Children in Need of Services
A child in need of services (CHINS) is a child under the age of seventeen who persistently runs away from home or who persistently refuses to obey the lawful and reasonable commands of a parent or guardian. A parent or legal guardian of a child or a police officer may apply for a petition in Juvenile Court. The petition states the specific details of the child's behavior.
Each school should have a duly-appointed supervisor of attendance. This designee may petition the court if a child between the ages of six and sixteen is persistently and willfully absent from school or persistently violates the lawful and reasonable regulations of the school.
Once a petition is filed, the child is given notice to appear before the judge in the Juvenile Court. The child has a right to have an attorney represent him or her. If the court determines the child is in need of services after hearing, the judge can impose conditions. The conditions may include: allowing the child to remain at home subject to conditions (counseling etc.); placing the child outside the home, at a child-care agency or private organization; or commit the child to DSS (Department of Social Services) custody.
The order of the court stays in effect for six months but is subject to review when appropriate. Orders expire on the child's eighteenth birthday, or in the case of truants, at age sixteen.
An alternative to a formal court CHINS proceeding is an informal CHINS review, also known as CHINS Diversion. Once a parent, guardian, or school official applies for a petition, the Assistant Chief Probation Officer (ACPO) reviews the case and determines if the case is appropriate for diversion. The goal of CHINS Diversion is to address the needs of the child without formal court involvement that could result in temporary or permanent custody to DSS.
If the ACPO accepts the case, the probation department meets with the child and parent to agree on services such as counseling or specific educational programs. These cases are reviewed by the probation department on a 30-day basis. If an Informal Agreement cannot be reached, the case is referred to the court.
Care And Protections
The Juvenile Court also has jurisdiction over cases involving abuse or neglect of a child under eighteen years old. Care and Protection proceedings start with a report of abuse or neglect. Mandated Reporters, such as teachers, doctors, guidance counselors, social workers, and police officers* who are acting in their professional capacity must report cases of child abuse and neglect to the Department of Social Services (DSS).
Other people with knowledge may report this information to DSS, although they are not mandated by law to do so.
If the case is screened in by DSS, a caseworker will conduct a 10-day investigation of the allegation. If DSS supports the allegation, a caseworker will work with the family to address the problems or they may proceed in Juvenile Court for temporary custody. If it is determined it is an emergency situation, DSS can petition the Juvenile Court to receive immediate custody, thus removing the child from the home. This hearing must occur within seventy-two hours of the removal. All parties, including the child, both parents, and DSS are represented by counsel. The Juvenile Court also presides over a final determination hearing, deciding whether the DSS will gain permanent custody.
*These are only a few examples of mandated reporters. See Mass. Gen Laws Ch. 119, Sec 51A or contact DSS.