Most people haven't heard of ChildLine until it's too late, and their lives have already been drastically impacted. If you've received a notification letter from the Department of Children & Youth (or the equivalent in your county) alleging child abuse, then you should not wait to take action. All too often, individuals accidentally end up on the ChildLine Abuse Registry. This article will offer a guide to help you understand more about ChildLine and how it can affect both your and your children's future.
What is ChildLine?
ChildLine is a statewide program mandated to “accept child abuse referrals and general child wellbeing concerns and transmit the information quickly to the appropriate investigating agency.” This falls within the PA Department of Health and Services' purview, specifically under their child protective services. ChildLine is available to receive both electronic and verbal reports of suspected child neglect or abuse—and it's open to receive these reports 24/7. Anyone can call and make an allegation of suspected abuse or neglect, and then the relevant agency will begin an investigation. Over the past six years, the ChildLine system has received an average of more than 170,000 reports every year.
This is not the registry tied to SORNA (Pennsylvania's Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act), aka Megan's Law. Individuals are only placed on SORNA after a criminal conviction. In contrast, placement on the ChildLine registry does not require a person to have been convicted.
And, the behaviors that could result in an allegation vary greatly. For example, many parents spank their children—and at one point and time, that was considered normal and standard. Today, however, spankings could spark concern and result in someone calling ChildLine on you or your partner. Contrast the severity of this behavior with the more intense example of seeing a child who has potential cigarette burns on their body or other signs of drastic behaviors that could be more serious indicators of concern. Allegations of sexual abuse could also result in placement on the list. Hopefully, you can see that the range of what lands on ChildLine's radar is vast. Regardless of the seriousness of the allegations, placement on the list has the same consequences.
The 2020 Child Protective Services Report found that “The overall OCYF (Office of Children, Youth, and Families) Regional Office substantiation rate was 7.2 percent.” Seven percent is a very low number of substantiated reports. This report also offers a county-by-county accounting of the nearly 70 counties in Pennsylvania if you're curious about where your specific county falls.
One improvement to the system that the report also notes is that a new subcategory of “Information only” referrals—“no allegation(s) meeting GPS thresholds”— which could reduce the number of inaccurate placements on the ChildLine registry.
What Is the Purpose of ChildLine?
Ostensibly, ChildLine is designed to protect children. The agency's primary function is to protect children from abuse and neglect, with a centralized statewide database. By offering a toll-free number and constant availability, the ideal is that concerned bystanders can report instances or circumstances where they suspect a child's safety (emotional, mental, or physical) is at risk.
Pennsylvania is not the only state with a registry to track suspected child abuse. For instance, New York has a similar program, called the New York State Central Register (SCR), that monitors and maintains records of child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment. Any investigation by the Administration of Children's Services (ACS) may result in placement on the SCR, even if the case was determined to be unfounded (and closed).
While it is important to protect children, these databases are not a perfect solution. One consistent concern, for example, is that these state databases, regardless of the state, often are not maintained with accurate information, and they can have a severe impact on the life of the accused individual—all without any criminal findings or fair proceeding.
What Is a ChildLine Investigation?
A ChildLine investigation begins after the ChildLine Abuse Registry receives notice of a concern where someone suspects child abuse or neglect. Frequently, the reporter is a state-mandated reporter, such as a teacher, physician or medical professional, or social worker. Mandated reporters can lose their license or certification if they fail to report a suspicion.
Once the report is received, the appropriate Child, Youth, and Family services agency will undertake the investigation within 24 hours or less. If the police officer or social worker involved is concerned for the child's immediate safety, then they have to take action immediately. Each of Pennsylvania's counties has its own independent OCYF agencies, and so each agency has its own unique structure. Most agencies, however, have a similar structure that involves the following components:
- Screening: A screening process where it's decided whether or not a call actually requires investigation
- Intake Unit: Intake caseworkers are responsible for contacting families and investigating the allegations. This is where the status of the report is determined.
- Ongoing: If a family requires ongoing services after an investigation occurs, then another caseworker usually takes over
- Placement or adoption: In cases that require foster families or adoption, caseworkers in this unit work with them
Although this is a loose structure, again, each county's agency is independent. You may find that your county operates with one caseworker for all the stages or even that the units are divided into CPS and GPS (child protective services and general protective services).
Most investigations take 30 calendar days; however, if caseworkers are unable to finish their investigation within this time frame, then they can (must) document why they weren't able to complete it. This documentation resets the clock and allows caseworkers an additional 30 calendar days to complete the investigation, for a total of 60 calendar days. If there is a related reason, such as a criminal or juvenile court action in progress, the investigation may not be completed within the 60 days. In this instance, the report is given a “pending” status.
What Constitutes Child Abuse in Pennsylvania?
The legal definition of child abuse in Pennsylvania can be found in Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6303, which discusses types of report findings as well. The behavior that falls under child abuse is listed as “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly doing” a large list of actions.
What is key is that later, the legislation states that an action “shall not be considered child abuse if there is no evidence that the person acted intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly when causing the injury or harm to the child or creating a risk of injury or harm to the child (emphasis added).” There is also an extensive list of exclusions that references numerous precious citations.
So, what, exactly, is on that list of behaviors? Let's take a look. Here are some of them:
- Any action or failure to act that causes bodily injury to a child
- Pretending or making up a medical symptom for the child that results in a potentially harmful treatment or evaluation
- Responsibility for (or substantial contribution to) a child experiencing severe mental injury through either an action, failure to act, or some combination thereof
- Through an action or failure to act, cause sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor (this is very specifically defined further as to what is included in “sexual abuse or exploitation”)
- Creating circumstances wherein it's very likely that a child could experience bodily injury (again, through an act or failure to act)
- Creating circumstances wherein it's highly probable that a child might experience sexual abuse or exploitation
- Any serious physical neglect of a child
- Engagement in kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing, or cutting a child in a way that ends up endangering the minor
- Unreasonably restraining or confining a minor. This will be evaluated by examining the location of the restraint or confinement, the length of time involved, and the method used.
- Forcefully shaking, slapping, or hitting a child under one year old
- Interfering with a child's ability to breathe
- Leaving a child with any individual (other than a parent) where the person leaving the child has an awareness (or should reasonably know) that the individual has legal connections to sexual offender status (there are four variations in the actual statute)
- Engaging the child in trafficking or sex trafficking
- Causing a child's death through a failure to act or through a specific action
According to the 2020 Annual Child Protective Services Report, between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020, there were 4,941 substantiated reports of abuse. Of those, sexual abuse occurred most frequently (39.1%), with physical abuse coming in second (28.0%). Additionally, fathers (1,417) were most frequently listed as the perpetrators, with mothers (1,332) a close second. The next most frequent 1200 relationships were comprised of either family relatives (not siblings or former spouses) or “parent's paramour/former paramour.”
During the same time frame, there were roughly 200 substantiated fatalities and near fatalities combined. More than half of the 73 substantiated fatalities (38) involved children under one year old. Of the substantiated near fatalities (115), a slightly higher percentage (55.7% and 64 individuals) occurred with children under one year old.
What Constitutes Neglect?
Serious physical neglect occurs when a perpetrator commits acts that endanger a child's life or health, cause bodily injury, or threaten or impair a child's wellbeing or development. Specifically, it includes:
- “Repeated, prolonged, or egregious failure to supervise a child in a manner that is appropriate, considering the child’s developmental age and abilities”
- Failing to provide the essentials of life for a child, including food, shelter, and medical care
The definitions section of Tit. 23, § 6303 is where you can find this information clearly delineated.
What Are the Types of Findings for a ChildLine Report?
There are several different findings for a ChildLine report. They can be divided into two main categories: substantiated and unsubstantiated. From there, you may see a finding of indicted or founding within the substantiated category or an unfounded/dismissed within the unsubstantiated category.
Although this may seem confusing, we will explain the distinctions between the different types of findings below. For now, just know that the unsubstantiated ones identify the ones where there was not enough evidence to confirm the report. The substantiated reports are more serious. Occasionally, you'll see a finding of “pending.” This is not an ongoing finding but rather indicates that the investigation is either paused or still underway.
I Received a Letter From Children & Youth. Why?
When the ChildLine registry receives an allegation of suspected child abuse or neglect, the appropriate (local) county children and youth (or children youth and family) will send a notice of investigation. This notice is meant to alert the named individual that a caseworker will be conducting an investigation. A letter is also sent to the alleged victim's family.
What to Do After a Notification of Investigation
After a notification of investigation, you should reach out to an attorney who can help you with the process. Many caseworkers are overwhelmed with a very large caseload, and you want someone who can focus on supporting you. The caseworker will most likely try their best, however with so many cases under their responsibility, it's easy for important details to be missed. These important details can be the difference between a case finding of founded or unfounded.
Regional Children, Youth, and Family Offices
There are four regional Children, Youth, and Family (CYF) offices in the state of Pennsylvania. Although these oversee Pennsylvania's four main regions, each county also has its own children and youth services agency, and each county's agency may have a different name. Here is information on the four main offices, along with a map offering a visual depiction of responsibility.
Caitlin Robinson, Director
Counties Served: Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia
Office of Children, Youth, and Families
801 Market Street, 6th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Amber Kalp, Director
Counties Served: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Mercer, Potter, Venango, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland
Office of Children, Youth, and Families
11 Stanwix Street, Room 260
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Brian Waugh, Director
Counties Served: Bradford, Carbon, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Pike, Schuylkill, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wayne, Wyoming
Office of Children, Youth, and Families
Scranton State Office Building
100 Lackawanna Avenue, 3rd Floor
Scranton, PA 18503
Gabi Williams, Director
Counties Served: Adams, Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Snyder, Somerset, Union, York
Office of Children, Youth, and Families
3 Ginko Drive, 2nd Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17110
Why Did the PA Department of Human Services Send Me a Letter?
Once an investigation is concluded, state law requires that the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services send notice of the findings to the individual involved. This written notice begins the timeline that's allotted for an appeal request. Within the letter, the DHS will state whether the findings of the report were founded, unfounded, indicated, and so forth. Let's take a look at what each of the possible findings could mean.
What Are the Differences Between Indicated, Founded, and Unfounded?
As mentioned above, these can be distilled into two main categories: Substantiated and unsubstantiated. Let's examine them from that angle.
Substantiated reports indicate that the caseworker found there to be something that implied that abuse or neglect could have taken place. A report is indicated when the investigator finds that “substantial evidence of the alleged abuse by a perpetrator exists based on any of the following:
- Available medical evidence.
- The child protective service investigation.
- An admission of the acts of abuse by the perpetrator.”
In simple words, an indicated report usually means that they found evidence but are not certain.
A founded report is more significant and indicates one of four things. First, that there has “been a judicial adjudication based on a finding that a child who is a subject of the report has been abused and the adjudication involves the same factual circumstances involved in the allegation of child abuse.” Second, the perpetrator has been accepted into an accelerated rehabilitative program for reasons connected to the same circumstances listed in the allegation of child abuse. Third, within a juvenile proceeding, a decree has been entered that finds that the minor did commit the alleged behavior. And finally, if there is a final PFA (protection from abuse) order that meets the four listed qualifications. A founded report, then, indicates a stronger sense of evidence than an indicated report.
An unfounded report is listed as any report that does not fall under the category of founded or indicated. You may also hear this referred to in common language as unsubstantiated or dismissed.
Is it Possible to Appeal a ChildLine Finding?
The good news is that if you receive notice of a ChildLine Finding, it is possible to attempt an appeal. As this flow chart demonstrates, however, it is not a simple process. There are timelines to be followed, and most steps of the appeal have waiting periods of 60-90 days to allow for tasks to be completed. All told, something could potentially drag on when you add up all the waiting periods for more than a year!
How to Appeal a ChildLine Decision
There are several ways to appeal a ChildLine decision, depending on which process you've followed. For the sake of this section, we'll address an appeal that goes through the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. When you receive notice from Pennsylvania DHS of a substantiated finding, you have ninety days to request your initial appeal.
Once you file a request for an appeal, BHA has ten days to schedule the hearing. Frequently, proceedings and hearings are scheduled for consecutive days, however, when this is not possible, there can be no more than 30 days between the two dates.
What Is the Hearing Process for an Appeal?
If you are requesting a hearing for your appeal, it will be handled by the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA), which handles more than 280 jurisdictions for the Pennsylvania DHS (Department of Human Services), with roughly 100 of them applying to formal appeals.
The specific guidance for all of the BHA formal appeals was updated in 2018, with a Standing Practice Order which outlines all of the relevant procedures. You'll notice that Part 8 details special rules for child abuse expunctions, and if you read through it, you may not be familiar with all the terms. This is part of why it's critical that you work with an attorney who can help defend you and your case.
The first stage is usually the pre-hearing process which covers an array of activities, including pre-screening, docketing, scheduling, and so forth. The pre-hearing conference may determine that a full hearing is necessary, and if so, formal notices will be sent to all parties involved. This notice will name the date, time, and location of the hearing.
The hearing is not what might come to mind when you hear the word “hearing.” It's an administrative hearing with an administrative judge (in child abuse cases, this is an attorney-examiner who is a licensed attorney). Both the alleged perpetrator and the investigating CCYA caseworker will present evidence and testimony. Usually, the CCYA will have legal counsel with them, and although you are not required to have an attorney present, t is advisable. The administrative law judge will make a decision and notify both parties within 45 days, as well as any appropriate law enforcement and ChildLine.
Beyond this, the DHS Secretary can reconsider a BHA decision, or an individual could request a review from the Commonwealth Court.
What Is the ChildLine Abuse Registry?
The ChildLine Abuse Registry is a statewide database that contains the names of all reported child abuse allegations. Sometimes you'll also hear the phone number and online portal for reporting referred to as “ChildLine.” If a case is determined to be unfounded, then the information will eventually be expunged from the database.
Does a Listing in the ChildLine Abuse Registry Impact Anything Else in My Life?
Truth be told, a listing in the ChildLine Abuse Registry can have negative consequences on several aspects of your life—regardless of whether or not the listing was accurate. Listings in the ChildLine Abuse Registry can affect employment, volunteer environments or interactions with children, and much more. Although it might seem like something that wouldn't have a far-reaching net, there's a high potential for it to make your life very difficult, especially if you ever want to do anything that involves children, no matter what field or industry you work in.
What Are the Potential Long-Term Consequences of a Listing in the ChildLine Abuse Registry?
Long term, a listing on the ChildLine Abuse Registry can have a significant impact on your life. If your job opportunities are curtailed, you could reduce your earnings potential and reduce your standard of living or quality of life. Apart from the financial implications, if you have children, this can affect your ability to spend quality time with them, to volunteer on their Little League team or Scouts troop. Many adults still recall field trips where their parents came as chaperones. Think about how your child might miss out on this chance to spend time with their classmates and their parent.
Another space where this frequently impacts individuals is if their children participate in any sort of religious institution or upbringing. If your child is preparing for confirmation or their bat mitzvah or another similar coming of age ceremony, you might be limited in how you are able to volunteer with their class.
The long-term consequences can seem amorphous, but if you start to think about the different circumstances and situations where you might want to volunteer with children, it can become clearer.
Beyond time with your children and financial implications is the social stigma associated with a listing on the ChildLine Abuse Registry. The registry is open for background checks, and regardless of your involvement in an official capacity, other parents who find out about the listing might want to limit your involvement with or exposure to their children. This can snowball into your child receiving fewer invitations to peer events or even being ostracized if the parents share information with their children.
Types of Employment that ChildLine Abuse Registry Can Impact
Within the state of Pennsylvania, there are certain legal requirements for clearances. Clearances are required for any employee when they will:
- Be responsible for a child's welfare
- Have direct engagement and contact with children. This could include providing care, guidance, supervision, or being in control of children. It could also indicate that the person could routinely interact with children, even if that is not the regular requirement.
At a minimum, clearance is required every 60 months (5 years) from the oldest clearance date for every employee. Some organizations or licensures will require more frequent clearance. Although the ChildLine Abuse Registry is required, the clearances could also include NSOR (National Sex Offender Registry), FBI Criminal History Background Check, and more.
In 2020, Pennsylvania processed 853,644 applications, of which 4,687 required more information and 1,713 were identified as substantiated or alleged perpetrators. Of that total, 1,566 were substantiated, 104 were pending investigation, and 43 were pending criminal or juvenile court.
Many of the jobs that involve work with children are careers—they involve thousands of hours of post-graduate education or training, and people don't usually enter into them lightly. If your name is found on the ChildLine Abuse Registry, state law dictates that you cannot work with children.
Some common sectors that involve working with children include:
- Churches, synagogues, or mosques
- Educational settings, such as schools or summer camps
- Childcare settings, whether daycare or before- and after-care
- Military roles
- Medical, from physicians to nurses, and everything in between
Often, in order to work in any of these fields, you may have taken out loans to finance your schooling and licensure. An inability to work in the field for which you prepared can leave you lagging on loan payments and put your financial stability at great risk.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are some of the common questions and concerns that people may have regarding ChildLine and everything that follows (and accompanies) receipt of a letter with notice of investigation. The particulars of your circumstances may or may not align with the exact questions below, and it's imperative that you speak with an attorney about your situation. An attorney who is aware of your case will better be able to speak to the specifics of your life.
I'm in the middle of a divorce. Can this have an effect on my custody?
Placement on the ChildLine Abuse registry could negatively impact your custody agreement. If the report indicates that the findings were founded, or even pending, a judge might hesitate to confer custody of minors to you. It could also impact your access to visitation with your children—the judge could require supervised visitation, for example. Under some circumstances, supervised visitation can require additional financial resources. Divorces are already stressful and adding an additional concern about a ChildLine investigation is ill-advised.
The report of child abuse was declared unfounded. How soon will this go away?
ChildLine keeps a record of unfounded reports for a year from the date of the actual completed report/investigation. Once that year finishes, ChildLine is supposed to expunge them within 120 days. The only exception would be for instances where an unfounded report is accepted for services. While the services are active, the report will be maintained as it is part of the case record. Once the case is closed, similar to the above guidance, the report should be expunged within 120 days of the year-long waiting period.
Although the reports are expunged from ChildLine (the statewide database), county children and youth agencies may maintain their own records that track this information for an indefinite amount of time. They are allowed to keep the report in order to help with future risk and safety assessments. These records are not available to the public, nor can they be used for any research that could, in turn, be made public.
My expunction request has been denied. Do I have any other choices?
In general, for indicated reports, if your review request (appeal) has been denied by the secretary, you can “request a hearing before the secretary to amend or expunge an indicated report on the grounds that it is inaccurate or it is being maintained in a manner inconsistent with this chapter.” For founded reports, “Parties to a proceeding or hearing held under subsection (c.2) have 15 calendar days from the mailing date of the final order of the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals to request the secretary to reconsider the decision.” This information can be found in the Statues under Title 23, 6340.1.
Additionally, any party can request that the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania review any decision that the Director of BHA makes.
How long do I have to file a request for an appeal?
The answer to this question is multi-faceted and really depends on which stage of the process you're at. There are three main points of appeal that are possible for alleged perpetrators.
The first is when you receive notice that a report was declared founded or indicated. Once you receive the notice from DHS's ChildLine and Abuse registry that a report was found to be substantiated, you have 90 days from when you were notified to file an appeal. Only individuals named as perpetrators can request an appeal.
If you request an administrative review, then the second opportunity for an appeal occurs if you disagree with the final decision of the OCYF Administrative Review Panel. From here, you can request a hearing with DHS's Bureau of Hearing and Appeals. It's important to note at this point that the investigating county children and youth agency (CCYA) can also request a hearing if they disagree with the OCYF panel's decision.
Finally, if you disagree with the findings of a BHA hearing, at the conclusion, you have 15 days to make a written request for reconsideration by the Secretary of DHS. Those 15 calendar days start on the mailing date of the final BHA order. You (and the investigating CCYA) can also request that the Commonwealth Court review the appeal decision.
The last available option is that the Secretary of DHS is able to “amend or expunge a report…based on ‘good cause shown'.” Good cause shown can include (but isn't limited to): newly discovered evidence that a report was inaccurate or a determination that the perpetrator no longer demonstrates a risk of child abuse.
How was I reported to ChildLine?
ChildLine reports occur when an individual calls the ChildLine Abuse registry phone number, and anyone is able to make that call. Frequently, reports come from mandated reporters, however. This could mean, for instance, that your child's soccer coach or elementary school teacher observed something that they thought might be abuse-related. In turn, they called the ChildLine number, and this put into motion all of the other pieces—the investigation, the letter, etc. A recent report indicates that in 2020, about 80% of all reports were made by mandated reporters.
Who are mandated reporters?
Mandated reporters are individuals that are required by the state to report any suspicions they may have about incidents of child abuse, child neglect, or child sexual abuse/assault. Most of these individuals rely on the state for licensure requirements, although not all. Volunteers who work with children may be mandated reporters, for example. If someone is a mandated reporter, then they are legally accountable for reporting suspected abuse or neglect of minors.
What types of people might be mandated reporters?
A good rule of thumb is to consider individuals who work with or interact with children to be potential mandatory reporters. As mentioned above, mandatory reporters may be volunteers, or they may be paid. Some common examples include:
- Foster parents
- Teachers or school employees
- Church employees or religious leaders who work with children
- Childcare or before and after school care employees
- Licensed health practitioners (nurses, doctors, etc.)
- Public library employees
- Law enforcement agencies or peace officers
What is the difference between a hearing and an administrative review?
An administrative review is one of the first options available when an individual requests an appeal to the substantiated report. The administrative review is not a hearing. The administrative review is convened by a panel of professionals from within the OCYF (Office of Children, Youth, and Family). Formally, this process is called an administrative review panel. According to a “2020 State of the Child” special report, 99.6% of the time, the administrative review panel will not stray from the original caseworker's determination.
Alternatively, the hearing takes place under the umbrella of the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA), which oversees hearings for a variety of categories, not just child abuse reports. The same report mentioned above found that “BHA overturned caseworkers' abuse determinations 91 percent of the time in 2019 alone.”
BHA has 71 administrative law judges across four regional and three field offices. Not all of these are required to be lawyers. However, there are only ten administrative law judges who are qualified to hear child-abuse appeals. Each of them is an attorney examiner and required to be a licensed attorney.
My hearing is coming up. Will there be a jury?
A ChildLine hearing is very different from what you may think of as a hearing. It's called an administrative hearing, an administrative judge oversees the hearing, and there is no jury. These hearings are heard by the DHS Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. It isn't a criminal trial, nor is it even as formal as a civil trial. Another way that the hearing is different from most other trials is that the rules are much less strict for what evidence can be used. Hearsay evidence, for example, is allowable. This is not the case for juried trials. Hearsay means that it can be secondhand information versus an actual observation or testimony.
What is the difference between standard of proof and burden of proof?
Burden of proof describes the individual in a case who is responsible for gathering evidence that supports the standard of proof. Put simply, burden of proof tells you the “who,” and standard of proof tells you the “what.” We'll go into both of these more below.
How strict is the standard of proof for a ChildLine case?
Although the standard of proof for a ChildLine case used to be “substantial evidence,” as of 2012, the standard of proof is “clear and convincing evidence.” This is a higher standard of proof than substantial evidence, which is good news for individuals who want to appeal the findings of an investigation. The administrative law judge needs to believe that it's highly probable that the alleged behavior or neglect occurred.
The old standard of proof, substantial evidence, was significantly lower and only required “evidence that a reasonable mind could accept in support of a conclusion.” A criminal trial or civil trial has a much higher standard of proof—usually they use either “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “a preponderance of evidence.”
Who is responsible for the burden of proof?
You are not responsible for the burden of proof in an administrative hearing. The agency responsible for the finding has this burden. Usually, this means that it will be the social worker or caseworker (who conducted the investigation) from Child Protective Services or Children and Youth Services.
Also, note the difference between burden of proof (who's responsible) and standard of proof (the required amount of proof/belief).
I don't work directly with children; can a ChildLine listing impact me?
Even if you don't work directly with children, a ChildLine listing could have negative consequences for you and your livelihood. Any form of employment that is children-adjacent could be impacted. For example, if you work in a facility where children are present (even if you don't interact with them), you could potentially lose your job or be denied employment at a new workplace. Additionally, if you ever plan to foster children or to volunteer in a setting that involves minors, you may not be allowed to do so. The impact of a ChildLine listing is far-reaching.
Is this the same thing as SORNA?
The short answer? No. SORNA stands for Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act, more commonly known as Megan’s Law. Individuals placed on this registry have been criminally convicted within the purview of the SORNA statutes. Anyone can access SORNA, regardless of their role.
In contrast, the PA DHS maintains its own list, the Childline Abuse and Registry. This list does not require an individual to be criminally convicted before placement on it. In fact, as mentioned before, even unfounded reports stay on the list until they are expunged in the appropriate manner (and timeframe).
Some of the lists that are within this list include:
- Indicated and founded reports of child abuse
- Reports of suspected abuse, but pending investigation
- Unfounded reports that are waiting out the clock for expunction
- Reports that allege the need for GPS or CPS but are pending assessment
- False reports of child abuse
- Reports that are pending criminal court or juvenile court action
Can anyone access the ChildLine and Abuse Registry?
Unlike SORNA, the ChildLine and Abuse Registry is not open to the general public. When individuals apply for a job or volunteer opportunity, however, it could come up in the background check if the organization requires one. All organizations that involve children require a background check that would flag this, whether it is for a paid or volunteer role.
Would my name ever fall off the ChildLine and Abuse Registry?
Substantiated reports stay on file until a victim turns 23. If the adult perpetrator's name and date of birth or social security number are known, then the information is kept on file with ChildLine indefinitely. Within certain limits, perpetrators who were minors at the time of the act may have their records expunged.
Unfounded reports stay on file at ChildLine (at the statewide level) for one year from when the report was made (or one year from when services end). Following that one-year period, they are expunged within 120 days. Although they are removed from the statewide ChildLine, county offices are allowed to keep their own internal information about the cases.
Best ChildLine Defense Attorney to Assist You
If you or your loved one is currently undergoing a ChildLine investigation, you should find someone legally equipped to guide you. In matters involving children, this is always important; however, in this instance, it's even more critical. ChildLine investigations do not take place in a way that supports due process. Even the hearing is only an administrative hearing, not a trial before a jury. Having a lawyer who can support you as you navigate the mire that can be child protective services, or the DHS affords you peace of mind and protection.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have a heart for helping the underdog and protecting those who need assistance—they've helped many individuals face similar concerns about keeping their family together and protecting their employment future (and earning potential). They bring diligence, thoroughness, and years of knowledge and experience to the table. Don't wait until it's too late — acting quickly is critical for these types of investigations, as the timeline is not long. The right attorney can help you navigate the complexity of your case and work for the best possible outcome, for example, keeping your name off the registry or helping fight to get it expunged. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or reach out online today and see if we can assist you.