Saturday, March 2, 2013

10 Things You Should Know About CHINS

1. There is no such animal anymore.

On November 5, 2012, a new law went into effect that revamped CHINS and did away with that term. The new law was supposed to be called FACES (Families and Children Engaging in Services) but is instead going to be known as CRA (Children Requiring Assistance). Read AN ACT REGARDING FAMILIES AND CHILDREN ENGAGED IN SERVICES hereSession Laws Acts 2012 Chapter240.

2. Definitions changed.

The new statute applies to children between the ages of 6 and 18. The old law only went up to 17. Since the mandatory school attendance law only requires school attendance until age 16, school-based applications must still be dismissed when the student reaches age 16.

A Runaway is a child between the ages of 6 and 18 who repeatedly runs away from the home of a parent, legal guardian or custodian.

The other home-based category makes clear that the rules violations to trigger an application must be important ones. An application may be filed for a child between the ages of 6 and 18 who repeatedly fails to obey the lawful and reasonable commands of a parent, legal guardian or custodian, thereby interfering with their ability to care for and protect the child.

A Truant is a child who when not otherwise excused from attendance in accordance with lawful and reasonable school regulations, willfully fails to attend school more that eight school days in a quarter.

The other school-based application is for a child who repeatedly fails to obey lawful and reasonable school regulations.

3. Police officers may no longer file applications.

Mass. General Laws chapter 119 § 39E (which will be here: but has not yet been updated with the new statute) lists those who may file an application for assistance as "A parent, legal guardian, or custodian of a child having custody of such child." Custodian and having custody are additions to the statute. Practitioners question if "having custody" applies to a parent. Some courts were not letting non-custodial parents file under the old CHINS law.

Police officers are no longer listed in those who may file. The new statute no longer requires a certified supervisor of attendance to file school-based applications. Applications may be filed by a school district. Practitioners question whether that means a school district employee or if a school district may only be represented by an attorney.

4. The bail provisions of the old CHINS law were eliminated.

There is no reference to bail in the new CRA law. The court may place the child in the temporary custody of DCF but the order is only good for 15 days at a time and may only be renewed twice for a total of 45 days.

5. Arrest is no longer allowed.

If a child fails to obey a CRA summons or the a police officer has probably cause to believe a child is a runaway AND will not respond to a summons, s/he may be taken into custodial protection.

BUT custodial protection does not allow police to bring child to the police station or a lockup (not even the juvenile court detention facility) and cannot be handcuffed or shackled.

Court orders for to bring a child to court for failure to obey a summons are not to be entered into the state's Warrant Management System (WMS).

6. CRA cases are not be placed on CORI, CARI, BOP or WMS.

The cases are not to be entered on the child's Criminal Offender Record Information, Court Appearance Record Information, Board of Probation record or Warrant Management System. If the application is dismissed before a fact-finding hearing it is supposed to be expunged. No record "shall be maintained or remain active" after the case is dismissed.

7. Parent applicants may now dismiss their petitions.

Overturning the In re Gail, 471 Mass. 321 (1994) case, which said that the petitioner-mother could not dismiss her CHINS petition, the new CRA law authorizes any party to file a motion to dismiss until the disposition hearing. The judge "may" order dismissal if it is in the best interests of the child or if all parties agree.

8. No more jury trials.

The new statute specifies that the fact-finding hearing is before a judge, not a jury. When the legislature did away with trial de novo in every other area of law, it left it in the old CHINS statute. The new CRA law does away with the child's ability to have a second trial in a jury session. Instead appeals are no longer whole new trials but will be decided on issues of law in the single justice session of the Mass. Appeals Court (under M.G.L. c. 231, § 118).

9. Disposition is a two-step process and is time-limited.

Under the new CRA law the court must convene and may participate in an on-the-record "conference" of the probation officer, petitioner, school, parent, child, child's attorney, DCF and "any other person who may be helpful in determining the most effective assistance available to be offered to the child and family." The probation officer must write recommendations and other persons may submit written recommendations to advise the court on appropriate treatment, services, placement, conditions and limitations.

The first disposition order may last for not more than 120 days. It may be extended after hearing for 90 days. A maximum of 3 extensions are allowed for a total of 390 days.

10. Links to resources.

The Massachusetts Juvenile Court Department issued a Handbook for Parents, Legal Guardians, and Custodians in Child Requiring Assistance Cases it is no longer available here, but can still be found by searching for it by title.

The Children and Family Law Program of the Committee for Public Counsel Services has compiled a set of links which includes the Juvenile Court Memorandum of October 25, 2012 and links that let you download "a detailed memorandum discussing the new law," "a short summary of the changes," and "the sections of Chapter 119 that pertain to status offenses, as it will read on November 5, 2012"; or go here to access the links from the CAFL News page.

Special thanks to Attorney Michael Kilkelly who prepared a lot of the CAFL materials and presented them in a series of workshops for interested attorneys.


DUI news said...

Nice to see the useful update here.

MLR said...

Great Committee for Public Counsel Services Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) resource page:

Anonymous said...

The CRA has not helped my family.Oct. 20 CRA opened on child 17.8 years old becasue she ran away.No therapy for child because she refuses to go. On 12/22 DCF moved her back to group home because she was not following rules in foster home so she ran away again from state custody but has checked in saying she is safe. The courts, DCF, detectives can't do anything because of the new CRA.

Unknown said...

It seems that the new law give the child the freedom to do as they please with no consequences no matter what they do. Some children needs structures in their live even if it has to be forced upon them, it will pay off in the long run

MLR said...

Dear Ms. Dendy:

The purpose of the amendments between CHINS and CRA was to make sure CHINS could not be used punitively -- to take make it less like delinquency cases. Kids who need services are still brought to court and required to work with probation, DCF and other agencies to make sure they are behaving in ways that enable their parents to keep them safe.

The parts that were eliminated were the parts of the old law that allowed back-talkers, runaways and truants to be treated the same as criminals.

Yes, kids need structure and discipline but kids who have not harmed other people or property do not need to be stigmatized, traumatized and humiliated.

Anonymous said...

I need some real advise please a friend of mine is in a situation, her mom was not a safe place she would be abused there and her parents do not want her any longer and told her to runaway or go to foster care or kill your self, and of course she ran away and now I guess there is some kind of chins warrant on her and that she needs to go back to court to take care of it, but if she goes back and they send her to her lying tricking parents it will be bad for her, my question is can she just stay out of sight till she's 18 so she can get back to a normal life and live her life or is that person right and she can still be arrested even when she's 18 for her mom filing her as a runaway???

MLR said...

Dear Anonymous,
Your friend's situation depends on how long ago her petition was issued. As you will see in number 5 of the original article, the new CRA law, which replaced CHINS, does not authorize arrest warrants. But there may still be one in the system for your friend, if it was issued before the new law went into effect. If it was issued before the new law, it will stay in the system until it is removed by a court. She's not likely to have someone come looking for her, but it may be used to hold her even after she turns 18 if she gets pulled over for a traffic citation or anything like that.
Since kids are at risk of being taken advantage of when they are on the run, your friend might be better off going into court to remove the warrant and have an attorney appointed to represent her. If she is close to 18, it is unlikely they will force her to go home to abusive parents.

Anonymous said...

Hi, my issue is very similar to what Anonymous asked you. My friend ran away around January 2014. I believe she was on the CHINS thing or whatever,which I assume they've put a CHINS warrant on her now since shes a runaway. Her only offense is running away, no drugs or nothing like that. Once she turns 18 will the case be dropped? She wants to go back and get her ID, social,etc..or will they charge her as an adult?

MLR said...

Dear Anonymous 2,

The CRA law was already in effect in January 2014, so, if that's when your friend ran away and had her first CHINS/CRA thing filed, she shouldn't have a warrant. The best way for her to find out is to contact the attorney who was appointed to represent her in the juvenile court. If she never went to court and never heard from an attorney, she could contact the probation department at the juvenile court that covers the town where she lived when she ran away.

If there was a case filed that she missed a court appearance about, it won't necessarily go away automatically when she turns 18. She will have to clear up the default and have the case dismissed in person. The legal consequences of running away or missing a court date are not severe enough to miss out on things like getting an ID and being able to go to school or applying for financial aid. The court system recognizes that teens and young adults are better off when they come in from the streets.

No, she cannot be charged as an adult for something like running away, which is a "status offense." That means they are offenses that are only illegal because of her status as a minor. They are not crimes for adults.

Your friend should contact her court-appointed attorney or probation officer and come back to get back on track for a successful adulthood.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your advice Michael. I'm Anonymous 2, with the runaway friend. She's turning 18 very soon, so it's nice to reassure her that things won't be so bad, if she decides to go back home.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what to do but my 14 yr old son has a very bad attitude, hates school, gets in trouble at school at least once a week, doesn't care about nothing, his father gave up on him and know it's just me. He has pushed me twice and I think that one day might hit me. He want talk at the councilors has so much anger. Is this a program that would help or recommend help??

MLR said...

Dear Nov. 15, 2016 Anonymous,

I am sorry for the struggles you are having with your son. The Child Requiring Assistance Law, which replaced CHINS, states, "A parent, legal guardian, or custodian of a child having custody of such child, may initiate an application for assistance in one of said courts stating that said child repeatedly runs away from the home of said parent or guardian or repeatedly refuses to obey the lawful and reasonable commands of said parent or guardian resulting in said parent's or guardian's inability to adequately care for and protect said child."

If your son meets that definition, you can go to the juvenile court that covers your hometown and file an application for assistance or ask to be "referred to a family resource center, community-based services program or other entity designated by the secretary of health and human services to provide community-based services in the juvenile court district where the child resides and return to court at a later time to file an application for assistance, if needed."

The Clerk's office at the juvenile court is supposed to have materials available to help you figure out your options.

Since your son's problems pour over into the school setting, you might want to consider asking his school to evaluate him for special education or related services. Hating school and getting in trouble there are often signs that educational or emotional needs are not being addressed.

Whether he talks to his counselor or not, the counselor should help you figure out the best route for addressing your son's anger and other emotional issues. Since he has pushed you and you are afraid he might hit you, you might also consider talking to the Juvenile Officer at your local police department. Or call 9-1-1 for an emergency psychiatric consultation if your son is acting out or seems destined toward getting violent on any given occasion.

Anonymous said...

Im considering this. My daughter is a good kid she just makes bad choices that dosent keep her safe at all would this help

MLR said...

Dear Anonymous of March 6, 2107,

Leaving an anonymous comment on a blog is not the way to get advice about the Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) process and whether it would be helpful for you in caring for your daughter. Check out the links in this post, on the Web Resources page of my website and the Mass. Trial Court Law Libraries' Massachusetts Law about the Juvenile Justice System page .

You can have a conversation about CRA with a Probation Officer at the Juvenile Court or with the Family Resource Center that covers your town. If want to have a consultation with a lawyer about the CRA process, use the Find a Lawyer function at,,, your search engine or a Bar Association Referral Service to seek out a Juvenile Law attorney in your area.

Anonymous said...

Today, I went to the beach front with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4
year old daughter and said "You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear." She placed the shell to her
ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside
and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!

Anonymous said...

I quite like reading a post that will make people think.
Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

erika s said...

Hi Mike! I was doing a search for work purposes to see when the law changed, and was pleasantly surprised to happen across a familiar trusted source. Thanks!

I think it's also worth mentioning that while CHINS/CRA does not come up on CORI etc., it does stay in DCF's records and stays tied to the individual once they reach majority. I have seen adults who have it adversely affect fostering or working at group homes etc., and it certainly gets views negatively when a parent has a 51A filed and the screener sees they had a CHINS as a child -- even though most of these I've seen come up have been solely for school attendance. If the intended purpose is to provide a means of accessing help without criminalizing the youth, then it still needs further reform. It should absolutely not show up on an adult's DCF clearance check whatsoever. Looking into a parent's childhood during screening or investigation is just too problematic in the same the way all of this predictive analysis is. It does seem logical to have it show up if a family has an open case, as it might be helpful in working with a family.