If a child tells you they have been abused:
- Stay calm
- Believe the child
- Protect the child
- Get help
- Reassure the child
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep
- Keep the child informed about what will happen next
What is a 51-A Report
In any case of suspected or alleged abuse of a child, a call is made to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and a report is filed. This is called a 51A report. Those who work directly with children (mandated reporters) (link to Mandated Reporters list) must file an oral report immediately upon suspicionthat a child is suffering from abuse or neglect, and submit a written report to DCF. within 48 hours after filing the oral report. However, anyone can call and make a report. To make this call, contact the DCF Area Office serving the child’s residence and ask for the Protective Screening Unit, or call: Child at Risk Hotline: 1-800-792-5200.
How do I file a 51-A
When you call the Department of Children and Families (DCF), you will be directed to someone who will help you file a 51A report. When a 51A report is filed, it does not necessarily mean law enforcement will immediately be involved. The purpose for the report is so that the right steps can be taken for the child at risk. The staff member answering the call will guide you through a series of questions as well as advise you on what next steps will be taken.
Be prepared to have the following information before your call:
- All identifying information you have about the child and parent/other caregiver (if applicable)
- The nature and extent of the suspected abuse or neglect, including any evidence or knowledge of prior injury, abuse, maltreatment, or neglect.
- The identity of the person you believe is responsible for the abuse or neglect (if known)
- The circumstances under which you first became aware of the child’s injuries, abuse, maltreatment or neglect.
- What action, if any, has been taken to treat, shelter or otherwise assist the child.
- Any other information you believe might be helpful in establishing the cause of the injury and/or person responsible.
- Your name, address, and telephone number.
Timeline After Filing
After DCF receives a 51A report, they evaluate the allegations and determine the safety of the children.
- The report is screened:
- Immediately after the report is received, DCF works to gather sufficient information regarding the allegations in order to determine if allegations meets the Department’s criteria for suspected abuse and/or neglect. The current safety of the child as well as what DCF’s initial actions will be are also considered. In non-emergency settings, this process may take up to 3 business days. In emergency setting, this process is completed within 2 hours. Either a Child Protective Services (CPS) Investigation or a CPS Assessment Response follows.
- If the report is ‘screened in’, it is assigned either for a Child Protective Services Investigation or Assessment Response:
- Child Protective Services (CPS) Investigation: In cases of sexual or serious physical abuse, or severe neglect, cases are assigned to CPS investigation Response. The Investigation sets out to assess the validity of the report, identifying necessary parties if possible, and the current safety and potential risk to the reported child. In the event of an emergency, the CPS Investigation will start 2 hours after the report’s submission and will be completed within 5 business days. In non-emergency investigations, it must be started 2 business days after the report and may take up to 15 business days to complete.
- CPS Assessment Response (Initial Response): The Assessment Response is used to engage and support families, and determine if DCF involvement is necessary in cases of moderate or lower risk allegations. The Response reviews the reported allegation, assessing safety and risk for the child, identifying family strengths and determining what (if any) support and services the family needs. An initial assessment begins within 2 business days and be completed within 15 business days of the report.
- After the investigation/response, it is decided if the child can remain at home or if the family could benefit from continued DCF support. A Comprehensive Assessment and Service Plan is developed with the family for potential continued DCF involvement. A comprehensive assessment may take up to 45 business days.
For more information on the the screening, investigation or assessment process please refer to: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dcf/child-abuse-neglect/screening.html
- The report is screened: