A Department of Children and Families Fair Hearing is a kind of trial where you can present your case. It is not as formal as a trial in a court, but you have rights, witnesses testify under oath, and the officer in charge of the hearing has duties and responsibilities.
A Department of Children and Families (DCF) Fair Hearing is your chance to:
- explain why you disagree with a DCF decision and
- show them why they should change it.
A Fair Hearing is a formal process. You have rights, witnesses testify under oath, and there is a hearing officer who is like a judge. Hearings officers must be fair and have no other involvement with your case. They are in charge of the hearing and have legal responsibilities.
What kinds of decisions can I appeal to a Fair Hearing?
Asking DCF to change their decision is called "appealing" the decision. You need to ask for a Fair Hearing when you appeal. Some examples of when you have the right to a Fair Hearing are:
- You disagree with a DCF “support” decision after a child abuse or neglect investigation.
- You disagree with a DCF decision to record your name in the Registry of Alleged Perpetrators. See What Can I Do If I Disagree With Being Listed in the “Registry of Alleged Perpetrators”?
- DCF caused you substantial harm because they did not follow a regulation or law. Or
- DCF caused you substantial harm because they were unreasonable.
You can appeal many more decisions and actions to a Fair Hearing:
- Disagreements about fees.
- DCF's decisions about placing children.
- DCF's decisions about refusing to provide, stopping or reducing services.
- DCF's decisions about foster care.
- DCF's decisions about adoption.
- DCF's decisions about guardianship.
- DCF's decisions about providing services to
If you are a child, a teenager or a young adult, you have the right to a Fair Hearing if you disagree with DCF's decisions about your service plan, services you need, and placements.
What are my rights at a Fair Hearing?
At a Fair Hearing you have the right to:
- Bring a lawyer or any “Authorized Representative.” An Authorized Representative is any person you give written permission to represent you.
- Have an interpreter
- Bring witnesses
- Use your DCF file.
- Use your providers’ records.
- Use the 51A and 51B reports.
- Require any DCF or Provider employee you need to be at the hearing
- Subpoena witnesses and documents.
What are the Hearings Officer’s legal responsibilities?
The Hearing Officer’s legal responsibilities include:
- Requiring witnesses to swear to tell the truth
- Helping witnesses feel free to give all their evidence
- Making you have the chance to present your claims
- Deciding to accept, reject, or limit evidence
- Issuing subpoenas. If you want the Hearing Officer to issue a subpoena, send them a letter at least 15 days before the hearing. Tell them who you want subpoenaed.
- Recording the hearing
- Making a written decision within 60 business days after the last evidence is submitted.
What can I do if I lose the Fair Hearing?
You can file a complaint in Superior Court and ask the court to review the Fair Hearing decision.
What if I need a lawyer?
Try to talk to a lawyer if you think you might want:
- a Fair Hearing or
- you want to ask the Superior Court to review a Fair Hearing decision.
To see the regulations about Fair Hearings, look at 110 Code of Massachusetts Regulations 10. The regulations include other useful information not covered in this article.
For a complete list of decisions, you can appeal to a Fair Hearing, see 110 CMR 10.06.