When DCF receives a report of abuse and/or neglect, called a "51A report," from either a mandated reporter or another concerned citizen DCF is required to evaluate the allegations and determine the safety of the children.

During DCF's response process to a report of a child abuse and neglect, all mandated reporters are required to answer the Department's questions and provide information to the Department to assist the Department in determining whether a child is being abused or neglected, the child's safety and an evaluation of the child's household.

Here are the steps in the Child Protective Services (CPS) process:

The report is screened. The purpose of the screening process is to gather sufficient information to determine whether the allegation meets the Department's criteria for suspected abuse and/or neglect, whether there is immediate danger to the safety of a child, whether DCF involvement is warranted and how best to target the Department's initial response. The Department begins its screening process immediately upon receipt of a report. During the screening process DCF obtains information from the person filing the report and also contacts professionals involved with the family such as doctors or teachers that may be able to provide information about the child's condition. DCF may also contact the family if appropriate.

If the report is "Screened-In", it is assigned either for a Child Protective Services (CPS) Investigation or Assessment Response:

1. CPS Investigation Response:
Generally, cases of sexual or serious physical abuse, or severe neglect will be assigned to the CPS Investigation Response. The severity of the situation will dictate whether it requires an emergency or non-emergency investigation. The primary purpose of the Investigation Response is to determine the safety of the reported child, the validity of an allegation and person(s) responsible, whether continued DCF intervention is necessary and to assess risk to the child.

2. CPS Assessment Response (Initial Assessment):
Generally, moderate or lower risk allegations, are assigned to the CPS Assessment Response. The primary purpose of the Assessment Response is to determine if DCF involvement is necessary and to engage and support families. This response involves a review of the reported allegations, assessing safety and risk of the child, identifying family strengths and determining what, if any, supports and services are needed.

A determination is made as to whether there is a basis to the allegation, whether the child can safely remain at home and whether the family would benefit from continued DCF involvement. If DCF involvement continues, a Comprehensive Assessment and Service Plan are developed with the family.

Some families come to the attention of the Department outside the 51A process: Child in Need of Services (CHINS) cases referred by the Juvenile Court, cases referred by the Probate Court, babies surrendered under the Safe Haven Act, and voluntary requests for services by a parent/family. These cases are generally referred directly for a Comprehensive Assessment. What are the timeframes for completing a Screening, Investigation and/or Assessment?

  • Screening: Begins immediately for all reports. For an emergency response it is completed within 2 hours. For a non-emergency response, investigation or assessment, screening may take up to 3 business days as appropriate.
  • Emergency Investigation: Must begin within 2 hours and be completed within five (5) business days of the report.
  • Non-Emergency Investigation: Must begin within 2 business days and be completed within fifteen (15) business days of the report.
  • Assessment (Initial): Must begin within 2 business days and be completed within fifteen (15) business days of the report.
  • Comprehensive Assessment: Up to 45 business days.

This information is provided by the Department of Children and Families.