Custody Guide For Child Caregivers: Introduction

An introduction to the Custody Guide for Child Caregivers.

Table of Contents

Who is this guide designed for?

This guide is designed for anyone who is, or may become, a caregiver for a child in Massachusetts. Please review the entire guide to obtain information on the different types of legal arrangements that may be available when a non-parent provides care for a child, and the benefits and limits of each. It will: 

  • Help you decide what type of caregiver you want to be for the child
  • Describe the different legal processes that are required to become each type of caregiver
  • Explain the different benefits and supports that may be available to you as each type of caregiver
  • Direct you to helpful resources, including: Kinship Navigator Program, Family Resource Centers, the Commission on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, and Court Service Centers

The information in this guide is based on federal and state law and practice. It is not meant to be a “do-it-yourself” handbook or to provide legal advice. You may require an attorney’s assistance at some point in setting up, or during, your role as a relative caregiver.

How will the Glossary help you?

The Glossary introduces you to terms used throughout this guide.

Adoption:  A court process which creates a new legal parent-child relationship. An adoptive parent exercises all the rights and responsibilities of any other parent. The adoptive parents may agree to, or in limited circumstances, the Court may order, an “Open Adoption,” in which a child continues to have contact with their biological parents after an adoption.

Care and Protection:  A case filed in the Juvenile Court, usually by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), alleging that a parent or caregiver is abusing or neglecting the children in his/her care.

Caregiver Authorization Affidavit:  A document signed and notarized by the parent which allows the caregiver to make educational and medical decisions for the child. The parent maintains legal custody. The caregiver affidavit is valid for up to two years and may be extended in writing. The parent or the caregiver may end this agreement at any time.

Child Requiring Assistance (CRA):   A Juvenile Court case filed to assist parents, guardians or school officials with improving the challenging behavior of a youth. The goal of a CRA case is to provide supervision and support to the youth.

The Department of Children and Families (DCF):  The state agency that works in partnership with families and communities to keep children safe from abuse and neglect. DCF provides support and referrals for services to maintain children safely in their homes. If this cannot happen, DCF may file in the Juvenile Court and request temporary custody to ensure a child's well-being. DCF will continue to provide support and services to the family. If reunification fails, the agency tries to find a permanent arrangement for children though guardianship or adoption.

Foster Care:  Foster Care provides a home for children while in the custody of DCF until they can be reunited with their parents. Foster Care is temporary. If the children cannot be reunited with their parents their permanency goal may change from reunification to guardianship or adoption.

Informal Relative Caregiver:  A relative or close friend of the child who cares for a child through an informal arrangement with the child’s parents. The caregiver provides day to day care for the child, but the parents maintain legal custody. Without a caregiver affidavit, an informal relative caregiver has no legal authority to make medical and educational decisions for the child.

Juvenile Court:  A department of the Massachusetts Trial Court, the Juvenile Court has jurisdiction over the following cases: Care and Protection, Child Requiring Assistance, Delinquency, and Youthful Offender. It also has jurisdiction over Guardianship and Adoption of children who have pending cases in Juvenile Court.

Kinship Foster Parent:  A caregiver who provides care for a related child or a child they know well, who is in DCF custody. DCF places the child with the kinship foster parent but maintains legal custody. DCF provides supports and referrals for services to the parents, caregiver and the child. The caregiver must meet DCF licensing requirements to become a kinship foster parent.

Legal Custody:  The right and the obligation to make decisions about a child. A caregiver with legal custody may make most legal decisions for the child/youth subject to any limits ordered by the court.

Legal Guardian:  A caregiver who has been appointed as a guardian of a child/youth, by either the Juvenile Court or Probate and Family Court.

M.G.L. c. 119 §51(a) ("51a"):  A report filed with DCF alleging abuse or neglect of a child.

M.G.L. c. 119 §51(b) (“51b"):  An investigation conducted by DCF following an allegation of abuse or neglect by a caregiver.

Probate and Family Court:  A department of the Massachusetts Trial Court, the Probate and Family Court has jurisdiction over many cases including: Guardianship, Adoption, Paternity, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Name Change, Wills, Estates, Trusts, Conservatorships, Equity Complaints, and Domestic Violence. 

Termination of Parental Rights: A court order that ends the legal relationship between a parent and child.

Contact   for Custody Guide For Child Caregivers: Introduction


Supreme Judicial Court, One Pemberton Square, Boston, MA 02108

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