Being accused of child abuse is terrifying. Not only can it ruin your future, but it can put you in a negative head space that is sure to ruin your current life. For example, individuals who are accused of child abuse can face outcry from their communities, forcing them to isolate themselves and deal with the humiliation on their own.
Moreover, most child abuse accusations are made for nefarious reasons, like influencing child custody battles and child support awards or negatively impacting divorce proceedings. In 2021, Pennsylvania received over 38,000 complaints of child abuse but could only substantiate about 5,000 of them. Therefore, nearly 90% of the reports made were done without any evidence or credibility.
In addition to this issue, most child abuse reports in Pennsylvania are made anonymously through the state's ChildLine reporting system. Because of the anonymous nature of the reports, it makes it easy for people to make false accusations, ruining lives without any kind of remedy for the falsely accused.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has spent their careers helping individuals across the country and throughout Allegheny County. They will work overtime to ensure the county and its representatives do not infringe on your rights. Call 888-535-3686 today for help.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Allegheny County
Once ChildLine receives an accusation of child abuse and forwards it to Allegheny County, the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) takes over the case. Allegheny County CYF will launch an investigation immediately to determine if there is any evidence to support the complaint. Most of the time, the complaints cannot be substantiated. For instance, in 2021, in Allegheny County, there were 2,887 reports of child abuse, but only 187 of them could be substantiated. That's less than 6% of complaints made, which is a huge discrepancy.
If Allegheny County CYF notifies you of a report of alleged child abuse, it is crucial you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. The Lento Law Firm Team knows how hard these proceedings can be and will work tirelessly to gather evidence and relevant witness testimony to ensure you can support your argument of innocence. You do not have to navigate this process alone. Let the Lento Law Firm stand in your corner.
What is The ChildLine System
The ChildLine system in Pennsylvania is a reporting system that allows individuals to make anonymous verbal or written reports of wellbeing issues, including allegations of child abuse. Once a report is made, the system forwards it to the county where the child resides. That county will then start investigating the claim and determining whether the accused individual did commit some form of child abuse.
In addition, the ChildLine system is also responsible for overseeing the maintenance of an online registry. This registry houses the names of individuals found responsible for committing child abuse in the state and is accessible by both employers and federal and state agencies, including law enforcement.
While the ChildLine system is an important aspect of the state's process for protecting children, it can be easily abused. For instance, complaints can be made without any initial evidence to support them. Thus, falsely accused individuals are forced to comply with intrusive interviews and stringent disciplinary proceedings that usually negatively impact their entire lives.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made
After ChildLine receives an allegation of child abuse, they will forward the report to the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF). The Allegheny CYF will then initiate an internal investigation to determine if there is any weight to the accusation. If there is, they will appoint an investigator to perform a formal investigation into the accused individual and the supposed conduct.
A formal investigation usually includes several rounds of interviews with the accused individual, as well as anyone they live or work with. The goal is to discover not only the individual's character and reputation but also how the individual might explain the supposed incident. These interviews can be incredibly exhausting, overwhelming, and stress-inducing. Most accused individuals find themselves losing sleep, feeling paranoid, and isolating themselves from society.
Unfortunately, many ChildLine abuse reports are made without any evidence to support it. They are also made anonymously, giving the accused individual and the state no way to adjudicate them for their false reports. When the state has no recourse against anonymous tipsters, what's to stop them from making such frivolous accusations? This allows them to keep making false reports, ruining lives and upsetting the justice system. Working with an attorney will ensure you do not have to suffer for someone else's ill-conceived hoax.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Investigated by a Child Line Investigator
When you are being investigated by a ChildLine investigator, there are several things you can do to protect yourself. First, reaching out to a competent criminal defense attorney will ensure the investigator does not take advantage of you. One of the most common investigation tactics is to make the accused individual feel comfortable. The more at ease you feel, the more likely you will be to discuss irrelevant information. Having an attorney accompany you to these interviews will ensure the investigator does not infringe on any of your due process rights or force you into admitting to something you did not do. Not only can your attorney review the questions ahead of time, but they can also prepare you to answer them as well.
Moreover, if they discover that the investigator has infringed on your due process rights, they can leverage this information to have the entire investigation and any information learned thrown out. They may also be able to get the case dismissed on the basis of bias.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has helped defend individuals accused of child abuse throughout Pennsylvania. They will actively negotiate on your behalf with the Allegheny County Office of CYF to prevent any negative consequences you might be facing.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides to Confirm an Abuse Report Against You
Once the Allegheny CYF's investigation is complete, the investigator will determine whether the accused individual has actually committed the child abuse alleged in the report. If they agree with the allegations, they will then enter the individual's name into the ChildLine registry.
Having your name put into the ChildLine registry will seriously impact your current and future livelihood. Not only could it prevent you from working or living where you currently are, it could force you to change your living situation, work in fields you have less education in, and greatly lower your income. Moreover, having your name on the registry can negatively impact your mental health, causing you to have panic attacks, feel paranoid, or worry over what others will think of you. Thus, the best thing you can do when you learn of these accusations is to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team knows what you are up against and will work diligently to ensure your reputation and livelihood remain intact.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
When the Allegheny CYF makes a finding of abuse, the defendant has the option to appeal it. At Lento Law Firm, we believe the appeals process is just as important as, if not more important than, the initial investigation interviews. Once you connect with an attorney, they will guide you to choose the appeals path they believe to be most beneficial.
In Pennsylvania, ChildLine abuse findings must be appealed within 90 days of receiving the county's decision. There are two options for appeals, both of which go through the Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF). In the first appeal type, you can request an administrative review of Allegheny's CYF's findings. For the second appeal type, you can request that the OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) perform a formal hearing, bypassing the administrative review completely.
If you choose the BHA appeal hearing, you will have the opportunity to defend yourself in front of the hearing panel. It should be noted that BHA appeals are not real court proceedings. This means that evidence that would likely be inadmissible in a regular courtroom may be admissible during the appeal. Depending on the proffered evidence, this could be an issue for your defense.
Furthermore, it is up to the state to prove, with clear and convincing evidence, that the accused defendant did commit the alleged child abuse. This is also different from regular court proceedings, where it is up to the defendant on appeal to prove that the state made an error. If the state is unable to prove that the finding was made correctly, the case will be dismissed, and the defendant's name will be removed from the ChildLine registry immediately.
That being said, if the BHA appeal hearing is unsuccessful, and the state is able to show that the finding was made correctly, defendants can further appeal their case to the Secretary of the Department of Human Services in Pennsylvania. The Secretary will review the information presented and determine if the decision should be reversed or upheld.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
In Allegheny County, if the CYF office determines that you are guilty of committing child abuse and places you on the registry, it is incredibly hard to get your name expunged from the registry. First, you will have to make a formal request to the Secretary of the Department of Human Services to expunge your name. The Secretary will only agree to expunge your name if you can show them newly discovered evidence that proves the abuse claim was unsubstantiated. If that does not work, you can also try to prove that you do not currently pose a risk of committing child, and therefore, there is no reason for you to be included on the ChildLine registry anymore.
It is incredibly important to request that your name be expunged from the registry as soon as you are aware of it being placed on it. Hiring a skilled attorney is the best way to ensure your request to the Secretary includes everything necessary to get them to agree. Unsuccessful requests can cause more harm to your future than necessary. Call our offices today for help.
How the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team Can Help
Child abuse allegations are some of the harshest to face. Not only can a simple allegation affect a defendant's personal and professional life, but it can also impact their mental health and emotional well-being. Moreover, when accusations are made to the ChildLine reporting system in Pennsylvania, there is no recourse for accused individuals who are proven innocent, as most accusations are made anonymously. This can make even the most resilient defendant feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and upset.
When you are notified of a child abuse accusation, it is important you reach out to a competent and experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has spent their careers helping individuals throughout Pennsylvania and Allegheny County. They know the ramifications of these allegations and the kind of defense you need to provide in order to succeed. Often, accused individuals believe they can pursue a defense on their own and not only discover they are ill-prepared but ultimately are unsuccessful. You do not want to navigate these proceedings alone. Lento Law Firm can help. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.