Learning that you are suspected of having abused your partner's children is one of the most upsetting things that can happen to anyone, and no matter where the accusation is coming from, it can have a seriously detrimental effect on both your relationship with that person and your day-to-day life. If you are being investigated by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) as a result of a suspected child abuse report, you may be confused about what is going on and what rights you may have during this process.
ChildLine is Part of Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Program
Pennsylvania has a comprehensive child protective services program called ChildLine that is designed to accept, process and investigate claims of child abuse from anyone. It also acts as a way for so-called “mandatory reporters” to make a report if there is “reasonable cause to suspect that a child was abused.” Mandatory reporters include doctors, childcare service providers, school employees, clergy, counselors involved in regularly scheduled programs involving children, social service agency employees, law enforcement officers, EMTs, library employees who have regular contact with kids, and foster parents. These individuals are required by law to report suspected child abuse to ChildLine immediately if they have that “reasonable cause to suspect” that a child has been abused.
ChildLine Reports Are Confidential
Whether the report to ChildLine comes from a mandatory reporter or from anyone else, the name of the person reporting the suspected child abuse is kept confidential. As a result, you need to accept that you may never know who reported you to ChildLine as a suspected abuser.
What Kinds of Child Abuse Are Reportable?
Many types of child abuse are prohibited by and subject to mandatory reporting under Pennsylvania law, including physical, mental, and sexual abuse, as well as other types. According to DHS, the two most common types of child abuse are sexual and physical abuse, in that order.
Am I Guilty Until Proven Innocent?
It can be very upsetting to be the subject of a child abuse investigation, but just because you are being investigated does not mean you have no rights in the process. If you are involved in a DHS child abuse investigation as a suspected abuser, you will receive a report from DHS describing their findings, and if the report substantiates the abuse allegations, your name will be added to a statewide list of abusers.
You then have the right to request an administrative review of the findings by Pennsylvania's Office of Children, Youth, and Families, or you can request a hearing before the DHS's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. If the hearing is in your favor, your name will be removed from the statewide list. If it is not in your favor, you will be able to further appeal the result to the Secretary of the DHS or to the Court of Common Pleas. In addition, in cases where the finding is in your favor, it may be possible to have the original report expunged.
You Should Not Face a DHS Investigation Alone
If you learn that you are being investigated on suspicion of having abused your significant other's child, you need the help of an attorney experienced in this area of the law. The Lento Law Firm Team has that experience. The have represented many individuals accused of child abuse and can help you understand the process and will make sure that your rights are respected throughout the investigation; if there is an appeal, they have a great deal of experience presenting witnesses and evidence to hearing panels and courts. If you find yourself in this difficult position, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 or reach out online through the Lento Law Firm contact form.