Can the Department of Children and Families take my child before I even know that someone reported me?

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

If DCF thinks that your children are in immediate danger, they can go to a judge at Juvenile Court and ask for an emergency order that gives custody to DCF right away.  To get a custody order, DCF must testify under oath about the immediate danger.  If DCF gets the order, they can go and pick up your children immediately, before you even know about the order. Your home is not the only place DCF will look for your children.  DCF must go out, find your children, wherever they are and take them into DCF custody.

The emergency order that gives custody to DCF is good for up to 72 hours.  When the court gives custody to DCF ,it must also give notice to at least one parent at the same time. The notice tells the parent to come to court for a hearing.  At the hearing, the judge will decide if DCF will keep custody of your children after 72 hours.  This kind of hearing is sometimes called a “72 hour hearing” or a “three day hearing.”

If there is 72 hour hearing and you do not get notice, call your local Juvenile Court to get information about the hearing. 

You have the right to a lawyer.  If you cannot afford lawyer, the court must appoint one for you. You do not have to pay the lawyer if the court appoints one for you.  The court must tell you about your right to have a lawyer appoint one for you if you cannot afford one.

The sooner you can get a lawyer the better. The lawyer can use as much time as she can get to learn about your case.

Your children also have the right to a lawyer, and the court must appoint a lawyer for your children if you cannot afford one. You do not have to pay for your children’s lawyer.

You have a right to a hearing within three days. This hearing is for the judge to decide whether your child can stay with you while DCF investigates your case. You might be able to get a lawyer before your three day hearing. If you can get a lawyer, ask the lawyer to go to the hearing with you.

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