They say the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families traumatized their family by taking their kids in the middle of the night. 

The former Waltham residents, who now live thousands of miles away in Idaho, share their story and their calls for the system to change with 7 Investigates. They say what happened to them could happen to you. Dan Hausle has more. 

A knock on their door in the middle of the night still haunts Sarah Perkins and Josh Sabey.      

“It was so loud. Somebody shouted Waltham Police,” Sarah said. 

The couple recorded the tense situation when police and DCF workers arrived at their house last summer.  

They were told to wake up their children, 3-month-old Cal and 3-year-old Clarence, and hand them over.    

“I thought there must have been a mistake,” Josh said. 

“We were told eventually that if we didn’t give up our kids, they would kick down the door and take them,” Sarah said.

“So, you guys showed up at 1 o’clock on a Saturday morning,” Josh asks DCF workers on video the family recorded. 

“We surrendered,” Josh said. 

“Hey Clarence, you get to go on a car ride,” Sarah said on video the family recorded inside their home. 

“I don’t want to,” Clarence cried in response to being woken up. 

While Clarence screamed, the kids were loaded into a stranger’s car and taken to a foster home.

Their mom was distraught.

“I felt like I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t do anything,” Sarah said. 

“How it felt like the worst possible way that you could design to remove kids from a loving family,” Josh said. 

The family’s ordeal began two days earlier when Sarah took Cal to the ER for a fever and a cough.    

Chest X-rays showed Cal had fractured ribs.

“They said, ‘How did this happen?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ The only thing I could think of was he had scooted himself off a bed,” Sarah said. 

Doctors notified DCF, and the agency started investigating. 

According to DCF reports that Josh and Sarah gave us experts “determined the fractures were not consistent with a fall from a bed” and were “more consistent with a baby being squeezed or from blunt force trauma.”  

The couple says they couldn’t explain the injury. 

“We didn’t abuse him,” Josh said. 

Cal had more medical tests. 

A pediatrician examined Clarence for signs of injury. 

“They found nothing concerning, and they reported that to the hospital and to DCF,” Josh said. 

Sarah and Josh say they cooperated fully with DCF allowing the agency to inspect their home and agreeing to future DCF visits.

So, they were stunned when DCF workers showed up in the middle of the night to take their kids.

“I was saying, ‘Are you allowed to do this?’” Josh said. 

DCF didn’t have a court order, and they didn’t need one.

“I think it’s crazy,” Josh said. 

Massachusetts law allows DCF to remove children — at any time — if the department has reasonable cause to believe that removal is necessary to protect a child from abuse or neglect.

“We know that there are certainly cases in which DCF need to remove children to protect them,” said attorney Michael Dsida, deputy chief counsel in the Children and Family Law Division at the Committee for Public Counsel Services which works with families involved in DCF cases.  

He says the agency should only be allowed to remove children from a home without a court order in rare and dangerous situations.

“We know from our experts and from our clients themselves about how traumatic this experience is for children. Some children do, in fact, recover, but many carry the scars from that removal for years and years and maybe even for the rest of their lives,” Michael said. 

Soon after DCF took Clarence and Cal, they were placed with Josh’s parents. 

And Josh’s mother realized she might have been the one who accidentally injured the infant. 

“She went to pick him up from the car seat one-handed,” Sarah said. “She like unbuckled him and slid her hand underneath his back, and he threw his head back, and so she gripped him to keep him from falling.” 

“She squeezed him really tight, and he cried out, but he comforted and was fine. She never told us about it,” Josh said. 

Josh and Sarah say after several court hearings and spending more than $50,000 in legal bills, they got their sons back and moved out of state.

But they worry their kids may never get over what happened to them.

“Clarence had night terrors after this, still does sometimes,” Josh said. 

Josh and Sarah want DCF’s system of removing kids to change, so this doesn’t happen to any other families.

“Maybe some kids need to be removed from their family. But it should never happen in this way. There has to be a better way,” Josh said. 

DCF officials say they can’t comment on a specific case. But they point out they must notify the court immediately after kids are removed from their homes without a judge’s order — and that parents then have the right to a hearing. 

There was a bill filed on Beacon Hill calling for greater court oversight before DCF can remove children from their homes.

DCF says it doesn’t comment on proposed legislation, but the Massachusetts Juvenile Court sent 7 Investigates their concerns about the bill:

“The bill proposes that DCF seek an order through Judicial Response, the Trial Court’s after-hours emergency system, when court is not in session. The bill requires that DCF demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the child is suffering from serious abuse or neglect or is in immediate danger of serious abuse or neglect and that immediate removal of the child is necessary to protect the child from serious abuse or neglect. This changes the standard for removal from reasonable cause to preponderance of the evidence which is a higher burden of proof. Requiring a higher burden of proof in an emergency situation may place the child in further danger. In addition, the Supreme Judicial Court has found that reasonable cause is the appropriate standard to apply for an emergency removal.” 

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