Introduction to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF)

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Children's Law Center, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the Family Preservation Project

In Massachusetts, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the state agency that gets involved when a caretaker is accused of child abuse or neglect.

What does DCF do?
  1. Receives and investigates reports of suspected child abuse or neglect (51As). See How does the Department of Children and Families find out about child abuse and neglect?
  2. Opens DCF cases on families when: 
    1. DCF believes a caretaker abused or neglected the children;
    2. the court refers a family to DCF, and
    3. in very few situations, a family asks DCF for help.
      See What happens if DCF opens a case for my family?
  3. Monitors families with open DCF cases. See What happens if DCF opens a case for my family?
  4. Provides limited services to families. See What services does DCF provide? [article coming soon]
  5. Removes children from their homes and places children into: 
    1. foster homes with relatives or strangers,
    2. group homes, or 
    3. homes where the children will be adopted. 
      See Can DCF take my child?
  6. Files care and protection petitions in the Juvenile Court when it believes that a child needs to be removed from their home because the child is in need of “care and protection.”
    See Can DCF take my child?
  7. Keeps records of their involvement with families. See How to get reports and records from DCF.
  8. Handles reviews of the decisions that it makes. See What can I do if I disagree with the Department of Children and Families? and DCF Fair Hearings Help Center.
Do all DCF offices do things the same way?

DCF has offices all over Massachusetts. Each office is supposed to follow the same law and policies and do things the same way. But each office and even each worker at DCF often has their own style and approach to the work. Individual DCF workers and supervisors also have a lot of power. 

For example:

You should be able to follow the same procedure to get your DCF records from all DCF offices. See How to Get Reports and Records from DCF.

Use the information in the DCF section of MassLegalHelp to find out what DCF is supposed to do and how long they have to do it.

How do I find the DCF office for my town or another town?

Each local DCF office is called a DCF Area Office. Each DCF Area Office covers certain towns. Families most often work with DCF workers in the DCF Area Office that covers their town. You can find the list of DCF Area Offices on DCF’s website. You can look up the DCF Area Office for a particular town on DCF’s website.

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Find a FPP advocate
DCF FPP advocates

Family Preservation Project (FPP) advocates can help families with DCF involvement if the families:

  • are currently being investigated by DCF, or
  • have an open DCF case, or
  • in some cases, are at immediate risk of being involved with DCF, and

do not have a current DCF court case.

Find an FPP advocate.

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