Although some ChildLine investigations in Bedford County lead to substantiated instances of confirmed child abuse or neglect, most reports of alleged child abuse in the county are deemed unsubstantiated. However thankful a family may be that the accusations against them are dismissed, reaching this point can come at the expense of baseless investigations, court dates, and intrusions into your family's inner workings, which can be emotionally draining for parents and confusing for children.
If you are currently being investigated for child abuse in Bedford County and or would like to appeal a ChildLine decision, we can help. We offer a judgment-free environment that is focused on keeping your family together. Contact the LLF Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team for help by calling (888) 535-3686 or using our online contact form. Our Criminal Defense Team can help safeguard your family's rights and privacy.
Bedford County, Pennsylvania
Bedford County is located in the south-central part of Pennsylvania. Some of the cities, boroughs, townships, and towns located in the county include:
- Manns Choice
- New Paris
- St. Clairsville
According to the 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, of the 141 child abuse allegations in Bedford County, only 17 were substantiated. Most of the substantiated reports involved instances of sexual abuse, followed by physical abuse, and lastly, physical neglect.
Bedford County Children & Youth Services
Allegations of suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment in the county are reported to the Bedford County Children & Youth Services (“BCCYS”), the county agency responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect reports. In instances of severe abuse or neglect, BCCCYS may also remove children from dangerous home environments. However, its goal should always be to provide rehabilitative services. Some of the types of rehabilitative services BCCYS provides to families facing DCP&P investigations include:
- Drug and alcohol rehabilitation
- Educational success programs and truancy assistance
- Parenting workshops, including father engagement.
- Assistance for incarcerated parents and their children.
- Psychotropic medication assistance
- Transitional youth assistance.
- Trauma counseling
- Visitation monitoring
- Assistance for families with Autistic or other neurodivergent children.
Although BCCYS workers receive in-depth training on responding to child abuse allegations, there may be instances where mistakes, lack of training/expertise, or even biases cause Investigators to open unfounded ChildLine investigations.
Pennsylvania's ChildLine System
BCCYS uses the state's ChildLine System, a carefully structured and mandated state-level program that processes referrals and investigations of suspected child abuse and neglect. This system is overseen by the Department of Human Services of Pennsylvania (DHS). Functioning around the clock, ChildLine is both a hotline dedicated to receiving calls from individuals who report alleged child abuse and a referral tool, allowing ChildLine investigators to review the contents of the reports and determine whether the abuse may be substantiated. When necessary, ChildLine workers coordinate with appropriate authorities, such as law enforcement agencies or mental health agencies.
The ChildLine Registry
The ChildLine Registry is a state-mandated database that documents confirmed perpetrators of child abuse. Being listed on this Registry entails substantial repercussions, including limitations on employment and volunteering opportunities and potentially the denial of requests to foster or adopt family members. Additionally, if an individual is engaged in an active dispute over child custody or visitation rights, their name on the Registry could lead the court to consider imposing restrictions on their possession and visitation privileges.
Pennsylvania State Code Title 23, Chapter 63, entitled “Child Protective Services,” outlines the policies and procedures that must be followed throughout a ChildLine report, investigation, and referral. ChildLine investigations are first triggered when a ChildLine worker receives a notice of alleged child abuse from a permissive or mandated reporter. Although reports are confidential, they may be made by someone who knows the child particularly well, like a family member or teacher, or someone who observes the child from a distance, like neighbors or medical staff. Under Chapter 63, the contents of a ChildLine report must include the following:
- The names and addresses of the child, parents, and persons responsible for the alleged abuse, as well as their relationship to the child.
- A description of the child's family, whether they have siblings, who they live with, etc.
- The location of the suspected abuse.
- A description of the alleged abuse, as well as any evidence that substantiates the claims.
- The actions of the person making the report (did they speak to the child, call the cops, report it to someone else, etc.…)
- The name, telephone number, and e-mail address of the person making the report inaccessible to the public.
Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters
Some individuals, known as “mandated reporters,” are required under Pennsylvania state law to report instances of suspected child abuse. Most mandated reporters typically fall into at least one of the following categories:
- Individuals employed or volunteering in roles involving children, such as teachers, coaches, behavioral therapists, educators, camp counselors, etc.
- Government employees, such as police officers, firemen, and government attorneys.
- Those in family-focused services, such as social workers, therapists, doctors, church staff, and mental health professionals.
Failing to report instances of suspected child abuse or neglect as a mandated reporter can carry significant consequences, including felony convictions at minimum in the third degree.
Conversely, permissive reporters, while encouraged, are not legally mandated to report suspected child abuse. Permissive reporters often include individuals such as neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and relatives. Their role, though not bound by legal requirements, is still extremely important in the broader effort to identify and address potential instances of child abuse, especially in cases where family dynamics may be presented differently to professionals such as therapists or teachers.
What Exactly Happens During a ChildLine Investigation?
If BCCYS has opened a ChildLine investigation against you, you are likely very concerned and fearful about the next steps in the process. Although ChildLine Investigators are obligated to carefully inform parents about what the entire process will look like and what rights they have throughout an investigation, some fail to meet this requirement. Although each case will vary somewhat depending on the needs of the child and the allegations involved, investigations should typically take place in the following phases:
The Reporting Phase
ChildLine reports begin when either a mandated or a permissive reporter places a call of suspected child abuse to the ChildLine hotline. During these calls, the ChildLine agent asks the caller a series of questions about the alleged child abuse, what they know about the child's familial situation, and, in the case of a mandated reporter, the caller's identity and contact information for further discussions, if needed. ChildLine then reviews the reports and determines what additional investigation is warranted.
The Investigation Phase
Once a report of suspected child abuse or neglect is made to BCCYS, they must determine whether further investigation is warranted or if the allegations are not considered are not considered child abuse within the context of Chapter 63. Some of the major acts that qualify as child abuse under the chapter include intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly doing any of the following:
- Bodily harm through an act or failure to act.
- Fabricating, feigning, or intentionally exaggerating a medical symptom, resulting in a potentially harmful medical evaluation.
- Mental injury through an act or failure to act.
- Sexual abuse through an act or failure to act or causing sexual exploitation through an act or failure to perform.
- Creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury through an act or failure to act.
- Serious physical neglect.
- Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing, or cutting.
- Unreasonable retraining or confinement.
- Forceful shaking of a child under one year or slapping a child of such period.
- Placing a child in an unsafe environment or location where crime is likely to occur.
- Leaving a child unsupervised with a sexual predator.
If ChildLine staff suspects potential abuse or neglect under Chapter 63, BCCYS has 24 hours to launch an investigation. During this time, Investigators may use various methods to gather further data.
Other investigatory avenues Investigators may choose to take include speaking with individuals who know a child particularly well, such as extended family members, teachers, coaches, etc. If the alleged abuse was physical or sexual in nature, Investigators may seek information about forensic medical examinations that were performed. BCCYS may even go as far, and often, as visiting the child's home to look for signs of abuse or neglect. Some of the conditions that may cause an Investigator to believe abuse is occurring in the home include:
- Exposed wires or broken glass
- Unsecured medications or firearms
- Lack of or broken smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors
- Unsanitary conditions, lack of clean laundry, spoiled food, etc.
- Evidence of domestic violence
- Lack of food or other basic necessities.
- Aggressive animals
- Unprotected outlets or lack of child safety gates
Signs of neglect or emotional abuse may also be more nuanced and challenging to decipher, such as changes in a child's school performance or disciplinary record, and behavioral and emotional symptoms such as timidness, aggressiveness, depression, and low self-esteem. Of course, any or all these instances on a given day may not be the result of abuse or neglect and may have a myriad of underlying causes. For this reason, all ChildLine investigations are, to some extent, dependent on the subjective review of the Investigator appointed to the case.
If ChildLine Investigators feel the child is safe, they may deem the allegations unsubstantiated and close the case. The Investigators can also offer intervention services designed to help the family. Some of these services include counseling, childcare assistance, parenting classes, domestic violence services, and federal financial assistance.
What Rights Do Parents Have Throughout a ChildLine Investigation?
Throughout an investigation, ChildLine Investigators must conduct their investigations in accordance with legal procedures and standards. Despite these standards, Investigators may inadvertently or intentionally overlook parental rights, especially when biases are present. When Investigators fail to treat parents fairly and equitably under the law, their investigative findings may be clouded or baseless. Some essential rights parents have throughout a ChildLine investigation include:
- The right to be notified about child abuse allegations and the nature of the allegations.
- The right to receive information about court proceedings, orders, and actions by BCCYS.
- The right to be represented by an attorney.
- The right to continue to see and speak to your children throughout the investigatory period, absent a contradictory order.
- The right to be informed about the nature of the investigation, how long it will take, how it will be conducted, etc., as well as the results of the investigation.
- What next steps are being considered for the family?
- The right to be treated respectfully without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, gender, sex, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, economic status, etc.
- The right to be consulted about and make decisions about your child's religion, educational plans, medical treatment, and travel.
What Happens if BCCYS Confirms Allegations?
If the BCCYS confirms the abuse allegations against you, your name will be promptly entered into the ChildLine Registry. Once BCCYS notifies you that your name appears on the Registry, you should immediately request a formal removal, especially since this path can be time-consuming and challenging. These requests are not only difficult to achieve but require a great deal of effort and patience with the state's bureaucracy. Fortunately, our Criminal Defense Team has experience successfully navigating this process for families and can help you in your request to remove your name from the ChildLine Registry.
ChildLine appeals should typically be filed within 90 days after child abuse allegations are deemed valid or “confirmed.” Appeals can either be processed through the state's Office of Children, Youth, and Families (“OCYF”) through an administrative appeal or as a hearing before the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (“BHA”)
These hearings are very similar to a small trial and consist of several procedural components such as opening and closing arguments, admission of evidence, testimony, and cross-examination. During the hearing, the state must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that you are guilty of the child abuse allegations against you, or the appeal may be dropped.
How Can I Have My Name Removed From the ChildLine Registry?
Generally, a name can be removed from the ChildLine Registry through either one of the following methods:
- A party can file a request with DHS asking them to remove their name from the Registry due to newly uncovered evidence that disproves the allegations of a child in the first place. This request is not always easy to prove and will depend on the allegations involved and the strength of the evidence presented to DHS.
- A party can also petition DHS to find that they no longer pose a risk to children. Again, this request will depend on the allegations involved and the strength of the arguments and evidence presented. Some helpful facts in this scenario include rehabilitative success in personal counseling, parenting classes, substance abuse programs, etc.
Work With a ChildLine Attorney in Bedford County
Successfully and strategically navigating a ChildLine investigation or appeal in Bedford County requires a complex understanding of the procedures, laws, and strategies used by the county's legal and bureaucratic frameworks. Fortunately, our Criminal Defense Team understands the unspoken intricacies of these cases and how to position families for success. These types of investigations are emotionally draining on the entire family, causing distractions and anxiety that prevent parents from looking at their case in a strategic and intentional light. Let us lighten you. Contact our Criminal Defense Team today by calling 888-535-3686 or using our online contact form.