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Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect When Domestic Violence is Involved

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created December, 2010

Reports of child abuse and neglect are made to the Department of Children and
Families. When someone reports to DCF that they think a child is being abused or
neglected, the report is called a "51A report."

The name "51A" comes from
section 51A of Chapter 119 of the Massachusetts General Laws. The law also
says that certain kinds of people must report child abuse and neglect to DCF.
They are called mandated reporters.  Mandated reporters must take special care
when they report abuse and neglect in cases involving domestic


Who is a "mandated reporter"?

care professionals

Physicians, medical interns, hospital personnel engaged in
the examination, care or treatment of persons, medical examiners, psychologists,
emergency medical technicians, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, podiatrists,
optometrists, osteopaths, allied mental health and human services professionals
licensed under section 165 of chapter 112, drug and alcoholism counselors,
psychiatrists or clinical social workers.


Public or private
school teachers, educational administrators, guidance or family counselors, school
attendance officers.


Child care professionals

Child care workers or
foster parents of many descriptions.

Law enforcement personnel

officers, clerk-magistrates of a district court, parole officers, firefighters,
police officers.


Priests, rabbis, clergy members, ordained or
licensed ministers, leaders of any church or religious body, accredited Christian
Science practitioners, persons performing official duties on behalf of a church or
religious body that are recognized as the duties of a priest, rabbi, clergy,
ordained or licensed minister, leader of any church or religious body,
accredited Christian Science practitioner, or persons employed by a church or
religious body to supervise, educate, coach, train or counsel a child on a
regular basis.

Certain administrators

Person in charge of a medical
or other public or private institution, school or facility or that persons

When must mandated reporters report child abuse and neglect to the Department of
Children and Families

Mandated reporters must report to DCF if, when acting in their
professional capacities, they have reasonable cause to believe that a child is
suffering certain kinds of physical or emotional injury. The kinds of physical or emotional injuries that
must be reported are those that are the result of:

  1. abuse inflicted upon the child which causes harm or
    substantial risk of harm to the child's health or welfare, including sexual
  2. neglect, including malnutrition; or
  3. physical dependence upon
    an addictive drug at birth.

When a mandated reporter comes to believe any of
these things, he or she must immediately communicate with DCF orally and, within
48 hours they must file a written report with DCF detailing the suspected abuse
or neglect.

DCF helps mandated reporters know what to
do about reporting child abuse and neglect when domestic violence is

In 2008, the Department of Children and Families published a
pamphlet for mandated reporters called Promising Approaches. The pamphlet gives
important suggestions to mandated reporters about what to do when domestic
violence is involved. Promising Approaches is now part of Masslegalhelp.

message to mandated reporters is: Think before you file.

Promising Approaches says, "Mandated reporters
are encouraged to carefully review each family's situation and to consider
thoughtfully whether or not to file a report with the Department of Children and

Framework for a mandated reporter

The pamphlet gives
mandated reporters a way to look at situations involving domestic

Important points:

  • Every situation involving domestic violence
    isn't one to report to DCF.
  • Filing when a caretaker is overwhelmed by a
    domestic violence situation can mistakenly penalize the caretaker.
  • The fearful
    environment created by a perpetrator undermines the ability of the caretaker,
    and the caretaker's family and friends to help protect the children.

Assessing Safety and Risk

Important points:

  • Risk factors
    may not always be present.
  • There are circumstances which may indicate a
    mandated report is not appropriate.
  • Mandated reporters are encouraged to
    assess carefully the caretaker's and child's conditions, and to evaluate whether
    community services and support will strengthen the caretaker's determination and
    ability to safeguard the child.
  • Connecting the family to social services,
    school, counseling services, faith organizations, battered women's programs or
    concerned family and/or friends may provide the support and encouragement needed
    to assist the victim and keep the children safe.

The pamphlet has a list
of important factors for mandated reporters to consider when deciding whether to
file a report. This is a list to help the reporters decide how safe the
caretaker and child are and what risks are involved in reporting. See the
pamphlet for details.

Risk factors where a report is mandatory

The pamphlet says that if any of the following factors is present, the mandated reporter must file a report.

  • The perpetrator threatened to kill the caretaker, children, and/or self and caretaker fears for their safety.
  • The perpetrator physically injured the child in an incident where the caretaker was the target.
  • The perpetrator coerced the child to participate in or witness the abuse of the caretaker.
  • The perpetrator used a weapon, made threats to use a weapon, and the caretaker believed that the perpetrator intended or has the ability to cause harm

How can parents use the "Promising Approaches" pamphlet with mandated reporters?

If a "mandated reporter" tells you that he or she may have to report to the Department of Children and Families, and you are living with domestic violence, you can ask them to read the pamphlet.  You can talk to them about your situation and about what the pamphlet says.  You can work together to make sure that the mandated reporter takes appropriate steps.

How can mandated reporters use the "Promising Approaches" pamphlet with parents?

If you are a mandated reporter and think that you may need to file a 51A report because you learned about domestic violence in a family, give a copy of the pamphlet to the non-abusive parent.  Have a conversation with her about what's in the pamphlet about assessing safety and risk and about filing safely.

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