51A: Reporting Abuse and Neglect
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the state agency whose primary mission is to protect children who have been abused or neglected. DCF also provides preventative services to children and families where there is a risk of abuse or neglect.
- Abuse is defined as:
The non-accidental commission of any act by a caretaker which causes or
creates a substantial risk of physical or emotional injury; or the
commission of a sex offense against a child as defined by the criminal laws
of the state, or any sexual contact between a caretaker and a child.
- Neglect is defined as:
Failure by a caretaker, either deliberately, through negligence, or inability, to
take actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate,
food, clothes, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability
and growth or other essential care.
51A refers to the legal statute number or law that specifically addresses the
requirement to report "reasonable suspicions" of a child being
abused or neglected, or when there is "reasonable cause to believe"
abuse has occurred or is occurring. Over time, the process of filing with DCF
has been shortened to be called "filing a 51A" which means that a
representative of the school system who is familiar with the case (frequently
the building administrator) calls DCF to make a verbal report of the concern
and then completes and faxes the state mandated form to DCF.
Q: What is a Mandated Reporter?
Most people who work with children are mandated (legally required) to report instances of abuse and neglect. This includes teachers, administrators, instructional assistants, speech therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, psychologists, literacy specialists, etc. See attachment below for Plainville Public School's policy on mandated reporting.
Q:When is a 51A report filed?A:
A 51A is filed when a mandated reporter, in her or his professional capacity, has reasonable cause to believe that a child under the age of 18 years is suffering serious physical or emotional injury as a result of abuse, including sexual abuse, or from neglect, including malnutrition, or who is determined to be physically dependent upon an addictive drug at birth.
Q:How is a 51A report filed?
Any Plainville Public Schools staff member who has a concern related to the possible neglect or abuse of a child should immediately contact an administrator or his or her designee to report the concern. The staff member and administrator/designee will consult together and determine if the "reasonable cause" threshold has been met. If any of this criteria has been met, a verbal report will be made by phone to DCF that day. A written form will also be completed and faxed into DCF within 48 hours.
Q: What happens after a 51A report is filed?
DCF will investigate the filing and will determine if the concerns are"supported" (there was enough evidence or information to support the report) or"unsupported" (there is not enough information or evidence to support the report). The person who filed the report (most often the building administrator/designee) will receive written follow-up from DCF within 60 days to inform them whether the allegation was supported or unsupported.
Q: Am I supposed to call the parents to tell them I have this concern before I file? After? Ever?A:
Each individual case is different. Consultation with an administrator/designee and other colleagues is key to deciding next steps around when and how to notify parents.Do not act alone. Always use the support network in your building to make a plan of action that is appropriate to the specific situation.
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