Determination of the Special Education Decision-Maker for a Child in Placement

By Elaine Arsenault, Program Coordinator, Pathways

The Pathways project is a joint partnership between the Federation for Children with Special Needs, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF), and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and human Services (EOHHS), that helps provide a voice for parents – including foster / adoptive / kinship parents – who are involved with DCF. One of the goals of Pathways is to offer information and support to families who have children on Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

As the Program Coordinator for Pathways, I’m frequently asked: “who is the special education decision-maker for a child placed in DCF care”?

Although a DCF social worker may refer a child for special education services, he or she cannot act as the child’s special education decision-maker under federal special education law (34 CFR 300.9(d)(2). The DCF worker does not have the authority to give consent for special education evaluations, to sign an Individualized Education Program IEP, or to file a special education appeal. Under state and federal special education law, when a child is in the care of DCF, the parents retain the right and responsibility to make special education decisions.

If the child is placed in the custody of DCF through an order from the Juvenile Court or Probate and Family Court, is living in a foster home, and it is determined that the child’s parent should not continue as the educational decision-maker, the foster parent has the authority to make decisions about the child’s special education.

When DCF receives custody of a child through a “Child Requiring Assistance” [CRA] case [formerly CHINS] (a situation where the parent voluntarily places their child in DCF custody), the parent retains the right to make decisions related to special education. Information on CRA cases can be found at:

When the child is in DCF custody and placed in congregate care (i.e. a group home or residential placement) and the parent cannot or will not continue as an educational decision-maker, DCF will appoint a Special Education Surrogate Parent (SESP) to make special education decisions for the child.

Our Recruitment Training and Support Center for Special Education Surrogate Parents (RTSC) helps fill the need for SESP volunteers, and offers a wealth of resources to help SESPs, birth parents, kinship / foster caregivers, and professionals learn more about the special education system as well as the social-emotional issues such children may be facing.

For more information on how and when the Department of Children and Families will seek a Special Education Surrogate Parent for a Child, visit