Child Care, Residential Care and Placement Licensing Technical Assistance
Child care, residential care and placement licensing regulations require that licensees have written plans for staff to file reports of abuse or neglect, pursuant to MGL c.119, § 51A. In particular, these policies must comply with the requirements regarding the responsibilities of mandated reporters.
The definition of mandated reporter includes administrators of licensed agencies as well as any person paid by such agencies to work with children in placement, i.e. teachers, residential care staff, vocational staff, recreational staff, medical staff, case managers, clinical staff and foster parents. All such persons must be trained by the licensee regarding their responsibility to report allegations of abuse or neglect and the method for filing these reports.
Some programs have policies that require staff to notify the chief administrator or his/her designee of the existence of a reportable condition, who then becomes responsible for filing the report. This is permissible under the law. However, should the person in charge/designee advise against filing, the staff member retains the right to contact the Department of Children and Families (DCF) directly.
Massachusetts law requires mandated reporters to immediately make an oral report to the Department of Children and Families when, in their professional capacity, they have reasonable cause to believe that a child under the age of 18 years is suffering from abuse or neglect.
- Abuse is defined as "the non-accidental commission of any act by a caretaker upon a child under age 18 which causes, or creates a substantial risk of, physical or emotional injury; or constitutes a sexual offense under the laws of the Commonwealth; or any sexual contact between a caretaker and a child under the care of that individual."
- Neglect is defined as: "failure by a caretaker, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to take those actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, or other essential care; provided, however, that such inability is not due solely to inadequate economic resources or solely to the existence of a handicapping condition."
- Physical injury is defined as: "Death; or fracture of a bone, a subdural hematoma, burns, impairment of any organ, and any other such nontrivial injury; or soft tissue swelling or skin bruising, depending upon such factors as the child's age, the circumstances under which the injury occurred and the number and location of bruises; or addiction to a drug or drugs at birth; or failure to thrive."
- Emotional injury is defined as: "an impairment to or disorder of the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by observable and substantial reduction in the child's ability to function within a normal range of performance and behavior."
A written report must be submitted to DCF within 48 hours after the oral report has been made. While licensed agencies generally conduct brief internal reviews prior to determining if there is sufficient evidence to file a 51A report, such reviews should be concluded as quickly as possible. In cases when a staff member observes an incident or a child makes a direct allegation, particularly if that child is injured, "reasonable cause" can be readily perceived and the 51A report should be filed without delay. However, some situations, such as allegations based on hearsay, may require additional information prior to determining "reasonable cause". In that case, the process of gathering information should start immediately, and may entail a review of records, as well as interviews with children, parents and staff. As soon as "reasonable cause" is determined, the 51A report must be filed.
Once a 51A report is filed alleging abuse or neglect by a staff person, that person may not work directly with children until the outcome of the 51A investigation is determined, or for such additional time as required by EEC. Staff may continue to work in the program in a capacity that does not involve direct contact with children, such as an administrative position pending the outcome of the investigation.