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 a school administrator) calls DCF to make a verbal report of the concern and then completes and faxes the state mandated form to DCF. (Click here if you would like to view the DCF webpage.)