What is “Informal Assistance”?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created February, 2021

The judge may decide that the best way to help your child is to order Informal Assistance. You and your child may agree that Informal Assistance is the best way to make things better.

How does Informal Assistance get started?

The judge chooses not to accept the Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) application and orders Informal Assistance instead. The judge may order Informal Assistance when:

  • they decide that ordering Informal Assistance is the best way to help your child to, and
  • you and your child agree to Informal Assistance.

When the judge decides to order Informal Assistance, they order assistance with a probation officer.

The probation officer checks in with your child during Informal Assistance to see how things are going.

Informal Assistance for 90 days

The first Informal Assistance order is for 90 days.

The probation officer can:

  • Refer your child for psychiatric, psychological, occupational, medical, dental, or social services. The referral can be to a person or public or private provider.
  • Have meetings with you, your child, and other members of your child’s family to deal with the problems that led to filing the CRA application.

While the Informal Assistance process is going on neither you nor your child can be ordered to appear at any meetings, produce any papers, or visit any particular place.

But if you or your child do not participate in good faith in the services or meetings arranged by the probation officer:

  • the probation officer can notify the court in writing, and
  • the clerk will schedule a Fact-Finding Hearing to see if the judge needs to order more assistance or dismiss the case.

If your child does not participate in the services or meetings, you can tell the probation officer so they can notify the court about the need for a Fact-Finding Hearing.

If you are not participating in the services or meetings, your child’s lawyer can tell the probation officer so they can notify the court about the need for a Fact-Finding Hearing.

What happens after 90 days of Informal Assistance?

At the end of the 90 days, the case may be brought back into court for an Informal Assistance Review Hearing.

The judge reviews your child’s progress and behavior at an Informal Review Hearing. You, your child, and your child’s probation officer attend the Informal Assistance Review. This is a hearing in the courtroom to discuss how your child is doing.

The Probation Officer reports on how your child is doing at home and at school. The Probation Officer makes recommendations about what should happen. The judge listens to the Probation Officer and listens to you and your child and your child’s lawyer. The judge will either

  • Dismiss the case completely.

If the judge dismisses the case, you and your child no longer need to participate in any services, referrals, or meetings.

  • Extend the Informal Assistance for another 90 days. Or
  • Accept the CRA application and schedule a Fact-Finding Hearing.

If the case is scheduled for a Fact-Finding Hearing, nothing you, your child, or any other person has said during the Informal Assistance period can be used to decide if your child requires assistance. But after the fact-finding hearing, the judge may use things you or your child said during the Informal Assistance period to help decide the best course of action for your child.

The judge can extend Informal Assistance for an additional 90 days if you and your child agree.

Important

The judge can only extend Informal Assistance once.

The Juvenile Court has an Informal Assistance Extention request form.

See What happens at the "Fact-Finding" Hearing in a CRA case?

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Help us improve MassLegalHelp!

Take a short survey to tell us what works and what is missing.

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
Monday-Friday
between
9am and 4pm