Under Massachusetts law, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the state agency that receives all reports of suspected abuse and/or neglect of children under the age of 18. State law requires professionals whose work brings them in contact with children to notify DCF if they suspect that a child is being abused and/or neglected. DCF depends on reports from professionals and other concerned individuals to learn about children who may need protection. The Department receives more than 75,000 reports on children each year.
The Department is responsible for protecting children from abuse and/or neglect. DCF seeks to ensure that each child has a safe, nurturing, permanent home. The Department also provides a range of services to support and strengthen families with children at risk of abuse and/or neglect.
Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect
The following definitions may be found under the Department of Children and Families Regulations (110 CMR, section 2.00):
Abuse: the non-accidental commission of any act by a caretaker upon a child under age 18 which causes, or creates a substantial risk of, physical or emotional injury; or constitutes a sexual offense under the laws of the Commonwealth; or any sexual contact between a caretaker and a child under the care of that individual. This definition is not dependent upon location (i.e., abuse can occur while the child is in an out-of-home or in-home setting.
Shaken Baby Syndrome: infants, babies or small children who suffer injuries or death from severe shaking, jerking, pushing or puling may have been victims of Shaken Baby Syndrome. The act of shaking a baby is considered physical abuse, as spinal, head and neck injuries often result from violently shaking young children.
Neglect: Failure by a caretaker, either deliberately or through negligence or inability to take those actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, or other essential care; provided, however, that such inability is not due solely to inadequate economic resources or solely to the existence of a handicapping condition. This definition is not dependent upon location (i.e., neglect can occur while the child is in an out-of-home setting).
Emotional Injury: an impairment to or disorder of the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by observable and substantial reduction in the child's ability to function within a normal range of performance and behavior.
Physical Injury: Death; or fracture of a bone, subdural hematoma, burns, impairment of any organ, and any other such nontrivial injury; or soft tissue swelling or skin bruising, depending upon such factors as the child's age, circumstances under which the injury occurred and the number and location of bruises; or addiction to a drug or drugs at birth; or failure to thrive.
Institutional Abuse or Neglect: Abuse or neglect which occurs in any facility for children, including, but not limited to, group homes, residential or public or private schools, hospitals, detention and treatment facilities, family foster care homes, group day care centers and family day care homes.
Warning Signs for Child Abuse or Neglect
There are often certain recognizable physical and behavioral indicators of child abuse or neglect. The following signs, by themselves, may not be conclusive evidence of a problem, but serve as indicators of the possibility that a problem exists.
Signs of Physical Abuse
Bruising, welts or burns that cannot be sufficiently explained; particularly bruises on the face, lips, and mouth of infants or on several surface planes at the same time;
Withdrawn, fearful or extreme behavior;
Clusters of bruises, welts or burns, indicating repeated contact with a hand or instrument;
Burns that are insufficiently explained; for example, cigarette burns; and
Injuries on children where children don't usually get injured (e.g., the torso, back neck buttocks, or thighs).
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Difficulty walking or sitting;
Pain or itching in the genital area;
Torn, stained or bloody underclothing;
Frequent complaints of stomachaches or headaches;
Bruises or bleeding in external genitalia;
Feeling threatened by physical contact;
Inappropriate sex play or premature understanding of sex; and
Frequent urinary or yeast infections.
Signs of Emotional Injury
Inability to play as most children do;
Anti-social behavior or behavioral extremes; and
Delays in emotional and intellectual growth.
Signs of Neglect
Lack of medical or dental care;
Chronically dirty or unbathed;
Lack of adequate school attendance;
Lack of supervision; for example young children left unattended or with other children too young to protect or care for them;
Lack of proper nutrition;
Lack of adequate shelter;
Self-destructive feelings or behavior; and
Alcohol or drug abuse.
Each case of child abuse or neglect is individual. The child who has been hurt is always the victim. If you believe a child may be the victim of abuse or neglect, contact the Child-at-Risk Hotline at 1-800-792-5200.
Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect
If you need to report potential or actual child abuse or neglect, you should immediately telephone the 24-hour DCF Child Protection Hotline at 1-(800)-792-5200. You may also contact the DCF Area Office serving the child's residence and ask for the Protective Screening Unit. You will find a directory of the DCF Area Offices at the end of this Guide. Offices are staffed between 9 AM and 5 PM weekdays.
As a mandated reporter you are also required by law to mail or fax a written report to the Department within 48 hours after making the oral report. The form for filing this report can be obtained from your local DCF Area Office or from the DCF website: www.mass.gov/dcf.
Your report should include:
Your name, address and telephone number;
All identifying information you have about the child and parent or other caretaker, if known;
The nature and extent of the suspected abuse and/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;
The circumstances under which you first became aware of the child's injuries, abuse, maltreatment or neglect;
Massachusetts law defines the following professionals as mandated reporters: What is DCF?
Physicians, medical interns, hospital personnel engaged in the examination, care or treatment of persons, medical examiners;
Emergency medical technicians, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, podiatrists, optometrists, osteopaths;
Public or private school teachers, educational administrators, guidance or family counselors;
Early education, preschool, child care or after school program staff, including any person paid to care for, or work with, a child in any public or private facility, home or program funded or licensed by the Commonwealth, which provides child care or residential services. This includes child care resource and referral agencies, as well as voucher management agencies, family child care and child care food programs;
Child care licensors, such as staff from the Department of Early Education and Care;
Social workers, foster parents, probation officers, clerks magistrate of the district courts, and parole officers;
Firefighters and police officers;
School attendance officers, allied mental health and licensed human services professionals;
Psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers, drug and alcoholism counselors;
Clergy members, including ordained or licensed leaders of any church or religious body, persons performing official duties on behalf of a church or religious body, or persons employed by a religious body to supervise, educate, coach, train or counsel a child on a regular basis; and
The Child Advocate.
Investigations of Suspected Child Abuse
When investigating cases of suspected child abuse, the Easthampton Police Department works closely with the Northwestern District Attorney’s Child Abuse Unit. The Child Abuse Unit consists of assistant district attorneys, family service advocates and child interview specialists who partner with law enforcement and child protective services workers to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to child abuse. This is referred to as the Sexual Assault Intervention Network (S.A.I.N.)
The Child Abuse Unit’s mission is to stop child abuse and child abusers, to protect children and to keep children and families safe, healthy, and strong. The unit specializes in investigating and prosecuting cases involving the abuse of children, and uses a child-friendly setting, the Children’s Advocacy Center, to help children feel comfortable and safe. Also, the Child Abuse Unit partners with local and national experts to seek just outcomes and to provide support, medical care, and mental health services to victims and their families.
The specifics of a child abuse investigation depend on the type of report alleged, such as physical, sexual, kidnapping, luring/enticing, internet crimes, endangering or neglect; the child's age and ability to communicate, and how soon the report is received after an abuse incident.
Sexual Assault Intervention Network (S.A.I.N.)
The multi-disciplinary approach to child abuse provides for a sensitive, thorough and collaborative response to intervene in, investigate and prosecute child abuse cases. The objective of this network is to streamline the handling of child abuse cases so as to minimize secondary trauma to victims and to ensure that children are treated with dignity and respect.
Who makes up the S.A.I.N. team?
1. Assistant District Attorney: An Assistant District Attorney (ADA) attends the S.A.I.N. interview and acts as the legal consultant to the S.A.I.N. team regarding criminal investigations. The ADA will discuss the possibility of prosecution with you. If prosecution is appropriate, a Child Abuse ADA will represent the Commonwealth in all criminal court proceedings.
2. S.A.I.N. Coordinator: Works with professionals involved to coordinate and facilitate the team interview and also available on-going information about your child’s case.
3. Forensic Interviewer: Professional who is specially trained to conduct a child-centered, legally sound interview of a child.
4. Family Service Advocate: A Family Service Advocate works to meet the needs of child victims and their non-offending family members during the process of the S.A.I.N. interview and, if determined necessary, through the subsequent investigation, any court proceedings and any post-conviction proceedings.
5. Law Enforcement: Local law enforcement and/or state police are an important part of the team’s dedication to victim safety. Working with team members to effectively carry out any criminal investigations, making arrests and ensuring victim safety is the crucial area of involvement for law enforcement.
6. Department of Children and Families: The Department of Children and Families of Massachusetts works to ensure the safety of children. If there is suspicion a child is being abused sexually or physically or is being neglected by a caretaker, a member of DCF will investigate by looking into the areas of the child’s life. Depending on the outcome of their investigation, the DCF worker will recommend steps to maximize the child’s wellbeing.
The Children’s Advocacy Center provides a child friendly house where physically and sexually abused children receive the services they need in a coordinated response. These services include:
Forensically Sound Interviews
•A qualified forensic interviewer, as part of a multidisciplinary team (S.A.I.N.) approach, conducts an interview of a child suspected of having been physically or sexually abused, thus eliminating multiple interviews and reducing the stress to the family and child. Members of the interview team include an assistant district attorney, Department of Children and Family investigative social worker, forensic child interview specialist, family service advocate, police officer and S.A.I.N. team coordinator.
•Should a child need a medical examination for sexual or physical abuse, there are trained medical professionals available to do the examination.
•When necessary, referrals are made for follow up treatment for the child including specialized medical and mental health services.
•Family advocates from the District Attorney’s Child Abuse Unit provide the child and non-offending family members information about the legal process and support and guidance through a case prosecution.