Accusations of child abuse or neglect can be profoundly unsettling, particularly in Berks County, Pennsylvania, where allegations can be anonymously reported through the state's ChildLine system. When individuals accused of wrongdoing find themselves listed on the ChildLine registry, it can adversely affect various aspects of their lives. This may result in job displacement, restrictions on community involvement, eviction, and even travel prohibitions. Additionally, those on the registry, which is generally referred to as being "ChildLined," must contend with the stigma of being suspected child abusers.
To prevent such challenges and maintain an untarnished reputation, it is crucial you work with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who is well-versed in the complexities of these cases. The experienced LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has dedicated years to assisting individuals throughout Pennsylvania who have been referred to ChildLine and are required to navigate its overwhelming and exhausting investigation procedures. Call 888-535-3686 or schedule a consultation online today.
What Is Pennsylvania's ChildLine System?
The ChildLine system in Pennsylvania is part of a statewide mandate to accept concerns about a child's well-being, including child abuse referrals, and quickly transmit them to the appropriate county office for investigation. The system can receive verbal and electronic reports 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
Controversially, these reports can be made anonymously. This means that anyone can report child abuse or neglect without having to leave their name or number, allowing false reports to be made without any chance of restitution for the falsely accused.
Once the county office receives the ChildLine report, they will conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if the report is valid. If they believe it is, they will launch a more formal investigation to determine if the accused individual did commit such acts. When their investigation is over, if they discover the accused individual did commit child abuse, they will publish that individual's name on the ChildLine registry.
The ChildLine registry categorizes names into certain statuses: "indicated" or "founded." Individuals who have access to the database may not know the difference, though, which can lead to individuals being labeled as "indicated" and experiencing the same harsh consequences as those who are labeled "founded."
While the public does not have access to the registry, many employers do, and they will review it prior to making decisions about your current or prospective employment. Just because you are labeled under "indicated" does not mean that your employer or anyone with access to the registry will care. As such, it is important to defend yourself from being placed on the registry in the first place, as well as any chance for an appeal after that.
Moreover, if you are involved in any other legal cases, being included on the ChildLine registry can have serious consequences. If a judge sees a ChildLine registry entry with your name, it could influence their child custody and child support orders, as well as spousal support decisions. Working with the knowledgeable attorneys at LLF Law Firm is the best way to ensure you receive the best possible outcome for your case.
What's a ChildLine Referral?
When the ChildLine system gets a report of alleged child abuse or child neglect in Berks County, it will immediately transmit it to the Berks County Children & Youth Services office (BCCYS). BCCYS is in charge of conducting an investigation into the accusation and determining whether the accused individual should be placed on the ChildLine registry.
Initially, BCCYS will evaluate the ChildLine report and see if it qualifies for an investigation. If they believe it does not, they will dismiss the accusation. But if they believe there is some credence to the initial report, they will appoint an intake caseworker to investigate it formally. Formal investigations include meeting with the accused individual, their family, and anyone else they believe is relevant, which could include friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and employers or employees. BCCYS has 60 days to complete their investigation after it has opened.
Sometimes, BCCYS may also notify law enforcement officials of the ChildLine report for further criminal investigation or the individual's professional licensing board to investigate their license. In such cases, all the agencies may work together to investigate the allegation.
ChildLine Referrals in Berks County
As we explained above, BCCYS conducts the preliminary inquiry into the allegation, and if they find nothing to substantiate it, they will dismiss it. Unfortunately, given the nature of anonymous reporting, false reports are made quite often. For instance, in 2021, 1,233 reports of child abuse were made in Berks County, yet only 155 could be substantiated. That means only 12% had any validity or evidence to support the accusations.
LLF Law Firm understands that the intention of anonymous reporting was to encourage anyone to report alleged child abuse or neglect when they see it without having to worry about ramifications. However, many people take advantage of the anonymous aspect to make false reports just to negatively impact the accused individual. For example, bitter ex-spouses may use the reporting system to influence custody orders, hoping to take the children away from the other parent. Or, disgruntled employees may make false reports against employers, hoping to blackmail them into better salaries or job titles.
The opportunities for hate and vitriol are endless when it comes to the ChildLine reporting system, which can push real cases of child abuse and neglect to the fringes, allowing actual abusers to go unchecked. While Berks County does its best to separate the clearly false accusations from the ones that should be investigated, many unsubstantiated cases fall through the cracks, forcing innocent individuals to endure the frustrating and stressful process of defending themselves.
The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will help you prepare for the BCCYS's questions, negotiate with them on your behalf, and work diligently to mitigate any unnecessary concerns you may face.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?
Pennsylvania encourages every resident or non-resident to report child abuse or neglect to the ChildLine system when they see it. When a person voluntarily reports an individual to ChildLine, they are called a "permissive reporter." Whereas individuals who are required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect are called "mandatory reporters."
Usually, mandatory reporters work in professions or positions where they regularly come in contact with children and families – like schoolteachers, nurses, doctors, daycare attendants, social workers, and religious officials. If a mandatory reporter fails to report alleged incidents of child abuse or neglect that they are aware of or suspect, they can face criminal sanctions themselves. For instance, if a rabbi witnesses a parent hitting their child over and above what might be considered by a reasonable person to be disciplinary and does not report it to ChildLine or the police, they can be subjected to criminal penalties themselves.
Typically, mandatory reporters will make their reports directly to the BCCYS or law enforcement; however, they can also make them to ChildLine online or by phone. Whoever they make the report to, though, they must include their contact information. Pennsylvania assumes that mandatory reporters only make such reports in good faith and will protect their identities for them. But if they discover the mandatory reporter made the report maliciously, they will no longer hide their identity.
What Happens if a ChildLine Referral Results in a Finding of Child Abuse?
BCCYS's investigation into the ChildLine report will either determine that the individual did not commit child abuse or that they did. When they determine that an individual has committed child abuse, they will enter their name onto the ChildLine registry and state whether the individual was "indicated" or "founded."
When BCCYS concludes that there is no evidence to substantiate the report of child abuse or neglect, they will denote the report as unfounded.
While the BCCYS investigation is uncomfortable and stressful, this is the ideal outcome if an accusation is initiated against you. Your name will not be added to the registry, and the report will be thrown out.
On the other hand, if BCCYS finds substantial evidence of child abuse during their investigation, they will mark the report as "indicated" and add the individual's name to the ChildLine registry.
To substantiate a child abuse or neglect claim, BCCYS must have found evidence to support it. Such evidence might include available medical records, child protective services reports, arrest reports, or an accused individual's admission of guilt.
"Founded" reports must have significant evidence to substantiate them. A report will only be given this designation if one of the following happened:
- There was a court case that involved the same factual circumstances as the ChildLine report, and the court determined that the child had been abused by the accused.
- The accused individual entered an accelerated rehab program because of circumstances that are connected to those in the ChildLine report.
- The report involved a juvenile proceeding, and a court determined that the minor in the report did commit child abuse.
- A protection from abuse (PFA) order is in place.
Any report that involves one of the above scenarios will immediately be placed on the ChildLine registry.
It is important to understand that having your name published on the registry will drastically affect your life. Yet, ChildLine investigations are the same as criminal investigations and require finer attention to detail when conducting your defense.
Staying on top of such regulations and proceedings is hard, and trying to defend yourself can be disastrous. As we explained above, if BCCYS refers the case to law enforcement, a criminal investigation or proceeding can occur concurrently with BCCYS's investigation. Thus, working with LLF Law Firm is the only way to ensure you have a solid defense to both the ChildLine report and the criminal charges. Don't try to endure these processes alone.
What Are Your Rights if You've Been Referred to ChildLine?
The ChildLine system disregards several due process rights. One such right is the right to confront your accuser. When ChildLine reports are made anonymously, or BCCYS is hiding the supposed good-faith mandatory reporter's identity, an accused individual has no way of confronting their accuser. Moreover, BCCYS does not even have to inform an individual of a report made against them if the report was dismissed prior to the formal investigation.
Despite this, individuals referred to ChildLine have specific rights, including:
- The right to an attorney.
- The right to have that attorney present at all interviews or meetings.
- The right to appeal or expunge BCCYS's decision.
- The right to be notified of the allegation against you.
Once the county finishes its investigation, it must inform you of:
- Their findings and the status of the report.
- How they categorized your name ("indicated" or "founded"), if it was published on the registry.
- The consequences the report may have on your career and employment opportunities.
- Your right to appeal BCCYS's decision within 90 days.
- Your right to a hearing on the facts of the appeal. This forces the county to prove their findings in front of a judge by presenting substantial evidence.
- Your right to have the ChildLine report expunged and have your name removed from the registry.
How the LLF Law Firm Can Help You if You've Been Referred to the ChildLine in Berks County
We can all agree that child abuse or neglect is a heinous crime that should be punished. However, that is only if the accused individual is actually guilty of the crime. With the current ChildLine system model, anonymous reporting allows individuals with vendettas, agendas, or just pure boredom to negatively impact the lives of innocent people. Once you are referred to ChildLine on abuse or neglect claims, not only is your professional reputation at stake but so are your personal relationships.
To ensure you are not subjected to such negative consequences, it is important you reach out to the experienced attorneys at the LLF Law Firm. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team appreciates what you are up against and knows how exhausting these proceedings can be. As such, they will work diligently to manage your defense, gathering evidence and witness testimony that bolsters your argument.