Children in Need of Services (CHINS) Overview


Posted almost 5 years ago. Applies to Massachusetts, 8 helpful votes



What is a CHINS?

A CHINS action is a civil proceeding used by the juvenile court to get a child to conform his or her behavior to certain rules. CHINS stands for "child in need of services". The four types of CHINS petitions are "Runaway", "Stubborn Child", "Habitual School Offender" and "Truancy". A CHINS adjudication will allow the court to 1) impose certain conditions on the child (i.e. curfew, counseling, compliance with DCF services) and 2) place cusody of the child with the parent/legal guardian, qualified 3rd party or the Department of Children and Families (DCF).


Runaway and Stubborn Child CHINS Petitions

A runaway or stubborn child petition can be filed by the parent, the legal guardian or a police officer. The petitioner must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the child either a) repeatedly runs away from the home of a parent or legal guardian (for Runaway petitions), or (b) repeatedly fails to obey the lawful and reasonable commands of a parent or legal guardian, thereby interfering with the parent's or legal guardian's ability to adequately care for and protect the child (for Stubborn Child petitions).


Habitual School Offender and Truancy CHINS Petitions

A habitual school offender or truancy petition can be filed by any supervisor of attendance. The petitioner must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the child, between the ages of 6-16, either repeatedly fails to obey lawful and reasonable school regulations (for Habitual School Offender petitions) or, willfully fails to attend school for more than 8 school days in a quarter (for Truancy petitions).


Procedural Steps in a CHINS Case

If the child is NOT brought into court on arrest, the clerk shall set a date for a hearing to determine whether a petition should issue. The court shall hold a Preliminary Hearing in which it shall either (i) decline to issue the petition because there is no probable cause to believe that the child is in need of services; (ii) decline to issue the petition because it finds that the interests of the child would best be served by "informal assistance"; or (iii) issue the petition and schedule a trial. If the child IS brought in on arrest, the petition shall issue if it has not already issued. The court may will then hold a hearing and decide whether to proceed with a trial, or to refer the child to the care of a probation officer for informal assistance. If a trial is scheduled, the petitioner will have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the child meets the definition of a "child in need of services".


Dispositions in a CHINS Case

If a child is adjudicated to be a child in need of services, either after trial or by his/her own stipulation, the court may impose any of the following dispositions: 1) permit the child to remain with his parents; 2) place the child in the care of (a) a relative, probation officer, or other adult individual who, after inquiry by the probation officer or other per-son or agency designated by the court, is found to be qualified to receive and care for the child; (b) a private charitable or childcare agency or other private organization, licensed or otherwise authorized by law to receive and provide care for such children; or (c) a private organization which is found to be qualified to receive and care for the child, or 3) commit the child to the Department of Children and Families (DCF). A CHINS dispositional order is in force for not more than six months, unless the order is extended after a hearing. In practice, CHINS orders are often extended beyond the initial 6 months.


Closing Remarks

A CHINS proceeding is a serious matter that can result in loss of child custody, and the intrusion of the courts and the Department of Children and Families into your and your child's life. An attorney is essential at every stage of the proceedings to advocate for the best result, provide information about what is going on and act as an intermediary between the child, the court and the petitioning party.

Additional Resources

Law Office of Dominic L. Pang

Massachusetts General Laws Ch. 119, s. 39G

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