How does the Department of Children and Families (DCF) find out about child abuse and neglect?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created February, 2021

DCF has a 24 hour, 7 days a week system for receiving reports.

People often call a report to DCF a “51A” report because the reporting law is in section 51A of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 119.

What is “abuse” and “neglect”?

Abuse and neglect include:

  • Injuring a child physically or emotionally,
  • Shaken baby syndrome,
  • Putting a child at serious risk of physical or emotional injury,
  • Sexual abuse or exploitation,
  • Not providing children with basic food, clothing, or medical care,
  • Taking drugs while pregnant so children are addicted to a drug at birth, or
  • Trafficking a child, as in human trafficking.

A caretaker is anyone who is responsible for a child’s health and well-being. They can be a:

  • parent,
  • stepparent,
  • guardian,
  • relative,
  • foster parent,
  • group home worker,
  • teacher,
  • babysitter,
  • daycare or childcare worker,
  • school bus driver, or
  • camp counselor,

What if there is domestic violence?

Before you make a report to DCF remember:

  • You do not need to report all families living with domestic violence to DCF.
  • When a caretaker is overwhelmed by domestic violence, reporting to DCF can make things worse for the caretaker or the child.
  • People who commit domestic violence make it really hard for caretakers, their friends, and families to protect children.

Who has to report child abuse and negelct to DCF?
People who must report child abuse or neglect to DCF are called “mandated” reporters

Can I get in legal trouble if I file a 51A report?

If you are not a mandated reporter, you are not legally responsible if you

  • File the report in good faith, and
  • You did not abuse or neglect the child you are reporting about.

If the DCF, the district attorney, or a judge decides that you abused or neglected the child, you can be held responsible in a civil or criminal case.

If you file a false report, the person you named in the report may sue you for money damages in civil court.

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