DCF: What Happens When a Report Is Made?
The “Protective Intake Policy” framework was designed “to clearly articulate a primary and immediate focus on child safety in screening and responding to reports of child abuse and neglect.”*
The Protective Intake Policy is divided into two phases: (1) the screening of all reports; and (2) a response to any report that is screened in. As a result, all screened in reports are now investigated.
Specifics about the screening and investigative response include:
- Requires non-emergency reports of abuse and neglect to be reviewed and screened in or out in one business day. Emergency reports continue to require an immediate screening decision and an investigatory response within two to four hours.
- Screening teams of social workers, supervisors, and managers are charged with reviewing reports of abuse or neglect as defined by the policy. This includes reports of three or more separate incidents in the past 12 months.
- Information is gathered about the child/youth and caregiver’s prior DCF involvement, and a review is done of any comparable information available from child welfare agencies in other states, including cases in which a parent has previously lost custody of a child.
- Requires CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information), SORI (Sexual Offender Record Information), a DCF history check, and national criminal history database checks of parents/caregivers and all household members over 15 years old.
- Requires requests from law enforcement for information on 911 calls and police responses to the residence of any child/youth or family involved in a report of abuse or neglect.
- All reports that are screened in are assigned to a Response Worker.
- Requires Response Workers to interview parents, caregivers, and other children in the home as well as the person allegedly responsible for the abuse or neglect.
- Enables Response Workers to search online sources for information relevant to assessing child/youth safety.
- Includes an assessment of parental capacity, evaluating whether the parent understands how to keep the child/youth safe, uses appropriate discipline methods, and provides for the family’s basic needs, among other criteria.
- The Department’s Risk Assessment Tool is used to assess potential future risks to the child’s/youth’s safety.
What does DCF do when it receives a report of child abuse and/or neglect?
When DCF receives a report of abuse and/or neglect or a 51A report, from either a mandated reporter or another concerned citizen, the Department is required to evaluate the allegations and determine the safety of the child(ren). During DCF’s response process, all mandated reporters are required to answer the Department’s questions and provide information to assist in determining whether a child/youth is being abused and/or neglected, and in assessing the child’s/youth’s safety in the household.
Here are the steps in the DCF process:
- The report is screened. The purpose of the screening process is to gather sufficient information to determine whether the allegation meets the Department’s criteria for suspected abuse and/or neglect, whether there is immediate danger to the safety of a child, whether DCF involvement is warranted, and how best to respond. The Department begins its screening process immediately when it receives a report. During the screening process, DCF obtains information from the person filing the report and also contacts professionals involved with the family, such as doctors or teachers who may be able to provide information about the child’s condition. DCF may also contact the family if appropriate.
- If the report is “Screened-In,” it is assigned for a response. This response activity includes an investigation of the allegations, assessment of the current dangers and future risks to the child/youth, and an assessment of the capacity of the parent(s)/caregiver to provide safety, permanency, and well-being of the child/youth. The severity of the situation will dictate whether it requires an emergency or non-emergency response.
- A determination is made about whether there is a basis to the allegation. This includes whether the child/youth can safely remain at home, and whether the family would benefit from continued DCF involvement. If DCF involvement continues, a Family Assessment and Action Plan are developed with the family.
Some families come to the attention of the Department outside the 51A process. These include: Children Requiring Assistance (CRA) cases referred by the Juvenile Court, cases referred by the Probate and Family Court, babies surrendered under the Safe Haven Act, and voluntary requests for services by a parent/family. These cases are generally referred directly for a Comprehensive Assessment.
What are the timeframes for DCF to complete its Screening, Response, and Assessment?
- Screening: Begins immediately for all reports. For an emergency response, the screening is completed within two hours. For a non-emergency response, screening is completed in one working day (with an additional one working day extension in rare circumstances).
- Emergency Investigation: Must begin within two to four hours and be completed within five working days of the receipt of report.
- Non-Emergency Investigation: Must begin within three working days of receipt of report and be completed within 15 working days.
- Family Assessment: May take up to 45 working days.
What if DCF screens out the report?
If available information is not sufficient for DCF to determine that there is reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected, the report will be screened out. As such, it is important that the reporter provide the Department with all the information that might aid DCF in determining whether or not the alleged abuse or neglect occurred. It is wise to have as much information available as possible when calling the Department. However, if the reporter does not have all this information, do not let it impede the filing. File with what information is on hand and let the professionals make their determinations.
Having documentation of relevant facts, dates, quotes, etc., can help to ensure that information is accurately conveyed at the time the report is filed. Documentation can also facilitate the reporter’s recollection of what has gone on with the child/youth over time. However, the decision to file or not file a report should not be based on the fact that the reporter thinks the documentation on hand is insufficient. Remember, mandated reporters are required to report if they have a reasonable cause to believe that a child or youth is suffering abuse or neglect. The suspected abuse or neglect must be immediately reported to the Department by oral communication and by making a written report within 48 hours after the oral communication.
If a report is screened out, it may also be because the alleged perpetrator of the abuse or neglect has been identified, and the individual was not in a caregiver role during the time when the abuse or neglect took place. With the exception of human trafficking allegations, incidents where the alleged perpetrator was not in a caregiver role are beyond DCF’s authority to address. In these situations, DCF may contact and refer the case to the District Attorney and local law enforcement.
Also, if a report is screened out, it does not mean that the reporter cannot file another report at a later date. In the interim, documenting can help in establishing the reporter’s own record of what is going on with the child or youth, and this information can be useful if you decide to file a report in the future. Again, the case that has received several reports, whether screened in or out, can be a source of critical information. In the meantime, help the child or youth by remaining available, acknowledging concerns, helping to enhance self-esteem, and giving the child/youth a positive experience. Staff and volunteers can be an invaluable source of support, and one should not underestimate the influence that they have on children and youth.
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