Just wanted to share some recent developments on the Fair Hearing front…As many of you know, in addition to representing anybody and anything (schools, churches, day care centers etc.) in DCF investigations, family assessments and in court (in Care and Protection cases, for example), I handle at least two to three fair hearings a month across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And the types of cases I handle truly run the gamut: from domestic disputes, substance abuse, allegations of physical abuse and / or neglect, substance exposed newborns (SENs)(usually involving marijuana and/or suboxone) and home alone cases to very serious sexual abuse cases, alleged unlawful restraint cases at DYS and, in one recent case, the death of an infant at a daycare center.
What has changed is that more and more often I am able to get the decision to support a 51A either reversed or reduced to a ‘substantiated concern’ prior to the hearing. In fact, in a recent case the Area Director reversed a support finding upon receiving my request for a fair hearing. And in other cases, I have written a letter to the Area Director urging for him or her to reverse prior to hearing based on new information developed during the family assessment. In a couple of cases I was able to get the support reduced to a substantiated concern, which is still a win since a ‘concern’ finding does not result in my client’s name being placed in the Department’s Central Registry, meaning he or she does not have a ‘record’ with DCF. These developments are good news to my future clients. It would seem that the 10 or so years handling fair hearings is truly reaping benefits for them in ways I could hardly have imagined years ago, when fair hearings were treated as a joke by DCF and the lawyers who handled them. Back in the day there was little hope of actually winning them. Not so anymore.
Fair Hearings are more often than not now given the respect they deserve. Especially considering the potentially dire consequences of having a supported 51A on your record: the loss of a job or of a daycare or foster parent license or the removal of your children and the filing of a petition for Care and Protection etc. So, not only am I usually winning my cases after a fair hearing, more and more I am winning them before the hearing. And that’s a good thing!
P.S.–Look out soon for a video of me on my website!