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What to do when an agency oversteps its bounds?

What can parents do to fight back against a state agency that's determined to take the custody of their children away? Certainly there are parents whose abusive actions and neglectfulness makes them unfit for the job of parenting their own sons and daughters, but the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families has seen its share of aggressive custody grabs under circumstances that are dubious at best.

When an agency's attempt at protecting children threatens the rights of families and parents, it's important for parents to understand their rights during DCF investigations.

It helps to understand what the role of the DCF is. Agency personnel investigate reports of children who are allegedly at risk of neglect or abuse. They also provide services to struggling families, either at the request of the parents or as a condition of permitting the children to remain in the home.

Department of Children and Families workers can go to court and get permission to remove a child from the parents' home if, in the opinion of the DCF worker, that child is at risk of being neglected or abused. Courts can order parents to accept DCF services in order for them to regain custody of their child.

Because DCF is a licensed placement agency for children, they can place them in foster care, either by a court order or voluntarily. In some cases, they can even arrange for children to be adopted by other parents.

If that sounds scary, it's because it is. Here in Massachusetts, any person can make a report about anyone to DCF, accusing them of neglecting or abusing their children. This doesn't even have to have ever occurred; the person needs only to provide the agency with information that causes the workers to suspect the child is "at risk." While some people like medical personnel, teachers, daycare and social workers are legally bound to report cases of suspected neglect or abuse, others are free to make anonymous reports.

Thus, anyone with an ax to grind — spouses in bitter divorces, rivals, former in-laws, jealous boy- or girlfriends — can turn a family's life upside-down for revenge.

If you are in the midst of a case with DCF involving the custody of your children, it's a good idea to seek out legal guidance to preserve your rights.

Source: Mass Legal Help, "Abuse and Neglect Claims: Your Rights and DCF," accessed Sep. 16, 2016

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