What if I disagree with DCF’s decision or I don’t like my worker?

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

I don't like my Department of Children and Families worker. What can I do?

Try to get along with your worker. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) may hold it against you if you cannot get along with your worker or if it seems like you are not cooperating. But remember that working together does not mean you are friends. You need to be able to get along with your worker, but you do not have to like him or her.

Try to talk to your worker about any problems you are having. If you think there are misunderstandings, tell your worker what is bothering you. Speak nicely to your worker, even if you are upset with him or her. You may need your worker to help you in Probate and Family Court. For example, if you have a custody case against the person who abused you, your DCF worker might be able to show the judge that the abusive person should not have custody because your child is afraid of him.

If there is a real problem with your worker, call the DCF office and ask to speak to the worker's supervisor. DCF also has Domestic Violence Specialists that you can call for help. Be specific about your complaints. Do not just say that you do not like your worker. Tell the supervisor or Domestic Violence specialist the things that the worker has done or said which seem wrong. Explain that you want to cooperate with DCF but need help with the problems you are having with your worker.

What can I do if I disagree with the Department of Children and Families’ decision?

You can file an appeal and ask for a "fair hearing." This is a chance to argue about certain DCF decisions. A hearing officer who is not part of your case will listen to what you have to say and what your DCF worker has to say. The hearing officer will then decide whether DCF was right or wrong. If the hearing officer thinks DCF was wrong, the hearing officer will order DCF to change its decision.

Some of the reasons you can ask for a Fair Hearing are:

  • you want to appeal DCF's decision that a report of abuse or neglect is "supported;"
  • you want to appeal DCF's decision to put your name on the "Registry of Alleged Perpetrators" (a list of people DCF says abused or neglected children
  • you want to appeal DCF's decision to stop or reduce your services;
  • DCF stopped or reduced your services without giving you any advance notice; or
  • you think DCF did not follow its own regulation and this caused a lot of harm.

Write to the DCF Fair Hearing Office, 600 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111, to ask for a Fair Hearing. You have to ask for a Fair Hearing within 30 days after you get the decision that you want to appeal. Be sure to include the following in your letter:

  1. your name;
  2. your address;
  3. your phone number;
  4. the name of your child;
  5. the name and address of the DCF office;
  6. a copy or description of the decision you want to appeal; and
  7. the date of the decision.
  8. If you need an interpreter for the hearing, say so and tell DCF what language you speak.

Make two copies of the letter before you mail it to the DCF Fair HearingOffice. Send one copy to the director of the local DCF office that made the decision you are appealing. Keep the other copy of the letter for yourself.

If you lose a fair hearing, you can file an appeal in Superior Court.

Try to talk to a lawyer if you think you might want a Fair Hearingor if you want to appeal a Fair Hearingdecision in court. Call your local legal services program to see if you can get free legal help. You can also call a lawyer referral service to try to find a private lawyer to help you at a price you can afford.

What if I don’t speak English well enough to do a Fair Hearing?

DCF regulations say that you can bring an interpreter to the hearing or ask DCF to give you an interpreter. DCF’s notice about your right to a hearing tells you how to get them to appoint an interpreter for you.  If you want DCF to give you an interpreter, tell them in your letter that asks for a Fair Hearing and make sure you tell them what language you speak.

What if I disagree with a different kind of DCF decision?

You can only get a Fair Hearing about certain kinds of DCF decisions.  Some are on the list in the question “What can I do if I disagree with the Department of Children and Families’ decision?” The complete list of decisions that you can appeal to a Fair Hearing is in the DCF regulations.

You can appeal the kinds of DCF decisions that are not on the list through DCF's "grievance process." For example, you can file a grievance about the way that a DCF worker or other employee treats you.

To start a grievance, file a written complaint at the office that you are complaining about. You can file a grievance at:

  • the DCF Area Office;
  • the DCF Regional Office;
  • the Contracted Provider Agency (an agency that provides DCF services to you or
  • the DCF Foster Care Review Unit.

You have to file the written complaint within 30 days of the date that you had the problem with DCF. When you write the complaint, include all of the facts and arguments that you want DCF to consider.

DCF has to send you its decision within 21 days.

Is there anyone else I can call with questions or concerns about DCF?

DCF has an "Office of the Ombudsman." This office helps parents who feel DCF treated them unfairly. It is for people who have tried to solve a problem with a local DCF office and are still unhappy. Staff at the Ombudsman's Office can work with you and your local DCF office to solve problems. The phone number is (617) 748-2444.

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