Being accused of any crime can be terrifying, but it is especially harrowing for individuals accused of child abuse in Pennsylvania. Instead of being given the chance to defend themselves in front of a judge or jury, individuals accused of child abuse through the ChildLine reporting system in PA are interviewed and quickly investigated before being placed on the registry. This forces individuals, especially those who are falsely accused, to suffer the indecency of being connected to child abuse without telling their side of the story until the appeals process. For instance, in 2021, the number of reported child abuse cases in Pennsylvania was just over 38,000. However, only about 13% of those could ever be substantiated.
Additionally, an accused individual's fear and frustration are exponentially compounded by the fact that ChildLine reports can not only be made anonymously, but there is no punishment for false reporting. This fear and frustration can quickly dissolve into sleepless nights, overwhelming stress, and mental and emotional turmoil, which will greatly impact the accused individual's personal and professional life.
If you are notified of a ChildLine report of alleged child abuse, the best thing you can do is reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team knows that most accusations of child abuse made to the ChildLine reporting system are done so for ridiculous reasons, like getting higher child support orders, winning child custody cases, or influencing divorce proceedings. They will work diligently to gather evidence and witness testimony on your behalf, ensuring you get the best possible outcome for your case. Call 888-535-3686 today for help.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Adams County
Child abuse reports in Adams County are managed by the Adams County Children and Youth Services (ACCYS) office. Once the ChildLine system receives a claim of child abuse and delivers it to ACCYS, ACCYS will begin investigating. In 2021, there were 364 reports of child abuse cases, but with ACCYS investigatory help, only 61 could be substantiated – that's barely 17% of the reports.
Once you find out you are being investigated for supposed child abuse, before you even start to ruminate on the consequences you might face, you need to call Lento Law Firm. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands how overwhelming this process can be and will not only ensure you are completely prepared to defend yourself but will also work tirelessly to ensure the county upholds your due process rights and does not subject you to any untoward punishments.
What Is the ChildLine System
To combat child abuse, Pennsylvania created the ChildLine program. ChildLine collects verbal and written concerns about child well-being, including child abuse allegations. The moment the system receives an allegation, it is forwarded to the corresponding investigating agency. In Adams County, the Adams County Children and Youth Services office investigates incidents of supposed child abuse.
ChildLine also oversees the registry of people found guilty of child abuse. Both employers, current and prospective, as well as federal agencies, have access to the ChildLine registry. And while names are only supposed to be added once a person is found guilty of child abuse, this does not account for the appeals process. As such, a child abuse claim can be “verified,” placing the accused individual on the ChildLine registry immediately, even if the individual instantly files an appeal. Their name remains until the appeal is approved, which can cause serious consequences for the named individual's personal, professional, and mental well-being.
Hiring the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is the only way to ensure you are not subject to such negative penalties prior to having a real chance to defend yourself.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made
When the Pennsylvania ChildLine collects an allegation of child abuse in Adams County, they will forward the report to the ACCYS office. ACCYS will launch an investigation to determine if the behavior alleged constitutes child abuse. If it does, and the report sounds credible, they will appoint an investigator to reach out to the accused individual for further questioning.
Child abuse investigations are incredibly overwhelming, especially if you think the initial accusation was made out of spite, boredom, or anger. Many accused individuals might feel the need to shut down or handle the situation themselves without the help of an attorney. When ACCYS investigators come to interview them, they are understandably angry and defensive. This is especially true when the investigator begins to question other people in your household, office, or community about who you are as a person.
Unfortunately, this kind of behavior can negatively impact the interview, making the investigator believe the accused individual is guilty without any real evidence. Once the investigator believes you are guilty of child abuse, they will place your name on the ChildLine registry. The only way to have it removed, then, is to pursue an appeal.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Investigated by a Child Line Investigator
Under the law of the United States, all citizens have due process rights, which federal and state agencies are supposed to provide. The most common due process rights include the right to confront your accuser, the right to an attorney, and the right to remain silent when being questioned about a crime. When a federal or state agency fails to provide these due process rights or infringes on the defendant's ability to take advantage of them in some way, whatever decision they make can be reversed. Because of this, it is important to have an attorney in your corner to not only ensure you receive these rights but also that they can collect evidence of the rights being impacted for future civil cases, should they be necessary.
As we explained above, a key due process right is the right to an attorney. Many investigators will try to make their interviewees feel at ease around them. Having an attorney present during these interviews will ensure you do not fall prey to such tactics and speak without guidance. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has helped several individuals accused of child abuse in Adams County. They will negotiate on your behalf, both with the investigator and the ACCYS office, before, during, and after the entire process, negating any issues you might have.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides to Confirm an Abuse Report Against You
Once the initial interviews have ended, the ChildLine investigator will either elect to endorse the child abuse allegation or dismiss it. If they endorse it, they will then put the accused defendant's name on the registry, which can be disastrous. You must appeal this decision as soon as you can to prevent any negative repercussions from taking shape, such as being fired from your role as a teacher or being forced to move out of a school zone.
This is also why it is so important to work with an experienced criminal attorney. Not only will they ensure you are aware of the work that goes into a solid defense, but they will work overtime to have your name removed from the registry as quickly as possible after your appeal.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
After going through the ChildLine investigation and findings process, appeals are usually the last thing you want to do. However, they are a very important step in the process of overcoming a child abuse allegation in Adams County, Pennsylvania. If you are overwhelmed by the idea, working with a skilled criminal attorney can help you shoulder that burden and ensure you do not miss out on protecting your life and future.
In PA, there are several ways to appeal a ChildLine finding of abuse. For the most part, though, you only have 90 days to make your appeal. At Lento Law Firm, we know that 90 days sounds like a long time, but in reality, it will go by very quickly.
To start, you need to either request that the Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF) perform an administrative review of the ACCYS's findings or request that the OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) conduct a formal hearing.
It is important to note that BHA appeals are not court proceedings. If you decide to pursue this option, the rules of evidence will be more relaxed. This means that evidence that wouldn't normally be admitted in a regular court case could be admitted in this action. Your attorney will be able to help you decide which path to take, what it could mean for your case, and how to prepare appropriately.
If your attorney suggests the BHA appeal hearing, you will get the chance to argue your case, presenting relevant evidence and witness testimony that proves that the ChildLine registry finding should be reversed. In this type of hearing, the state still has the burden of proving, with clear and convincing evidence, that you committed child abuse in the way that the ChildLine report alleges. If the state is unable to do this, the hearing panel will determine that the state's decision should be reversed. When the decision is reversed, your name will be promptly removed from the ChildLine registry.
Now, if the BHA decides to uphold the ChildLine registry finding and does not approve your appeal, you can appeal that decision to the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Human Services. The Secretary will then review the BHA's appeal and figure out if it should be reversed or maintained.
If you had chosen an OCYF's administrative review, there would be no chance for this additional appeal. As such, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is likely to encourage the BHA appeal from the get-go. The facts also support this type of strategy, as there were 34 cases reversed in 2021 out of the 86 appeals made.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
Having your ChildLine registry entry expunged is important, especially if you were falsely accused and suffered anyway, as these entries can greatly impact your personal and professional life. For instance, individuals on the ChildLine registry can be prevented from living within certain areas in Adams County – namely those near schools. The entry is also available for any employer to see during a background check, which can influence your work, getting a new job, and how you are treated by your new or current employer and co-workers.
Additionally, while getting your entry expunged isn't impossible, it's not exactly easy. First, the Secretary of the Department of Human Services will only agree to remove a name from the registry and expunge its entrance if there is newly discovered evidence that proves the original abuse claim was made in error. Alternatively, you will have to show that you no longer present a risk of committing child abuse, and therefore, there is no reason for you to continue to be on the registry (though this is much more difficult to prove).
How Lento Law Firm Can Help
Child abuse is a heinous crime that warrants severe consequences when a defendant is found guilty of it. Sadly, most child abuse accusations reported to the Pennsylvania ChildLine are done out of spite, forcing innocent individuals to suffer through awkward and uncomfortable interviews, taxing hearings, and frantic appeals.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands how overwhelming these kinds of accusations can be for any Adams County resident. The ChildLine reporting system leaves individuals open to seriously negative punishments. They know how the system works and will leverage this experience to create the best possible defense for your case. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online. Our competent criminal defense attorneys have the skills you need to win.