Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect - Massachusetts

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Individual Responsibility to Report

Citation: Ann. Laws Ch. 119, § 51A

A mandated reporter shall make an oral report immediately when, in his or her professional capacity, he or she has reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from any of the following:

  • Abuse inflicted upon him or her that causes harm or substantial risk of harm to the child's health or welfare, including sexual abuse
  • Neglect, including malnutrition
  • Being a sexually exploited child
  • Being a human trafficking victim, as defined by chapter 233, § 20M

Within 48 hours of making the oral report, the mandated reporter shall file a written report detailing the suspected abuse or neglect.

Content of Reports

Citation: Ann. Laws Ch. 119, § 51A

A report filed under this section shall contain the following:

  • The names and addresses of the child and the child's parents or other person responsible for the child's care, if known
  • The child's age and sex
  • The nature and extent of the child's injuries, abuse, maltreatment, or neglect, including any evidence of prior injuries, abuse, maltreatment, or neglect
  • The circumstances under which the person required to report first became aware of the child's injuries, abuse, maltreatment, or neglect
  • Whatever action, if any, was taken to treat, shelter, or otherwise assist the child
  • The name of the person or persons making the report
  • Any other information that the person reporting believes might be helpful in establishing the cause of the injuries
  • The identity of the person or persons responsible for the neglect or injuries
  • Other information required by the department

Reporting Suspicious Deaths

Citation: Ann. Laws Ch. 119, § 51A

A mandated reporter who has reasonable cause to believe that a child has died as a result of any of the conditions listed above shall report the death to the district attorney for the county in which the death occurred and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Reporting Substance-Exposed Infants

Citation: Ann. Laws Ch. 119, § 51A

A mandated reporter who, in his or her professional capacity, has reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering from a physical or emotional injury resulting from physical dependence upon an addictive drug at birth shall immediately communicate with the department orally and, within 48 hours, shall file a written report with the department detailing the suspected abuse or neglect.

Agency Receiving the Reports

Citation: Ann. Laws Ch. 119, § 51A; Code of Regs. Tit. 110, § 4.20

Both the oral and written reports shall be submitted to the Department of Children and Families. A mandated reporter may, in addition to filing a report under this section, contact local law enforcement authorities or the child advocate about the suspected abuse or neglect.

In regulation: To report known or suspected abuse or neglect of children during business hours on business days, telephone calls by mandated and nonmandated reporters should be directed to the department. The caller should select the area or regional office that covers the residence of the parents or caregivers of the children in question. Each area and regional office of the department shall have one or more employees designated to receive child abuse and neglect reports.

To report known or suspected abuse or neglect of children during evenings, weekends, and holidays, telephone calls by mandated and nonmandated reporters should be directed to the statewide child-at-risk hotline.

Initial Screening Decisions

Citation: Code of Regs. Tit. 110, §§ 4.20; 4.21; 4.25

If an individual attempts to report a matter that is not child abuse or neglect to the department or hotline, the reporter shall be advised that the report is not appropriate. The department shall treat such call not as a report of abuse or neglect, but rather as a request for information and referral services.

Upon receipt of a report, the department immediately shall screen the report. The purpose of screening is to identify children at risk of abuse or neglect from a caregiver and to distinguish the need for an emergency or nonemergency response.

If the screener determines that the report constitutes an event or subject matter within the department's mandate and that the reported condition poses a threat of immediate danger to the life, health, or physical safety of the child, then the screener shall designate the report an 'emergency report' and cause the matter to be assigned for an immediate investigation.

If the screener determines that the report constitutes an event or subject matter within the department's mandate and that the reported condition does not pose a threat of immediate danger to the life, health, or physical safety of the child, then the screener shall designate the report a 'nonemergency report' and cause the matter to be assigned for an investigation as provided in 110 CMR 4.27.

Agency Conducting the Assessment/Investigation

Citation: Ann. Laws Ch. 119, § 51B

Upon receipt of a report, the department shall investigate the suspected child abuse or neglect, provide a written evaluation of the household of the child, including the parents and home environment, and make a written determination relative to the safety of and risk posed to the child. The department shall coordinate with other agencies to make all reasonable efforts to minimize the number of interviews of any potential victim of child abuse or neglect.

The department shall immediately report to the district attorney and local law enforcement authorities a sexually exploited child or a child who is otherwise a human trafficking victim, regardless of whether the child is living with a parent, guardian, or other caregiver.

Assessment/Investigation Procedures

Citation: Ann. Laws Ch. 119, § 51B

The investigation shall include the following:

  • A home visit at which the child is observed, if appropriate
  • A determination of the nature, extent, and cause or causes of the injuries
  • The identity of the person or persons responsible for the injuries
  • The name, age, and condition of other children in the same household
  • An evaluation of the parents and the home environment
  • All other pertinent facts or matters

Upon completion of the investigation and evaluation, the department shall make a written determination relative to the following:

  • The safety of the child and risk of physical or emotional injury to that child
  • The safety of and risk to any other children in the household
  • Whether the suspected child abuse or neglect is substantiated

Timeframes for Completing Investigations

Citation: Ann. Laws Ch. 119, § 51B

The investigation of all emergency reports shall commence within 2 hours of initial contact and shall be completed within 5 working days after the receipt of the report.

The investigation of all nonemergency reports shall commence within 2 working days of initial contact and shall be completed within 15 working days following the receipt of the report.

Classification of Reports

Citation: Ann. Laws Ch. 119, § 51B; Code of Regs. Tit. 110, § 4.32

Upon receipt of a report, the department shall investigate the suspected child abuse or neglect and make a written determination as to whether the suspected child abuse or neglect is substantiated.

If the department determines during the initial screening period of an investigation that a report is frivolous, or other absolute determination that abuse or neglect has not taken place, such report shall be declared as 'allegation invalid.'

In regulation: After completion of its investigation, the department shall determine whether the allegations in the report are 'supported' or 'unsupported.'

To support a report means that the department has reasonable cause to believe that an incident of abuse or neglect by a caregiver did occur. To support a report does not mean that the department has made any finding with regard to the perpetrator(s) of the reported incident of abuse or neglect. It simply means that there is reasonable cause to believe that some caregiver did inflict abuse or neglect upon the child in question.

'Reasonable cause to believe' means a collection of facts, knowledge, or observations that tend to support or are consistent with the allegations, and when viewed in light of the surrounding circumstances and credibility of persons providing information, would lead one to conclude that a child has been abused or neglected.