What can I do if I disagree with a DCF decision?

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

If you disagree with a decision that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) made about you or your family, you may be able to get that decision reviewed. Depending on the type of DCF decision you want reviewed, you can:

  • Ask for a DCF fair hearing;
  • Write a “grievance” to DCF;
  • Ask the DCF Office of the Ombudsman to review it; or
  • Submit a complaint to the Office of the Child Advocate.
How do I ask for a fair hearing?

You can ask DCF to change its decision by asking for a DCF fair hearing. Asking DCF to change its decision is called "appealing" the decision. In most cases, you must ask for a fair hearing within 30 calendar days of the decision that you are appealing. The following DCF decisions are the most common decisions appealed to a fair hearing:

  • “support” and “substantiated concern” determinations following a 51A report of abuse or neglect;
  • the listing of an individual’s name on the DCF Registry of Alleged Perpetrators;
  • reducing, stopping, or not providing a service your family wants or is receiving from DCF;
  • not approving an application to become a foster or pre-adoptive parent; and
  • closing the DCF case for a youth working with DCF at 18 or older.

A full list of the DCF decisions that can be appealed to a fair hearing are in DCF’s regulations 110 CMR 10.06.

Learn more about how to ask for a fair hearing and what comes next at the DCF Fair Hearings Help Center.

How do I use DCF’s grievance process?

If you disagree with a DCF decision or action but do not have a right to a fair hearing, you can use DCF’s "grievance process." Some examples of when you might use the grievance process are:

  • A DCF employee treats you unfairly.
  • A DCF employee is rude to you.
  • You disagree with your Action Plan.

To start a grievance, write a letter to the DCF office you are complaining about. In your letter, explain:

  • the decision or actions you disagree with,
  • why you disagree,
  • the date of the decision or action, and
  • information that shows why DCF should change its decision or action.

Send the letter to the DCF office that made the decision. That could be:

You need to write to DCF within 30 days of the date of the decision or action you disagree with. If you need more time, ask for it from the person who will review the grievance. If they agree to give you more time, make sure you get that agreement in writing.

In your letter, include all the facts and arguments that you want DCF to consider. Your letter may be your only chance to explain your case to DCF. They might talk to the people you are complaining about. They might talk to you.

DCF should send you its decision within 21 days of getting your letter. But DCF often takes longer than 21 days to respond. Call the DCF office to confirm that they received your grievance and are reviewing it. DCF says their decision is final. But if you still disagree with their decision, talk to a lawyer.

How do I ask the DCF Office of the Ombudsman for help?

DCF has an "Office of the Ombudsman." An “ombudsman” is a person who looks into complaints. The DCF Office of the Ombudsman helps parents who feel DCF treated them unfairly. The Office may also be able to answer specific questions that you have about how DCF should do things. If you are not able to solve a problem with your local DCF office, the Office of the Ombudsman may work with you to solve the problem. Its phone number is (617) 748-2444.

How do I submit a complaint about DCF to the Office of the Child Advocate?

The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) is a state agency that has oversight over DCF and other state agencies that serve children. If you have a concern about a child or youth who is getting services from DCF, you can submit a complaint to the OCA. The OCA will give you resources, information, and other options to help you address the problem. The OCA also tracks complaints to improve services for children in Massachusetts. The OCA will not advocate for you, give you legal advice, or change a subjective decision of DCF.

You can submit a complaint to the OCA by:

  • Phone: Call 617-979-8360 at any time. Leave a message with your name, telephone number, and a brief description of the reason for your call. The OCA returns calls during business hours, Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. 
  • Online: Email your complaint to [email protected]. Or fill out the online complaint form.
  • Mail: Mail your complaint to the OCA office:
    Office of the Child Advocate
    One Ashburton Place, 11th Floor
    Boston, MA 02108
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  • 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.

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