Child Abuse Reporting (51A)

  • There is no requirement to report incidents of a child witnessing domestic violence. Witnessing domestic violence is NOT considered, in itself, a reason to file a 51A report.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families has issued guidelines for responding to children in situations of domestic violence. These are summarized below, and the brochure explaining the guidelines is included in the resource section. The Department of Children and Families has a Domestic Violence Unit, which can be contacted for consultation. DCF Domestic Violence Consultation Line: (617) 748-2335
  • A report is mandatory if:
    • The perpetrator intentionally or unintentionally abused or injured the child;
    • The perpetrator threatened to kill the caretaker/survivor, children, and/or self, and the caretaker fears for their safety;
    • 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.
  • Legal requirements for filing a 51A
    • The report must be filed verbally within 24 hours of learning of the harm/neglect being done to the child to the DCF office which covers the town/city in which the family lives.
    • A written report must be filed within 48 hours of learning of the abuse.
    • If you see that the child is in imminent danger of being harmed without immediate intervention on a night, weekend, or holiday, there is a 24 hour DCF hotline number (1-800-792-5200).
    • When filing, include: Names, dates of birth, addresses of the children present in the home at the time of the incident; names, dates of birth, phone numbers, addresses of the caretaker and perpetrator; phone numbers and names of involved individuals (such as family, friends, therapists, nurses, doctors, probation, police officers) whom DCF can contact.
    • If you are filing a 51A report as a mandated reporter, your name and other identifying information will be kept confidential by DCF.
  • How to file safely:
    • Discuss the need to file with the non-offending parent, if possible;
    • Explore with that person the safety concerns of filing a report;
    • Explore with that person if it will be safe to inform the perpetrator about the report;
    • Explore with that person if it will be safe to inform the children about the report;
    • Consider filing in concert with the non-offending parent;
    • Be clear in the report that there are safety issues from the abusive parent, if that is the case. Include the safest way for DCF to contact the non-offending parent privately.
    • Offer a safe place for the initial DCF visit with the non-offending parent -- a reporter's office or other identified location;
    • File on behalf of the children;
    • Name the identified perpetrator of the domestic violence
    • Address safety planning with the non-offending parent.
  • Approaches for intervening safely when a report is not filed:
    • Encourage caretaker to express family's immediate needs;
    • Seek the support of a community domestic violence advocate;
    • Connect caretaker and family to services which meet their immediate needs;
    • Connect the family to longer term supportive services where needed;
    • Assist the adult victim in developing a safety plan;
    • Consult with the DCF Domestic Violence Unit.

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