Who can I talk to, to help me decide whether I am ready for sex?
You can speak to your doctor, social worker, or go to a local family planning clinic about birth control. They can talk to you about abstinence or nonprescription and prescription birth control options. If you want someone to talk to about this you can call 1-800-230-PLAN. You do NOT need permission from DCF to find out about or get birth control, family planning, or pregnancy tests.
If you are in DCF custody and believe you may be pregnant, are considering becoming pregnant, or are pregnant, you could think about several options some of which are birth control, parenting, or adoption. You have the right to make your own decisions about your own medical care and whether you want to become a parent or not. To find a family planning service provider or education and outreach program by zip code, go to: www.plannedparenthood.org/teens. If you ask for help getting services for a pregnancy, your social worker must provide you with information and if necessary, help you make arrangements and get to appointments.
What options do I have if I am pregnant?
If you are pregnant, you do not need permission to parent the baby. You have the right to parent the baby even if you are under 18. You do not need your parents’ permission. You do not need permission from DCF. If you ask for help getting services for a pregnancy your social worker must provide you with information and help you make arrangements and get to appointments.
You will not be forced to move unless the place where you are staying cannot support you while you are pregnant or when you have your baby. Talk to your foster parents or social worker about how your pregnancy could affect your living situation. If you have to move, you have the right to be placed with your baby. DCF offers Teen Living Programs to girls aged 13 to 19 who are pregnant or have a child. For more information regarding the Teen Living Program call the Department of Children and Families (DCF) at (617) 748-2400.
What can I do if I think I am the father of a child or a baby about to be born?
Women have the right to make decisions about their pregnancy. However, following the birth of the child, if your name is on the birth certificate you are the legal father of the child. This gives you certain rights and responsibilities. If your name is not on the birth certificate you can file a paternity complaint in court and a judge can make you the legal father. As long as you are the legal father—you have the right to visit or live with your baby, and receive parenting services and support. You are also responsible to support the child.
The information provided below will help you understand your rights as a father while in DCF custody. However, if you have any questions, please talk to your social worker or your lawyer.
Can DCF take my baby away from me?
Your baby does NOT become a foster child just because you are in foster care. It depends on your ability to take care of your baby and keep your baby safe. If you abuse or neglect your baby, or fail to take care of your baby (this could include running away, not getting the services you need to safely parent, or leaving your baby with someone who is not responsible), then DCF may take your baby out of your care. However, you and your lawyer can fight to get your baby back. Just keep in mind that, depending on your circumstances, you may not always be able to win back custody of your child.
If your baby was exposed to drugs or alcohol before birth, you should work with medical staff and your social worker to make plans for safe care for you and your baby. Plans must ensure safety and well-being of the baby and provide referrals for appropriate services for the baby and you.
Can I be forced out of school if I am pregnant or parenting?
No. Under the law, the school cannot throw you out because you are pregnant or parenting. There are programs that can help you with child care while you are in school. Talk to your social worker and your lawyer for help with child care.
What financial assistance is available for teen parents?
If you are a teen parent, you may be eligible for Transitional Assistance to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC), a program for families who don't earn enough to provide for the basic needs of their children. TAFDC gives cash benefits to families with dependent children and to pregnant women in the last four months of pregnancy if they meet certain requirements. To find out if you are eligible for TAFDC, call 1-800-249-2007 or go to:http://www.mass.gov/dta/assistance
Child support is money paid by the parent who does not live with the child. The parent who lives with the baby uses the money to take care of the baby. If you are not receiving child support from the other parent of the baby, you can go the Department of Revenue and request child support. They will then file the complaint in court and will not charge for the service.
If you are out of DCF care and receiving cash assistance (TAFDC), you may not receive the child support money directly. It will go to the welfare department to pay it back for the money it is paying you for cash assistance. That means, since you are getting money from the state (through TAFDC), the state will take the child support money in exchange. The money you get from the state is more than what you’d get from child support, so TAFDC is usually the better deal.
What about child support and visitation?
Whether you are in DCF custody or not, you can be asked to pay child support if the baby doesn't live with you. It doesn't matter if you’re under 18 years old and still in high school or whether you are the mother or the father of the baby. In Massachusetts, the order for child support is separate from the visitation order. You have visitation rights unless a judge decides visits with you would not be safe.
Talk to your social worker or lawyer about your options.
What about adoption?
You may decide to give your baby up for adoption. Your parent(s)/guardian(s) do not have to agree to the adoption; you don’t even have to tell them. You do not need permission from DCF to put the baby up for adoption.
If you decide to have the baby adopted, you should discuss your options with your social worker, counselor, health care provider or a local family planning clinic, like Planned Parenthood, all of whom can provide you with information on adoption. You should talk to your lawyer or someone else you trust.