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Department of Children and Families

Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services updated and revised Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed May 2010

I didn't do anything. Why is this case open on me?

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) knows that it hurts a child to see or hear domestic violence. DCF’s job is to protect your child. If your DCF worker knows that your child hears or sees the other parent abuse you, your worker may open a case to protect your child.

You did not choose to be abused, and you may not be able to control the violence. But DCF opens cases in the name of the parent who is taking care of the child. If DCF opens a case because of domestic violence against you, DCF will say it’s a case of "neglect". This means that DCF thinks you are "neglecting" your child by letting your child see and hear the abuse.

Your DCF worker should try to help you and your child without blaming you for the abuse. Your worker should try to protect your child and also help you stay safe.

If DCF opens a case because someone is abusing you, call the local DCF office and ask to talk to a Domestic Violence Specialist. DCF Domestic Violence Specialists are trained about domestic violence and will understand what you are going through. A Domestic Violence Specialist should be able to help you. You can also get help from DCF by calling the Domestic Violence Consultation line at 617-748-2335.

My DCF worker told me to get a 209A protective order (restraining order). Do I have to?

Your DCF worker may tell you to get a 209A protective order ("restraining order") against the person who is abusing you. A 209A protective order orders the abusive person to stay away from you or to stop abusing you. It can also order the abusive person to stay away from your child. The DCF worker might think you need the 209A protective order to protect your child.

If you think a 209A protective order might help you and your child, you can:

But if you think getting a 209A protective order will put you or your child in more danger, explain this to your DCF worker. If your DCF worker does not understand, call the DCF office and talk to the worker's supervisor or to a DCF Domestic Violence Specialist.

If DCF still insists that you get a 209A protective order, you can file for one and tell the judge that you are only there because DCF asked you to get the order. The judge may disapprove of DCF trying to make you get an order, and may deny the order for this reason.

In the end, it is up to you. DCF cannot force you to get a 209A protective order. But DCF may try to take your child if you do not figure out a way to protect your child from the domestic violence.

My DCF worker says DCF will take my child if I go back to the person who abused me. What can I do?

Is your DCF worker wrong in thinking your boyfriend or spouse is dangerous to you or your child? If you do not think your boyfriend or spouse will abuse you or your child, explain this to your worker and try to show her why she is mistaken.

You have a tough choice to make if you cannot convince your DCF worker that it is safe for you to go back to your boyfriend or spouse. DCF may file a "Care and Protection" case in court and ask for custody of your child if your worker thinks that getting back together put your child in danger. It will be up to the judge to decide, but it is hard to keep custody when DCF is against it.

It is very important to have a lawyer if DCF tries to take your child in a Care and Protection case.  You have a right to have the court appoint a lawyer for you if you cannot afford one. Be sure to talk to your lawyer if you are thinking about going back to your boyfriend or spouse after DCF told you to stay away from him.

My worker says I have to go to counseling. Do I?

It is usually good to cooperate with DCF and get the services that your worker thinks you should get.

DCF may want you to join a support group. It might help you to talk to other women about what goes on in your home. A battered women's support group can also help you decide what’s best for you and your child.

DCF may want you to talk to a therapist, like a mental health counselor, social worker, or psychologist. If you go to a therapist, this does not mean you are "crazy." It is a good thing to talk to someone about what happens in your relationship. Talking to a therapist can help you figure out what to do. It is important to talk to your therapist about what can happen in court. Also, it is better to "vent" to a therapist than to your DCF worker.


If you signed releases, DCF may be able to get information from your therapist. Your therapist may even have to report to DCF how you are doing. Also, DCF can call the therapist to testify in court.

I heard that a therapist can report what I say to DCF.  Is that true?

While therapy is usually "confidential" (secret), it is not confidential in child custody cases. Therapists are also "mandated reporters." This means that your therapist has to tell DCF (file a 51A) if something you say makes it seem like your child is in danger (for example, if you tell the therapist that your partner hits your child).

Battered women's counselors are also "mandated reporters" under the law. If you talk to a battered women's counselor, ask her what kinds of things make her feel she needs to file a report with DCF.

What does DCF tell mandated reporters to do when there is domestic violence?

DCF tells mandated reporters to be very careful about your safety, if they suspect domestic violence. DCF has a pamphlet for mandated reporters called "Promising Approaches: Working with families, child welfare and domestic violence". The pamphlet has suggestions for mandated reporters to think about when they learn there is domestic violence.  The pamphlet encourages mandated reporters to look at each family’s situation and to think carefully about whether or not to file a report.  The pamphlet explains that it is important to name the abusive person in the 51A report. It tells reporters to ask you about your concerns. It gives practical examples to help reporters file a report with you instead of against you.

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