51B Investigations

Upon receipt of a 51A report, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) will conduct what is called a “51B Investigation.” The language of 51B is very specific and highly detailed. It essentially spells out the precise obligations of DCF upon receiving a report of child abuse or neglect.

Under General Laws Ch. 119, § 51B, DCF is required to: (a) conduct an the investigation of the report of suspected child abuse or neglect; (b) provide a written evaluation of the child’s household (including the parents and home environment); and (c) make a written determination regarding the safety of and risk posed to the child, as well as whether the suspected child abuse or neglect is substantiated.

The Investigation – Generally:

The 51B investigative process begins with a home visit, at which the child and home are viewed and assessed by the social worker assigned to the case (known as a “51B Investigator”). At this time, if appropriate, the investigator will also make a determination is made regarding the nature, extent and cause of the child’s injuries. The department will document the name, age and condition of other children in the same household, as well as evaluate the parents, the environment of the household and any other pertinent factors.

As part of the investigation, the 51B Investigator is also entitled to speak to collaterals, or third parties, such as neighbors, teachers, medical care providers etc. to gain additional insight into the situation.

Upon completion of the investigation, the 51B Investigator is required to provide DCF with a “written determination.” This determination is made based on number of factors, including: (a) the safety of the child/other children, (b) the risk of physical or emotional injury posed to the child/other children, and (c) whether the suspected abuse or neglect is substantiated. See General Laws Ch. 119, § 51B(c).

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