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Care and Protection Proceedings in Juvenile Court

Find resources, definitions, and a timeline of the care and protection case process in the Juvenile Court.

Table of Contents

Introduction

The Massachusetts Juvenile Court handles cases where someone reports that a child is being abused and/or neglected because their parents are not taking care of them. Most of the care and protections are filed by the Department of Children and Families (DCF).  If the care and protection case is opened, laws and rules need to be followed. Many, but not all of those, are explained on this page. This page is designed to explain the care and protection process in Juvenile Court. Anyone who is interested can learn more about care and protection here. This is legal information only and does not take the place of legal advice. If you are involved in a care and protection case, and have a question, ask your attorney. They can give you advice and explain the details.

People Involved in a Care and Protection Case: Judges and Staff

Judge

The judge is the person who oversees the Care and Protection case. One judge is assigned to each case, and they will hear the case each time it comes to court. They are in charge in the courtroom and make decisions about the case. They decide who will have custody of the children in a case. They make the decision at the end of a motion or trial. Sometimes their decisions are spoken in the courtroom, and sometimes they are written decisions or orders.

Clerk Magistrate’s Office

The Clerk Magistrate and their staff have an office in the courthouse. They are in charge of keeping the record of the case safe. They have all the papers on a case. They put what happens in court in a secure computer system. They keep track of who comes to court. They get interpreters for people. They take care of the audio recordings of what happens in court. They schedule all court events. Motions and other paperwork for a case are filed in the Clerk’s Office. The staff in the clerk’s office can answer questions about attorneys, scheduling and events in the case.

Probation Department

The Probation Department has probation officers (PO) and support staff who help with Care and Protection cases. When a parent first comes to court, they meet with a PO. The PO will ask them questions to make sure the court’s records are correct. The PO will ask them about their income to see if they qualify for a free attorney. PO’s also help the court by visiting with children who are not living at home. If children are placed with a parent or someone else, the PO makes sure the custody orders are being followed. PO’s also help with drug and alcohol screens.

People Involved in a Care and Protection Case: DCF and Parent's Attorney

DCF Attorney

The DCF Attorney represents the Department of Children and Families. It is their job to present the DCF case. They communicate with the other attorneys on a case to make sure information is shared and problems fixed. They are responsible for following the rules and standards that apply to the case. 

DCF Social Worker

DCF has different types of social workers:

  • Intake Workers take calls when a 51A is filed reporting that a child is being abused or neglected
  • Investigators (or Emergency Response Workers) investigate those allegations and write a 51B report
  • On-Going Social Workers are assigned if a case is opened after the investigation
  • Adoption Social Workers are assigned to the child if the goal changes to adoption

The On-Going SW assess the needs of the family. Then they create an action plan to reunify the children with the parents. They might make referrals or recommendations about services to help. They supervise family time between parents and children. They find placements for children in foster homes or with family members. They write reports for the court to provide updates. All SW’s have supervisors and managers who help with cases.

Attorney for a Parent

The attorney for the parent represents them in court. They advocate for what the parent wants in the case. They give the parent information about the law and updates on the case. They also provide advice on the legal options available to the parent. They help the parent resolve questions with DCF or other parties on the case.

People Involved in a Care and Protection Case: Child's Attorney, GAL, and Court Investigator

Attorney for a Child

The attorney for the child represents them in court. They advocate for what the child wants in the case. They give the child information about the law and updates on the case. They also provide advice on the legal options available to the child. They help the child resolve questions with DCF or other parties on the case. If a child is too young to think about and say what they want in a case, the attorney does what they think the child would want if they could talk about it. This is called “substituted judgement.”

GAL

The judge might appoint a Guardian Ad Litem or GAL in a case.  There are different reasons for a GAL, and it doesn’t always happen.  A GAL might be appointed for a child in DCF custody if:

  • they receive certain medications,
  • they have special rights that need to be protected,
  • there is a special issue that needs investigation,
  • they have special education needs
  • there are religious or other reasons that treatment for a child has been refused, or
  • doctors are recommending that life sustaining medical treatment should stop

The GAL will then investigate the situation, file reports with the court and monitor or help with the situation.

G.L. c. 119, § 38A

G.L. c. 123, § 8B

Rogers v. Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health (Antipsychotic meds)

Care and Protection of Sharlene

Care and Protection of Beth (Extraordinary medical treatment)

Custody of a Minor (No. 1) (no code order)

Guardianship of Roe

GAL Forms

Court Investigator

The Court Investigator is an independent person appointed by the judge to investigate the background of the case, the current needs of the children, and the parents’ ability to take care of the children. It is very important to talk to the investigator to make sure the judge learns each person’s side of the case. They file a written report with the court and sometimes testify in court.

G.L. c. 119, § 21A

G.L. c. 119, § 24

Juvenile Court Rules for the Care and Protection of Children:  Rule 11

Juvenile Court Rules for the Care and Protection of Children:  Rule 14

Care and Protection of Zita

Adoption of Luc

Guidelines for Court Investigator Reports

Court Investigator Forms

Events in a Care and Protection Case

Filing a Care and Protection

Any person can file a Care and Protection petition.  Most are filed by Social Workers from the Department of Children and Families (DCF). The petition is a form.  The petition is attached to a sworn statement about child abuse and/or neglect.  Petitions and affidavits are read by a judge.  The judge decides if the child is at immediate risk of harm and if they need to be removed from their parents until a hearing happens.  If the judge thinks the child is at risk and needs to be removed, they allow the petition.  Then they can give temporary custody to DCF or one of the parents.  The case will be scheduled for a Temporary Custody Hearing.

Filing Forms

Temporary Custody Hearing

The Temporary Custody Hearing is also called a “TCH” or a “72-hour hearing.”  This is a hearing in court held soon after DCF files a care and protection petition asking to remove children from their parents.  DCF calls witnesses and files documents to show that it would be dangerous for a child to return to their parents right away.  Sometimes these hearings happen, and sometimes people decide to make agreements about what will happen next.

Juvenile Court Rule 9 Temporary Custody Hearing

G.L. c. 119, § 24

G.L. c. 119, § 25

Care and Protection of Manuel

Care and Protection of Lillian

Morin v. Commissioner of Public Welfare

Care and Protection of Robert (standard of proof)

Catholic Charitable Bureau of the Archdiocese of Boston, Inc. Petition to Dispense with Consent to Adoption (burden of proof) and (The decision by the judge turns on their assessment of the risk to the child)

Temporary Custody Hearing Forms

Court Investigator’s Report is Filed

The Court Investigator’s Report is an independent report on the background of the case, the current needs of the children, and the parents’ ability to take care of the children. The written report is filed with the court so the judge and all counsel can read it. 

G.L. c. 119, § 21A

G.L. c. 119, § 24

Juvenile Court Rules for the Care and Protection of Children:  Rule 11

Juvenile Court Rules for the Care and Protection of Children:  Rule 14

Care and Protection of Zita

Adoption of Luc

Guidelines for Court Investigator Reports

Status Hearing

A Status Hearing may be held within 90 days of the filing. This is a time for the judge to talk to each of the parties and find out about how the children are doing and the progress the parents are making. At the end of a Status Hearing the judge might make suggestions to the parties and schedule another Status Hearing, a Pre-Trial Conference, or a Hearing on the Merits.

Juvenile Court Rule 14 Status Hearing

Pre-Trial Conference

At the Pre-Trial Conference the judge makes sure the case is ready for trial. The judge asks the lawyers to describe what each party wants to have happen next. The judge may schedule the trial and make orders about papers that need to be filed before the trial.

Juvenile Court Rules for the Care and Protection of Children:  Rule 15

Hearing on the Merits

The Hearing on the Merits or Trial is the time for DCF to present witnesses and documents to show the needs of each child, and whether the parents can meet those needs. The judge must decide if each child is “in need of care and protection” because their parents are unfit. If the judge decides that they are unfit, the judge then decides if that is temporary or so long-term that the parents’ rights to the child should be terminated. The judge also must decide if the DCF plan for the child is in the child’s best interest.

G.L. c. 119, § 26

G.L. c. 210, § 3

Juvenile Court Rules for the Care and Protection of Children: Rule 19

Adoption of Gillian

Adoption of Jacques

Care and Protection of Zeb

Permanency Hearings

At least once a year, the court has a Permanency Hearing for each case. The judge reviews the DCF plan for the child and the efforts they are making to accomplish that plan. The DCF goal might be stabilization, reunification, guardianship, adoption, or an alternative plan for children 16 and older. The judge might also make orders about moving toward the plan or schedule a trial.

G.L. c. 119, § 29B

G.L. c. 119, § 29C

Trial Court Rule VI:  Uniform Rules for Permanency Hearings

Juvenile Court Rules for the Care and Protection of Children: Rule 19

Adoption of Xarina

Adoption of Nate

Care and Protection of Rashida

Review and Redetermination

After a trial, a judge can determine that parents are unfit but not terminate their parental rights.  This is an adjudication.  Six months after that, anyone on the case can file a motion for a Review and Redetermination trial. This trial is a time for the judge to hear updated evidence. Everyone can present evidence about the child’s needs, the parents’ fitness, and the long-term plan for the child. The judge may decide the parents are fit and dismiss the case. But if the judge finds the parents unfit, the judge must decide if it is temporary or not.  If the judge decides that the unfitness is not temporary, the judge can issue a decree that terminates the parents’ rights to the child. The judge also must decide if the termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interest.  Lastly, the judge must decide which long-term plan is in the child’s best interest.

Other Types of Hearings that Might Happen During a Care and Protection Case

Motion Hearing

While a case is open, any party can file a motion. A motion is a way to ask the judge to do something. A motion must ask for something and explain why it should happen. A motion needs an affidavit attached to explain the facts of the request. An affidavit is a sworn statement made by someone who knows, firsthand, about what they are saying. If the person asking for something wants to have the judge hear the motion, they must schedule it for a hearing. Some types of motions get a decision without a hearing.

There are rules about motions. Everyone on a case should get notice of a motion and have a chance to explain what they want. Everyone should get time to decide what they want unless the judge thinks it’s an emergency. Usually, everyone gets 10 days before the hearing is held.

Abuse of Discretion Hearing

DCF makes decisions about children in their custody. Those decisions should keep the child safe. It should be what’s best for the child. DCF should consider what the child or parents think. People sometimes disagree with the decision. Sometimes they disagree with how the decision was made. If a parent or child thinks the decision was made for the wrong reasons or without careful thought, they can file a Motion to request an Abuse of Discretion Hearing.

Reasonable Efforts Hearing

The judge must decide if DCF is making Reasonable Efforts in the CP.  This includes what DCF does to:

  • Avoid removing children from their parents,
  • Place children with family members,
  • Work with parents to regain custody of their child,
  • Return children to their parents,
  • Achieve the permanency plan for the child.

If someone thinks DCF isn’t making Reasonable Efforts, they can file a motion.  At the motion hearing people will present evidence about the efforts. Then the judge will decide and make orders if needed.

Rogers Hearing

DCF can make most of the medical decisions for children in their custody. But only a judge can allow certain medications. If a doctor recommends one of them, a Roger’s Motion is filed. The prescriber needs to explain the treatment, side effects, and alternatives. There might be a hearing or an agreement. If the judge allows the motion, a Guardian Ad Litem will be assigned. The GAL will monitor the treatment. Periodically, the GAL will report to the court about how the treatment is working. 

G.L. c. 123, § 8B

G.L. c. 119, § 38A

Rogers v. Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health (Antipsychotic meds)

Rogers Hearings and Other Types of Guardians Ad Litem

Guardian Ad Litem/Extraordinary Medical Treatment

A guardian ad litem in this category is appointed to make recommendations regarding the authorization of extraordinary medical treatment. Extraordinary medical treatment includes administration of medical treatment and/or procedures not considered routine, refusal of medical treatment and/or procedures on religious or other grounds, administration of antipsychotic medication, and forgoing or discontinuing life sustaining medical treatment pursuant to G.L. c. 119, § 38A.

Guardian Ad Litem/Treatment Monitor

A guardian ad litem in this category is appointed after the judge has approved an extraordinary medical treatment plan (“plan”) to monitor compliance with the plan and the effects of treatment.

Care and Protection of Sharlene

Care and Protection of Beth (Extraordinary medical treatment)

Custody of a Minor (No. 1) (no code order)

Rogers v. Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health (Antipsychotic meds)

Guardianship of Roe

Reasonable Efforts, Abuse of Discretion, and Grandparent and Sibling Visitation

Additional Resources   for Reasonable Efforts, Abuse of Discretion, and Grandparent and Sibling Visitation

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