What if I disagree with a Department of Children and Families (DCF) “support decision”?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created February, 2021

If the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has “supported” a report of abuse or neglect, and you are:

  • A parent of the child,
  • A caretaker of the child,
  • Named in the Central Registry as a caretaker of the child and believed to be responsible for abuse or neglect or
  • A child between the ages of 14 and 18,

you have the right to a Fair Hearing. This is the way to ask DCF to change their decision and show them why they should change it. This is called an “Appeal”.

How do I ask for a Fair Hearing?

Write to the Hearing Office of the Department of Children and Families and ask for a Fair Hearing. Their address is:
600 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02111.

You must file the request within 30 days of when you receive the support decision. To be safe, mail your letter so that it arrives before 30 days are up.

Include the following information in your letter:

  1. Your name.
  2. Your address.
  3. Your phone number.
  4. Your child’s name.
  5. The date that DCF says the incident or incidents of abuse occurred.
  6. The name and address of the DCF office.
  7. A copy of the letter DCF sent you that says the 51B investigation is supported. If you cannot find a copy of the letter, describe what it says.
  8. The date of the decision.
  9. A sentence that says you are asking for a Fair Hearing to review the support decision.
  10. If you do not speak or read English well, a sentence that says you need an interpreter and the language you speak.
  11. If you have a handicap or a disability that means you need special accommodation from DCF, a sentence about the special accommodation you need.

Important

Make 2 copies of the letter and the decision before you mail them to the DCF Fair Hearing Office:

  1. Send one copy to the Area Director of the DCF office that made the decision.
    Find their address online.
  2. Keep the other copy of the letter for yourself.

 

For detailed information or help with completing a Fair Hearing request, call the DCF Fair Hearing Unit:
(617) 748-2030.

What do I have to do at the Fair Hearing to get them to change their support decision?

To get the DCF to change their support decision, you have to show the Hearing Officer that:

  • DCF did not have a good enough reason to believe your child was abused or neglected. Or
  • You suffered serious harm because:
    • DCF did not follow the law,
    • DCF did not follow their own rules, or
    • DCF was unreasonable.

What if I need an interpreter?

When you ask for a Fair Hearing you can ask DCF to provide an interpreter.

Important

Before your hearing, call DCF (617-748-2030) and ask if they will provide the interpreter. The regulations do not say that DCF has to provide one.

You can always bring someone to the hearing to interpret for you. They can be a family member or friend.

What if I lose the Fair Hearing?

You can file a complaint in Superior Court to ask the court to review the Fair Hearing decision.

Do I need a lawyer?

Try to talk to a lawyer before you

  • go to a Fair Hearing, or
  • file a complaint in Superior Court to get a review of a Fair Hearing decision.

Call your local legal services program to see if you can get free legal help. You can also call a lawyer referral service to try to find a private lawyer to help you at a price you can afford.

See:

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.

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