The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the state agency that receives and responds to reports of abuse and neglect of children. Following a report of child abuse or neglect, DCF’s investigation is documented with records that likely contain formation concerning sensitive and personal issues. In deciding issues involving the care and custody of children, the Court may seek information/documents from DCF. In order to do so, the Court must abide by specific rules regarding Department of Children and Families Records in the Family Court.
Standing Order 2-11 of the Probate and Family Court provides that the Court may obtain Department of Children and Families records by: (i) obtaining the written, informed consent of the party(ies) and identifying the documents requested on the form titled “Consent and/or Order For Production of Children and Families Documents”; and/or (ii) issuing an Order identifying the documents to be produced to the Court. While Orders for the production of DCF information to the Court are within the discretion of the Judge, a party(ies) may request a hearing regarding the Court’s need for the requested DCF information.
Once the Court provides DCF with a copy of its Order or the party(ies) written, informed consent form, the parties and their counsel have an opportunity to review all documents obtained by DCF and respond before the hearing takes place. While parties have the right to view DCF documents, there are restrictions in place prohibiting the records from being copied and/or disseminated. For example, if both parties are represented by counsel, the attorneys of record are entitled to copies of the DCF documents (unless otherwise ordered by the Court.) Standing Order 2-11 sets for additional procedures for obtaining copies of DCF records when only one party, or neither party, are represented by counsel.