Department of Children and Families (DCF)

Information about reporting child abuse and neglect, DCF services, and becoming a foster parent.

If you believe a child is being abused or neglected, call the MA Child Abuse Emergency Line:  1-800-792-5200.

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) works in partnership with families and communities to keep children safe from abuse and neglect.  DCF also supports young adults ages 18-22 who are transitioning out of DCF care and into independent living.  In many cases, DCF is able to provide services to families to help them keep their children safe at home.  When it is necessary, DCF provides foster care or finds permanent families for children though kinship care, guardianship, or adoption. 

Who DCF Serves

Anyone who is looking for services for their child or family can contact their local DCF area office for help.  However, in most cases, DCF comes into contact with children and families in the following ways:

51A Reports

When someone calls DCF to report suspected child abuse or neglect, a 51A report is filed (named for its statute, M.G.L. Ch. 119, 51A)  Anyone can call DCF to file a 51A report, but there are some people that are legally required to file a report if they suspect abuse or neglect.  These people are called mandated reporters.  Examples of mandated reporters are:

  • Doctors
  • Teachers
  • Child care providers
  • Police officers
  • Social workers
  • Clergy

After receiving a report, DCF reviews the report and decides if they will conduct an investigation.  If DCF  conducts an investigation and finds that the child is being abused or neglected, they will assign a social worker to the family and open a case with them.  DCF will work with the family to choose goals and develop an action  plan that will help them meet those goals. 

Voluntary Services

In some cases, after an assessment or investigation, DCF finds no evidence for abuse or neglect. In these cases, families can request that DCF open a voluntary case for them so that they can still access services.

Court Referrals

Sometimes the courts refer children and families to DCF.  Court referrals can come from cases where a parent voluntarily surrenders a child or if a child has been abandoned by a parent or guardian.

Courts can also refer a child to DCF if a child is committed by the juvenile court and found in need of foster care or a Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) case.  CRA cases involve youth that have committed status offenses such as repeatedly running away from home, disobeying school rules, or skipping school.  Finally, if there is concern that a child may run away or otherwise not appear in court for their case, the judge can give temporary custody of the child to DCF.

DCF Services for Children, Youth, and Families

DCF provides case management for families who need services and support to keep their children safe and ensure their well-being.  These services can be in-home or based in the community, and include mentors, in-home therapists, and transportation services.  DCF can also make referrals to immigration and special education services, and can assist families in need of stable housing.

For children who cannot remain in their homes, DCF offers foster care and congregate care placements (group homes).  DCF also provides support for families interested in adopting a child or applying for guardianship. 

Finally, DCF offers voluntary services for young adults who were in care or custody of DCF, but have turned 18 aged out of the child welfare system.  These young people can sign up for voluntary services, which includes support payments.

How to Become a Foster Parent

There are four minimum requirements for becoming a foster or adoptive parent:

  • Be a Massachusetts resident 18 years of age or older
  • Rent or own a home that meets the DCF home safety standards
  • Have a stable source of income
  • Pass a background check

A complete list of eligibility standards can be found here.

To begin the application process, or to ask for more information, call DCF at 1-800-543-7508.  You can also email DCF using their online request form.

Additional Resources

MA Child Abuse Emergency Line 1-800-792-5200: If you believe a child is being abused or neglected, contact the MA Child Abuse Emergency Line to file a report.

Area Office Directory:  Use this link to find the DCF area office that is closest to where you live.

DCF Ombudsman’s Office, 617-748-2444:  The Ombudsman’s Office is a resource for DCF clients, foster and adoptive parents, and others who have concerns about DCF programs, policies, or service delivery.  The Ombudsman’s Office responds to questions and issues, and can act as a mediator to help resolve problems.    

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