Custody Guide For Child Caregivers: Caregiver process in Juvenile Court

Information on the caregiver process in the Juvenile Court.

Table of Contents

How does a child custody case begin in Juvenile Court?

DCF files a petition requesting custody of a child alleging that the child has been abused or neglected by his/her parents. This begins a Care and Protection case in Juvenile Court.

Who will have an attorney in a Care and Protection case?

The parents, if indigent, and the child, will have an attorney appointed to represent them throughout the Juvenile Court process. DCF will be represented by an attorney. You, as caregiver, will not have attorney representation.

When is the first hearing held in Juvenile Court?

A hearing to determine the temporary custody of the child should be held within 72 hours of the filing of the petition. After the hearing, the court may return custody to the parents and dismiss the case; return custody to the parents with court orders; place the child in the temporary custody of DCF; or place the child in the temporary custody of a third party.

What supports does DCF provide to parents, children and kinship foster parents?

DCF provides services to the child and the parents to support their reunification as soon as safely possible. DCF makes sure each child is on Mass Health and is enrolled and attending school. DCF provides the kinship foster parent a twice a month stipend, a quarterly clothing allowance and a birthday and holiday award. DFC visits the home each month to see the child. DCF requires visitation between the child and parents and with siblings if they are not placed together. Visits usually occur once a week at the DCF office, supervised by the DCF social worker. Most children placed in foster care are reunited with their parents within a year. If the child and parent(s) cannot be reunited, the kinship foster parent may be asked to become an adoptive parent or a legal guardian.

Kinship foster care: Susan is currently caring for her sister’s two young children who were placed with her by DCF following the filing of a Care and Protection petition. Since placement, Susan was required to complete DCF classes to become a licensed foster parent. The children and the parents receive services from DCF, including childcare so Susan can continue working. The children get free meals at school. Susan receives a foster care stipend twice monthly as well as a quarterly clothing allowance from DCF. The children are covered by Mass Health and are visited in the home each month by a DCF social worker. Visits between the children and their mother are going well so Susan sees real progress toward their reunification.

What is Temporary Third Party Custody?

In the Juvenile Court, after DCF files a Care and Protection Petition and there is a temporary custody hearing, the court may give temporary custody directly to a third party. The judge may decide this because the child has a strong connection with the caregiver and the caregiver cannot become a licensed foster parent or does not want the child to be in the custody of DCF. The caregiver becomes the temporary custodian of the child and must comply with any court orders.

What services will be provided during Temporary Third Party custody?

DCF will continue to provide services to the child and the parent, but the third party custodian will not receive the foster care stipend or clothing allowance. The third party custodian may apply for child only benefits from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) which is less than would be received as a kin foster parent. DCF should enroll the child in Mass Health and provide childcare if needed. Temporary third party custody only lasts while the case is open in Juvenile Court.

Temporary Third Party Custody: Maria and Sam were contacted by DCF after their son overdosed and left his two young children with their mother who also struggled with substance use. DCF filed a Care and Protection petition in Juvenile Court so DCF could be given custody. Maria and Sam applied to be kinship foster parents. When DCF tried to clear the grandparents to become licensed foster parents, DCF found that the home they were living in was too small and that Sam’s criminal conviction when he was a young adult would prevent them from becoming licensed foster parents. At the temporary custody hearing, the Juvenile Court observed the affection the children had for their grandparents and heard that they had cared for the children for long periods in the past. The court determined that it was in the best interest of the children to be placed with the grandparents, so the court gave the grandparents third party temporary custody of the children. This meant that as long as the case was open in Juvenile Court, the grandparents would have custody of the children, but since they didn’t qualify as licensed foster parents, they would not be able to receive a stipend and clothing allowance from DCF. The children would continue to receive childcare and other services through DCF, and the parents would receive reunification services.

What happens next in Juvenile Court?

A series of court hearings will follow to determine if the child can be safely reunited with the parents.

If I am caring for the children, will I know about the hearings?

You will be notified of some court hearings and may attend if you are a kinship foster parent or a temporary third party custodian. Inform the attorneys if you have information you would like to share with the judge.

What is a permanency hearing?

At the permanency hearing the court reviews the DCF goal for the child. DCF must show the court they have made reasonable efforts to achieve that goal. If DCF has custody, a permanency hearing is held at least every 12 months to approve or disapprove the DCF goal for the child. If parental rights have been terminated, a permanency hearing shall be held every six months.

How long will DCF provide reunification services for the parents?

If the goal is reunification, DCF will provide reunification services to the family. Most children will be able to reunify within 12 months. After 12 months, DCF may decide whether to change the goal from reunification to adoption or guardianship. If the goal is changed to adoption, DCF will continue to provide reunification services to the family and will assign an adoptive social worker to the child.

What if the child is not a U.S. citizen?

If the child has been abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, DCF or the child's attorney should ask the court to make court findings for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. This first step toward legal status and obtaining a "green card" for the child should be taken care of before you adopt or take guardianship of the child.

What if the child cannot be returned safely to live with the parents?

If the child cannot be safely reunited with the parents, DCF may suggest you adopt or obtain a guardianship of the child. DCF will explain the benefits to you and the child of establishing a lifelong relationship through adoption. DCF will also explain the stipend you may receive through the Adoption Assistance Program or the Guardianship Assistance Program that could replace the foster care stipend you have been receiving twice each month. 

Can I adopt the child through Juvenile Court?

If the child and parents are not reunified within 15 months, DCF may move to terminate parental rights so the current kinship foster parent may adopt the child or DCF could place the child in a pre-adoptive home. To be considered as the adoptive parent, you must participate and be approved by a DCF adoption home study. If the court terminates parental rights, the child is free for adoption.

What hearings are held in court if the goal is changed to adoption?

Before a child can be adopted, the parents must either agree to surrender their parental rights or a hearing must be held to determine whether the parents are unfit and it is in the best interests of the child to have parental rights terminated. If parental rights are terminated, the case may be appealed to the Appeals Court before an adoption petition can be filed in Juvenile Court.

Will I lose twice monthly support if I adopt the child?

You may be able to receive continued twice monthly benefits depending on the needs of the child.

Adoption through Juvenile Court: Claude and Julia have been caring for their granddaughter, Emma, since she was born. DCF placed Emma in their care because her mother suffered from substance use disorder and refused treatment. Emma’s biological father has never been identified and her mother was unable to complete parenting classes and a drug rehabilitation program. After caring for Emma for a year and a half as kinship foster parents, and after the court had terminated Emma’s biological parents’ rights, Claude and Julia adopted Emma. They will continue to receive a monthly stipend from DCF through the Adoption Assistance Program.

Can I get guardianship through Juvenile Court?

You can be awarded guardianship through Juvenile Court whether the child has been in your home in foster care or not. See detailed information above on Probate and Family Court process, since the forms required, service requirements, and other information also apply in Juvenile Court guardianships.

Who will assist me in filing the required documents for guardianship?

If you are the foster parent of the child, you may receive assistance from the DCF attorney in filing paperwork with Juvenile Court. If the child is not in DCF custody, you file the guardianship paperwork yourself, get assistance from the Court Service Center or the clerk's office, or hire an attorney to assist you.

Will I lose financial support from DCF if I become the child's guardian?

If you were the kinship foster parent, DCF may continue to provide you a stipend as guardian to help you cover the expenses of raising the child.   

Guardianship through Juvenile Court for a Care and Protection Case: John and Rose have been kinship foster parents for their teenage grandson Sam since his mother Betty, was incarcerated. Betty refused visitation opportunities at the jail. When Betty was released from her six months in jail, she was offered additional services by DCF so that she and her son could be safely reunited. She instead left town to live with her new boyfriend and showed no interest in taking custody of Sam. John and Rose chose to become guardians of Sam. DCF filed the guardianship papers in Juvenile Court and John and Rose became guardians.

Can I obtain guardianship in Juvenile Court through a delinquency or CRA case?

You can file a petition for guardianship through Juvenile Court if the child has an ongoing delinquency or a Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) case. If the parent does not give consent, you will need to provide evidence that shows unfit parenting and that it would be in the child’s best interest to be placed in your custody. Additionally, the child, if 14 or older, must also give consent to your petition for guardianship.

Can the Juvenile Court give permanent custody to a party without a guardianship or adoption?

If the court finds the parents unfit, they may grant third party permanent custody.

Permanent Third Party Custody:  Fred is the child on a Care and Protection case. He has been in DCF custody and in foster care for a year. His parents have abandoned him. They have been found unfit. Fred does not want a guardianship or to be adopted. He hopes his parents will return to care for him. He is unhappy in his foster home. Jill and Joe, the parents of Fred's best friend, wish to care for him. They let Fred's lawyer know of their interest. The judge awards permanent third party custody to Jill and Joe.



Supreme Judicial Court
One Pemberton Square
Boston, MA 02108