People who must report child abuse and neglect to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) - Mandated Reporters

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed February, 2021

Who has to make 51A reports to DCF?

People who must report child abuse or neglect to DCF are called “mandated” reporters.

Mandated reporters1 are:

Health care professionals

For example: doctors, nurses, dentists, emergency medical technicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed therapists, counselors, and clinical social workers, osteopaths, chiropractors, podiatrists, and optometrists.

School staff

Teachers, administrators, guidance or family counselors, attendance officers, and after school program staff.

Foster parents

Child care program staff

People who work with children in child care programs, meal programs, and residential programs that are funded by Massachusetts or licensed by the Department of Early Education and Care.

Massachusetts agency staff who

  • make child care referrals, and
  • provide vouchers for child care, school, and meals.

Licensing staff at the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care

Social workers

Law enforcement personnel

Police, Probation officers, clerk-magistrates of a district court, parole officers, and firefighters.

Clergy

  • Priests, rabbis, ministers, accredited Christian Science practitioners, and leaders of any religious body.
  • People who carry out the recognized duties of a leader of any religious body.
  • People employed by a religious body to supervise, educate, coach, train or counsel a child.

You do not need to be a mandated reporter to report child abuse and neglect to DCF.

Important

Judges are not mandated reporters. But if a judge believes a caretaker is abusing or neglecting a child, they can report it to DCF.

When do mandated reporters have to report child abuse and neglect to the Department of Children and Families?

Mandated reporters must report to DCF if they:

  • are on the job, and
  • see something or hear something that makes them believe a child’s caretaker is abusing or neglecting the child.

A mandated reporter must speak with DCF as soon as they suspect child abuse or neglect. And they must file a written report with DCF detailing the suspected abuse or neglect within 48 hours.

Mandated reporters can also contact law enforcement.

What if there is domestic violence?

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) helps mandated reporters know what to do when domestic violence is involved.

DCF's message to mandated reporters is: Think before you file. They encourage mandated reporters to review the family’s situation carefully.

Will reporting child abuse and neglect to DCF help the caretaker keep the child safe?

DCF has a pamphlet called Promising Approaches. It gives mandated reporters

  • a family-centered context for keeping children and their caretakers safe when there is domestic violence, and
  • guidelines for weighing the impact of domestic violence on children and their families, accurately and sympathetically.
  • lists the kinds of things they should look at and the risks involved when they think about filing a report.

Promising Approaches

Some of the most important sections for parents in Promising Approaches are:

A Framework For Mandated Reporters 

Promising Approaches gives mandated reporters a way to look at situations that involve domestic violence:

  • Filing a report of abuse and neglect when there is domestic violence is not always the best way to protect a child.
  • When a caretaker is overwhelmed by a domestic violence, filing may make things worse for the caretaker and not keep the child safe.
  • Often, people who commit domestic violence may frighten caretakers, their friends, and families so much that they cannot protect their children.

Approaches to Assessing Safety and Risk 

Promising Approaches tells mandated reporters:

  • Sometimes filing a report of abuse and neglect is not helpful. 
  • Mandated reporters should review the caretaker's and child's conditions carefully. The reporter should decide if community services and support can strengthen the caretaker's confidence and ability to keep the child safe. 
  • Connecting the family to social services, school, counseling services, faith organizations, battered women's programs or
    concerned family and friends may help caretakers and keep children safe.

Risk Factors Where A Report Is Mandatory

Promising Approaches says the mandated reporter must file a report if the perpetrator:

  • threatened to kill the caretaker, children, or themselves, and the caretaker fears for their safety, or
  • physically injured the child when the caretaker was the target, or
  • forced the child to participate in or witness the abuse of the caretaker, or
  • used a weapon or threatened to use a weapon, and the caretaker believes the perpetrator intended or has the ability to cause harm.

Why should I know about "Promising Approaches"?

If a "mandated reporter" tells you they may have to file an abuse and neglect report to the Department of Children and Families, and you are living with domestic violence, ask them to read Promising Approaches.

Talk to them about your situation and show them the connection with the advice in Promising Approaches.

You can work together with the mandated reporter. Tell the mandated reporter if you think that connecting you and your family to other people or organizations will give you the support and encouragement you need to keep the children safe. People and organizations that may help include social services agencies, school teachers and officials, counseling services, faith organizations, battered women's programs or concerned family and friends.

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