The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect in Massachusetts.
After receiving a complaint of abuse or neglect, the DCF will initiate an investigation and make a recommendation whether the child should be removed from the home if the complaint is substantiated. The agency will also work with prosecutors in filing criminal charges against the alleged abuser if appropriate.
Investigating Child Abuse
The DCF investigation generally includes:
- Home visit
- Evaluation of any injuries caused to the child
- Determination of who is responsible for the injuries
- Review of other children in the home
- Evaluation of the home environment
After the investigation, the DCF will make a written determination regarding the child’s safety and any risk of physical or emotional abuse to any of the children in the home. In addition, the investigator will make a determination of whether the complaint of abuse is substantiated.
Removal of the Child From the Family Home
Removing a child from the family home is an extreme measure. However, if the DCF determines that a child’s health or safety is in danger, the department will immediately remove the child if necessary to prevent abuse. This determination is generally made shortly after the initial investigation.
Keep in mind that even if the circumstances of the alleged abuse do not require immediate removal of the child, the suspected abuser could still face criminal penalties.
Types of Child Abuse and Neglect
- Physical Abuse. This generally includes any act against a child under the age of 18 that causes or creates a risk of physical injury. Injuries can range from bruising and broken bones to sexual abuse.
- Emotional Abuse. This can include any kind of psychological abuse against a child that causes the child to suffer injuries like stunted emotional development, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other mental injuries.
- Neglect. This generally includes failing to provide the necessary care for a child such as food, clothing, shelter, and even supervision. Neglect can either be willful or it can be negligent and careless conduct.
The DCF will work with the local district attorney regarding any substantiated claims of abuse or neglect. The DCF will share its evaluations and findings from its investigation with prosecutors.
Prosecutors can bring a variety of charges against child abusers. These can include:
- Assault and Battery. Someone convicted of assault and battery against a child under the age of 14 and causes bodily physical injury faces up to five years imprisonment. If the injuries caused are considered substantial, a defendant could face up to 15 years behind bars.
- Rape and Abuse. An adult who rapes or sexually abuses a child faces a possible life imprisonment.
- Wanton and Reckless Behavior. Someone convicted of wanton and reckless behavior that places a child in risk of bodily injury or sexual abuse faces up to two-and-one-half years in prison.
Individuals in certain professions are required by law to report suspected child abuse. These “mandated reporters” face criminal penalties including monetary fines and jail time should they fail to report abuse.
Mandated reporters can include:
- Doctors, physicians, nurses, dentists, and other medical professional staff
- School teachers and staff
- Child care workers
- Firefighters and police officers
- Church and religious workers
Contact a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with child abuse or failure to report suspected child abuse, you should be aware that you face very serious charges and should consider working with an attorney. An experienced Massachusetts criminal defense attorney can help review the facts against you and work on options for your defense. You do not want to fight a child abuse charge alone, and you will want a strong advocate on your side.