old enough to be served, the constable or police officer can give the summons to someone at your child's house who is old enough.

If the person who filed the CRA says the court does not need to have a constable or police officer deliver the summons, the clerk will just mail the summons to everyone.

If the school filed the application, the clerk also sends copies of the summons to the parent or parents, legal guardian or guardians, or the custodian.

Your child will get a lawyer

After you file the application, the court appoints a lawyer for your child. Your child’s lawyer will probably call soon to talk to your child. The lawyer represents your child, not you. You may want get your own lawyer before you speak with your child’s lawyer.

If custody of your child becomes and issue and you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint a lawyer for you. The court will look at your finances and decide if you should pay anything towards the fees for your court-appointed lawyer.

Who attends court hearings in CRA cases?

CRA cases are confidential and closed to the public.

The following people have the right to attend a CRA hearing:

  • Parents, legal guardians, and people who have legal custody of your child, and their lawyers,
  • Your child and their lawyer,
  • Other parties in the case and their lawyer:
    • The person who filed the application, like a parent, legal guardian, school representative, police officer in cases of child sexual exploitation,
    • The,
  • A probation officer, and
  • A clerk to record the hearing.

What if my child refuses to go to the hearing after they get a summons

If your child refuses to appear at the hearing after getting notice, the judge can issue a warrant that allows a law enforcement officer to find your child and take them before the judge.

See What if my child does not show up for the Preliminary Hearing?

 

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