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General Laws

Section 51B. (a) Upon receipt of a report filed under section 51A, the department shall investigate the suspected child abuse or neglect, provide a written evaluation of the household of the child, including the parents and home environment and make a written determination relative to the safety of and risk posed to the child and whether the suspected child abuse or neglect is substantiated. The department shall immediately report to the district attorney and local law enforcement authorities, a sexually exploited child or a child who is otherwise a human trafficking victim, regardless of whether the child is living with a parent, guardian or other caretaker.

(b) The investigation shall include: (i) a home visit at which the child is viewed, if appropriate; (ii) a determination of the nature, extent and cause or causes of the injuries; (iii) the identity of the person or persons responsible therefore; (iv) the name, age and condition of other children in the same household; (v) an evaluation of the parents and the home environment; and (vi) all other pertinent facts or matters. The department shall coordinate with other agencies to make all reasonable efforts to minimize the number of interviews of any potential victim of child abuse or neglect. Upon completion of the investigation and evaluation, the department shall make a written determination relative to: (i) the safety of the child and risk of physical or emotional injury to that child and the safety of and risk thereto of any other children in the household; and (ii) whether the suspected child abuse or neglect is substantiated.

(c) If the department has reasonable cause to believe a child’s health or safety is in immediate danger from abuse or neglect, the department shall take a child into immediate temporary custody if it has reasonable cause to believe that the removal is necessary to protect the child from abuse or neglect. The investigation and evaluation shall commence within 2 hours of initial contact and an interim report with an initial determination regarding the child’s safety and custody shall be completed as soon as possible but not more than 24 hours after initial contact. The final report required under this section shall be complete within 5 business days of initial contact. If a child is taken into immediate temporary custody, the department shall make a written report stating the reasons for such removal and shall file a care and protection petition under section 24 on the next court day.

(d) If the department does not have reasonable cause to believe that a child’s health or safety is in immediate danger from abuse or neglect, the investigation and evaluation shall commence within 2 business days of initial contact and a determination shall be made within 15 business days, unless a waiver has been approved by the area director or requested by law enforcement.

(e) Notwithstanding subsection (c), whenever the department has reasonable cause to believe that removal is necessary to protect a child from abuse or neglect, it shall take the child into immediate temporary custody. If a child is taken into immediate temporary custody, the department shall make a written report stating the reasons for such removal and shall file a care and protection petition under section 24 on the next court day.

(f) If a child named in a report filed under section 51A is in an out-of-home placement and the suspected child abuse or neglect is substantiated, the department shall notify his parents that such report was filed and has been substantiated by the department. If the child died or suffered serious bodily injury, the department shall notify the parents, including the biological parents, if the department determines that such notification is in the best interest of the child or of another child in the same placement. The department shall consult with these parents in decisions about removal or further placement. These notifications and consultations shall not be required if the commissioner determines that such notifications or consultations are not appropriate or in the best interests of a child.

(g) The department shall offer appropriate services to the family of any child which it has reasonable cause to believe is suffering from any of the conditions described in the report to prevent further injury to the child, to safeguard his welfare, and to preserve and stabilize family life whenever possible. If the family declines or is unable to accept or to participate in the offered services, the department or any person may file a care and protection petition under section 24.

(h) The department shall file in the central registry, established under section 51F, a written report containing information sufficient to identify each child whose name is reported under this section or section 51A. A notation shall be sent to the central registry whenever further reports on each such child are filed with the department. If the department determines during the initial screening period of an investigation that a report filed under section 51A is frivolous, or other absolute determination that abuse or neglect has not taken place, such report shall be declared as “allegation invalid”. If a report is declared “allegation invalid”, the name of the child, or identifying characteristics relating to the child, or the names of his parents or guardian or any other person relevant to the report, shall not be placed in the central registry or in any other computerized program utilized in the department.

(i) The department may purchase and utilize such protective services of private and voluntary agencies as it determines necessary.

(j) The department shall adopt regulations to implement the sections 51A to 51F, inclusive.

(k) The department shall notify and shall transmit copies of substantiated 51A reports and its written evaluations and written determinations under subsection (a) or (b) to the district attorney for the county in which the child resides and for the county in which the suspected abuse or neglect occurred, and to the local law enforcement authorities in the city or town in which the child resides and in the city or town in which the suspected abuse or neglect occurred when the department has reasonable cause to believe that 1 of the conditions listed below resulted from abuse or neglect.

The department shall immediately report to the district attorney and local law enforcement authorities listed above when early evidence indicates there is reasonable cause to believe that 1 of the conditions listed below resulted from abuse or neglect:

(1) a child has died or has suffered brain damage, loss or substantial impairment of a bodily function or organ, substantial disfigurement, or serious physical injury including, but not limited to, a fracture of any bone, a severe burn, an impairment of any organ or an injury requiring the child to be placed on life-support systems;

(2) a child has been sexually assaulted, which shall include a violation of section 13B, 13B1/2, 13B3/4, 13H, 22, 22A, 22B, 22C, 23, 23A, 23B, 24 or 24B of chapter 265.

(3) a child has been sexually exploited, which shall include a violation of section 4A, 4B or 29A of said chapter 272 or is a sexually exploited child or a child who is otherwise a human trafficking victim; or

(4) any other disclosure of physical abuse involving physical evidence which may be destroyed, any current disclosure by a child of sexual assault, or the presence of physical evidence of sexual assault.

Within 45 days of the notification under the first paragraph, the department shall further notify the district attorney of a service plan, if any, developed for such child and his family.

No provision of chapter 66A, sections 135 to 135B, inclusive, of chapter 112, or sections 51E and 51F of this chapter relating to confidential data or confidential communications shall prohibit the department from making such notifications or from providing to the district attorney or local law enforcement authorities any information obtained under this section. No person providing notification or information to a district attorney or local law enforcement authorities under this section shall be liable in any civil or criminal action by reason of such action. Nothing herein shall be construed to prevent the department from notifying a district attorney relative to any incident reported to the department under section 51A or to limit the prosecutorial power of a district attorney.

(l) If the department substantiates a report alleging that abuse or neglect occurred at a facility approved, owned, operated or funded, in whole or in part, or was committed by an individual the department has reason to believe was licensed by the department of elementary and secondary education, the department of early education and care, the department of mental health, the department of developmental services, the department of public health or the department of youth services, the department shall notify the office of the child advocate and the affected department, in writing, by transmitting a copy of the report filed under section 51A and the department’s written evaluation and written determination.

If the department substantiates a report alleging that abuse or neglect was committed by an individual who was employed at a facility approved or licensed by the department of early education and care, then the department shall notify the office of the child advocate and the department of early education and care, in writing, by transmitting a copy of the report filed under section 51A and the department’s written evaluation and written determination.

If the department is aware of a licensing violation in any such facility, the department shall immediately notify the affected department.

No provision of chapter 66A, sections 135 to 135B, inclusive, of chapter 112, or sections 51E and 51F, or any other provision of law shall prohibit: (i) the department from transmitting copies of reports filed under section 51A or its written evaluations and written determinations to the office of the child advocate or the affected departments; (ii) the department, the office of the child advocate and the affected departments from coordinating activities and sharing information for the purposes of this section or for investigating a licensing violation; or (iii) the department’s employees from testifying at administrative hearings held by the affected department in connection with a licensing violation.

(m) Notwithstanding any privilege created by statute or common law relating to confidential communications or any statute prohibiting the disclosure of information but subject to subsection (j) of section 51A, a mandated reporter shall answer questions and provide information posed by the department relating to an investigation conducted under this section, whether or not that person filed the 51A report being investigated. A statutory or common law privilege shall not preclude the admission of any such information in any civil proceeding concerning abuse or neglect of a child, placement or custody of a child.

(n) No person required to provide such information under this section or permitted to disclose information under section 5A of chapter 119A shall be liable in any civil or criminal action for providing such information.

(o) No employer shall discharge, discriminate or retaliate against a mandated reporter who, in good faith, provides such information, testifies or is about to testify in any proceeding involving child abuse or neglect unless such person perpetrated or inflicted such abuse or neglect. Any employer who discharges, discriminates or retaliates against such a person shall be liable to such person for treble damages, costs and attorney’s fees.

(p) If the department determines that a 51A report is not substantiated, the department shall notify in writing any and all sources or recipients of information in connection with the investigation that the report of abuse or neglect has not been substantiated, unless the target of the investigation requests that such notification not occur.

(q) The department and the private agencies under contract with it, shall conduct periodic and regular training and education to caseworkers, screeners of 51A reports, and administrators of the department and the agencies regarding their duties and obligations under section 51A and 51B.

(r) There shall be a review by a regional clinical review team when 3 or more 51A reports involving separate incidents have been filed on any child in a family within 3 months and a review by an area clinical review team when 3 or more 51A reports involving separate incidents have been filed on any child in a family within 1 year.

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