Overview

The mission of the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) is to strive to protect children from abuse and neglect, and in partnership with families and communities, ensure children are able to grow and thrive in a safe and nurturing environment. The information DCF holds pertains to the families with whom DCF works. As a general rule, information held by DCF is confidential and not subject to public disclosure. This includes both documents held by DCF and information that is disclosed orally. A written authorization or court order is required for disclosure. However, there are circumstances in which statutes and regulations allow for the disclosure of information to parties in a court proceeding or when necessary to provide services to children in DCF custody. These specific circumstances are addressed below. In addition, individuals are generally able to request the DCF records pertaining to themselves.

The DCF file includes documents generated by DCF, for instance: 51A reports, 51B documents, assessments, action plans (formerly known as “service plans”), social work dictation notes, releases of information, correspondence, service referrals and foster care review reports regarding the parents and children who are the subjects of the DCF clinical case.  The DCF file may also include documents obtained by DCF regarding the subjects of the clinical case, including medical, dental and educational records, evaluations, vital records, and records from service providers. Information contained in the DCF file is subject to redactions as required by policy, regulation and/or state or federal statute. Information and records disclosed by DCF remain confidential and may not be further disclosed unless the subsequent requestor is authorized to obtain the information. 110 CMR 12.06.

When can DCF disclose information to Probation?

In all court proceedings in which DCF is a party, a copy of the DCF file of the individuals who are the subjects of the proceeding shall be disclosed upon a request in writing by the Probation Officer indicating that the Probation Officer is assigned to the case. 110 CMR 12.09. In any court proceedings in which DCF is not a party, a signed release by the individual, parent(s) or legal guardian or a court order is necessary to allow DCF to disclose information. The signed release or court order must specify the name of the person(s) about whom information can be disclosed. 110 CMR 12.07/12.10. In the Probate and Family Court, Standing Order 2-11 is the standard order utilized by Probation to obtain information from DCF. 

When can DCF disclose information to DYS?

If a child has been committed to DYS care or custody and is in the physical custody of DYS at the time of the request, any DCF documents, records or files pertaining to the child shall be made available to DYS. G.L. c. 119, §69A, 110 CMR 12.15 If the child is detained by DYS rather than committed, and the child is in DCF custody, DYS may be provided with the action plan for the child and any other relevant background information, including but not limited to the child’s medical and psychiatric history. If the child is detained by DYS rather than committed, and the child is not in DCF custody, a release from the child’s parent(s) or legal guardian is required, or there must be a court order authorizing the release of information from DCF. 110 CMR 12.10.

When can DCF disclose information to a school?

If the child is in DCF custody, DCF can disclose information to school personnel as needed to obtain services for the child from the school. As with other service providers, schools are given as much information as, in the judgment of DCF, is necessary for them to provide needed services. 110 CMR 12.06. If the child is not in DCF custody, then a signed release from the child’s parent(s) or legal guardian is required for DCF to disclose information to the school. 110 CMR 12.10.

When can DCF disclose information to a Juvenile Court Investigator?

When DCF is a party to a Care and Protection petition, a copy of the DCF file of the individuals who are the subjects of the proceeding shall be disclosed upon written request by the court investigator, accompanied by a copy of their appointment. 110 CMR 12.09.

When can DCF disclose information to Juvenile Court Clinicians?

If the child is in DCF custody, DCF can disclose information about that child to the court clinician upon receiving a request in writing accompanied by a court order or signed release by the parent/guardian. 110 CMR 12.07. If the child is not in DCF custody, then a signed release from the parent or legal guardian or a court order is required. The court order or release must specify the names of the individuals about whom information is requested. 110 CMR 12.10.

Attorney disclosure in a Care & Protection case

When can DCF disclose information to attorneys appointed or retained for the child, parent, or legal guardian in a Care & Protection case?

When DCF is a party to a Care and Protection petition, the DCF file of the individuals who are the subjects of the proceeding shall be disclosed upon written request by the attorney, accompanied by a copy of the attorney’s appointment, or a letter from the attorney indicating they have been retained by a party to the Care and Protection case. 110 CMR 12.09.

When can DCF disclose information to attorneys appointed or retained in a CRA case?

If the child is in DCF custody, a copy of the DCF file shall be disclosed upon written request by the attorney in a CRA case, accompanied by a copy of the attorney’s appointment. 110 CMR 12.09. If the child is not in DCF custody, then a signed release from the parent or legal guardian or a court order, along with a copy of the attorney's appointment, is required for the attorney to get the record of their client. The court order or release must specify the names of the individuals about whom information is requested. 110 CMR 12.10.

Disclosure to a child's delinquency attorney or young adult’s criminal defense attorney

When can DCF disclose information to a child's delinquency attorney or young adult’s criminal defense attorney?

The attorney may obtain DCF information with a court order. If the child is in DCF custody, DCF has the discretion to disclose information to the delinquency attorney for that child. For a young adult (18 years or older) in DCF care, a signed release from the young adult is required. Any additional information regarding the child’s or young adult’s family members requires a signed release by the parent(s) or legal guardian or a court order authorizing the release of information from DCF about those persons.  

When DCF does not have custody of the child who is the subject of a delinquency proceeding, the parent(s) or legal guardian must sign a release for the child’s information, or there must be a court order authorizing the release of information. 110 CMR 12.10.

When can DCF disclose information to a GAL or CASA?

In all court proceedings in which DCF is a party, a copy of the DCF file shall be disclosed upon a request in writing by the GAL or CASA along with a copy of their appointment by the Court. 110 CMR 12.09. In any court proceeding in which DCF is not a party, a signed release by the parent(s) or legal guardian or a court order is necessary.  The release or court order must specify which person(s) about whom information can be disclosed. 110 CMR 12.10/12.07.

When can DCF disclose information to Probate and Family Court Probation Officers?

In all court proceedings in which DCF is a party, a copy of the DCF file of the individuals who are the subjects of the proceeding shall be disclosed upon a request in writing by the Probation Officer indicating that the Probation Officer is assigned to the case. 110 CMR 12.09. In any court proceeding in which DCF is not a party, a signed release by the parent(s) or legal guardian or a court order is necessary.  The release or court order must specify which person(s) about whom information can be disclosed. 110 CMR 12.10/12.07. In the Probate and Family Court, Standing Order 2-11 is the standard order used by Probation to obtain information from DCF. 

Disclosure to attorneys in Probate & Family Court

When can DCF disclose information to attorneys appointed or retained in a Probate and Family Court proceeding?

In Probate and Family Court proceedings in which DCF is a party, a copy of the DCF file of the individuals who are the subjects of the proceeding shall be made available upon written request, accompanied by a copy of the attorney’s appointment or a letter from the attorney indicating they have been retained by a party to the proceeding. 110 CMR 12.09. If DCF is not a party, a signed release by the parent(s) or legal guardian or a court order is necessary. The release or court order must specify which person(s) about whom information can be disclosed. 110 CMR 12.07/12.10

When can DCF disclose information to the District Attorney's Office?

DCF is required by law to notify and provide certain information regarding child abuse and neglect to the District Attorney. G.L. c. 119, §51B(k) and 110 CMR 4.51. DCF, in the discretion of the Area Director in each office, is also permitted to notify the District Attorney of other matters involving possible criminal conduct. 110 CMR 4.52. Other information not directly relevant to the investigation or prosecution of the matter referred to the District Attorney may be disclosed with a court order or signed release from a parent or guardian. 110 CMR 4.53.

When can DCF disclose information to police?

DCF is required by law to notify and provide certain information regarding child abuse and neglect to the local police in the city or town where the child resides and the city or town where the abuse or neglect is believed to have occurred. G.L. c. 119, §51B(k) and 110 CMR 4.50, 4.51. Other information may be disclosed with a court order or signed release from a parent or guardian.

When can DCF personnel disclose information as part of Community Based Juvenile Justice Programs?

DCF is an invited participant to the Community Based Juvenile Justice Programs (roundtables) pursuant to G.L. c. 12, §32. Although the CBJ statute expressly speaks to agency collaboration with the District Attorney’s office, the statute does not independently authorize DCF to release confidential information beyond the limits outlined in this section.

When can DCF disclose information to service providers?

If the child is in DCF custody, DCF can disclose information to the provider which is necessary for service delivery to the child. The provider is given as much information as is, in the Department’s judgment, necessary to provide needed services. 110 CMR 12.06. If the child is not in DCF custody, a signed release from the parent(s) or legal guardian is necessary for the Department to disclose information.

When can DCF disclose information to the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA)?

The OCA has unrestricted access to all electronic records, reports, materials and employees of DCF in order to better understand the needs of children in the custody of the Commonwealth or who are receiving services from DCF. G.L. c. 18C, §6.  Additionally, DCF is required to inform OCA of certain “critical incidents.” G.L. c. 18C, §1. Critical incidents are defined as “(i) a fatality, near fatality or serious bodily or emotional injury of a child who is in the custody of or receiving services from an executive agency or a constituent agency; or (ii) circumstances which result in a reasonable belief that an executive agency or a constituent agency failed in its duty to protect a child and, as a result, the child was at imminent risk of, or suffered serious bodily or emotional injury or death.”  The OCA is bound by any limitations on the use or release of information imposed by law upon the party furnishing such information. See also, G.L. c. 119, §51E, 110 CMR 4.35(5), 110 CMR 4.38(6), 110 CMR 4.45(2).

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