UPDATE: Former DCF Social Worker Faces Fraud Charges for Posing as Student at 3 Boston Schools

Published: June 27, 2023

UPDATE 6/27/23

A former social worker for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) is now facing criminal charges for allegedly posing as a student at three Boston Public high schools.

According to an arrest warrant filed in West Roxbury District Court on Tuesday, 32-year-old Shelby Hewitt is facing two felony counts of forging documents and five other charges related to the scheme. A police report says Hewitt assumed the identity of a person associated with Lowell Juvenile Court. It is not yet known if that person was a juvenile defendant.

Boston police searched Hewitt’s Jamaica Plain apartment and found several forced documents connected to both the juvenile court and DCF, reports WCVB.

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A former employee for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) allegedly used falsified identification and paperwork to register as a student at three Boston high schools during the 2022-2023 school year.

A letter from Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Mary Skipper said the adult woman attended Jeremiah E. Burke High School, Brighton High School, and English High School by using the student transfer process and enrolling under multiple pseudonyms, reports WCVB. Skipper called it a case of “extremely sophisticated fraud.”

According to a report from Boston Police, concerns were raised when an unidentified man went to English High School and told administrators that he would be withdrawing his daughter — the 32-year-old woman in question — due to bullying. School officials thought something was amiss since the student had been enrolled at the school for less than a week.

After reviewing her paperwork, school personnel noticed irregularities — including incorrect information on a DCF form — and reported them to administrators on June 14. District leaders then contacted the police.

“Concerned that there may be some sort of custodial issue with the parents, the school began to ask the district for all of the enrollment paperwork. It was when looking through the paperwork that a school administrator had noticed that one of the forms submitted for enrollment was not right,” reads the report. “While the investigation is in its early stages and remains ongoing, school officials have not identified any incidents of harm to students or staff. At this time, families of students who may have interacted with this individual are being contacted directly by school staff and investigators.”

Boston police confirmed Tuesday there is an active investigation but no arrests have been made. The woman has been ordered to stay away from BPS facilities. Her father told WCVB that his daughter needs mental health help and is currently receiving treatment.

Mass. DCF confirmed the woman worked as a social worker from 2016-2017, some of 2018, and from Dec. 2021 through Feb. 2023. She stopped working for the state organization in February.

Woman Charged in Similar N.J. Case; Human Trafficking Concerns Raised in Both Investigations

In a similar case back in January, 29-year-old Hyejeong Shin was charged with one count of providing a false government document after she allegedly submitted a fake birth certificate to the New Brunswick (N.J.) Board of Education and attended New Brunswick High School for nearly a week. Shin pleaded not guilty in March. Her lawyer said she didn’t have any bad intentions and that she posed as a student because she was lonely.

According to a news release from the New Brunswick Police Department, New Jersey schools cannot deny enrollment to an unaccompanied child, and while a district might request documents such as a birth certificate to verify age, it cannot prevent or discourage a child from enrolling “because he or she lacks a birth certificate or has records that indicate a foreign place of birth, such as a foreign birth certificate.” Proof of guardianship is also not required to enroll a child and students have 30 days to provide further documentation of their identity.

Some students said they feared Shin may have been trying to recruit students for sex trafficking. According to students who spoke to New Brunswick Today, Shin asked multiple students to meet with her outside of school and continued texting them after the school discovered her identity. The students have expressed concerns about Shin’s ability to locate them. The allegations have not been substantiated by law enforcement.

The Boston Police report also checked a box that said “human trafficking” but provided no further explanation, according to NBC Boston.

According to the Polaris Project, people of color are disproportionately victimized by both sex and labor trafficking. New Brunswick High School has a minority enrollment of 99% and Boston Public has a minority enrollment of 80%. In January, SchoolSafety.gov released child exploitation resources for K-12 schools, including guides and programs to help parents, guardians, and school staff recognize child exploitation.

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