What is a “Fair Hearing”?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed June 2021

A Department of Children and Families Fair Hearing is a kind of trial where you can present your case. It is not as formal as a trial in a court, but you have rights, witnesses testify under oath, and the officer in charge of the hearing has duties and responsibilities.

A Department of Children and Families (DCF) Fair Hearing is your chance to:

  • explain why you disagree with a DCF decision and
  • show them why they should change it.

 Hearings officers must be fair and have no other involvement with your case. They do not take sides but they do work for DCF. They are in charge of the hearing and have legal responsibilities.

What kinds of decisions can I appeal to a Fair Hearing?

Asking DCF to change their decision is called "appealing" the decision. You need to ask for a Fair Hearing when you appeal. Some examples of when you have the right to a Fair Hearing are:

You can appeal many more decisions and actions to a Fair Hearing:

  • Disagreements about fees.
  • DCF's decisions about placing children.
  • DCF's decisions about refusing to provide, stopping or reducing services.
  • DCF's decisions about foster care.
  • DCF's decisions about adoption.
  • DCF's decisions about guardianship.
  • DCF's decisions about providing services to

If you are a child, a teenager or a young adult, you have the right to a Fair Hearing if you disagree with DCF's decisions about your service plan, services you need, and placements.

What are my rights at a Fair Hearing?

At a Fair Hearing you have the right to:

  • Bring a lawyer or any “Authorized Representative.” An Authorized Representative is any person you give written permission to represent you.
  • Have an interpreter
  • Bring witnesses
  • Use your DCF file.
  • Use your providers’ records.
  • Use the 51A and 51B reports.
  • Require any DCF or Provider employee you need to be at the hearing
  • Subpoena witnesses and documents.

What are the Hearings Officer’s legal responsibilities?

The Hearing Officer’s legal responsibilities include:

  • Requiring witnesses to swear to tell the truth
  • Helping witnesses feel free to give all their evidence
  • Making sure you have the chance to present your claims
  • Deciding to accept, reject, or limit evidence
  • Issuing subpoenas to order witnesses to come testify at the hearing or to get documents to the hearing. If you want the Hearing Officer to issue a subpoena, send them a letter at least 15 days before the hearing. Tell them who you want to subpoena. If you cannot pay the cost of the subpoena you can ask the court to pay your fees. See Subpoenas
  • Recording the hearing
  • Making a written decision within 60 business days after the last evidence is submitted.

What can I do if I lose the Fair Hearing?

You can file a complaint in Superior Court and ask the court to review the Fair Hearing decision.

What if I need a lawyer?

Try to talk to a lawyer if you think you might want:

  • a Fair Hearing or
  • you want to ask the Superior Court to review a Fair Hearing decision.

Call your local legal services program to see if you can get free legal help. You can also call a lawyer referral service to try to find a private lawyer to help you at a price you can afford.

To see the regulations about Fair Hearings, look at 110 Code of Massachusetts Regulations 10. The regulations include other useful information not covered in this article.

For a complete list of decisions, you can appeal to a Fair Hearing, see 110 CMR 10.06.

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