The idea that someone would question your dedication to your family or ability to care for your child's safety may seem outrageous. However, misunderstandings, mistakes of identity, or even personal vendettas can easily make you the target of baseless child abuse accusations. Unfortunately, when it comes to ChildLine investigations in Pennsylvania, this is often the case. Although some ChildLine investigations in Blair County reveal verified instances of child abuse, they most often do not. In fact, most child abuse allegations are thankfully determined to be unsubstantiated. Although every instance of suspected child abuse should be taken seriously, baseless investigations undeniably disrupt your life, damage your reputation, and leave your children feeling confused.
If you are currently being investigated for Child abuse in Blair County and would like to appeal a ChildLine decision, 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 you navigate the challenges ahead while safeguarding your family's rights and privacy.
Blair County, Pennsylvania
Blair County is located in the south-central part of Pennsylvania and is known for its rich history in the locomotive and engineering industries. Some of the cities, boroughs, townships, and towns located in the County include:
- Roaring Spring
- East Freedom
- Foot of Ten
According to the 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, of the 490 child abuse allegations in Blair County, only 91 were substantiated. Most of the substantiated reports involved instances of sexual abuse, followed by physical abuse, and lastly, physical neglect.
Blair County Children, Youth, and Family
Allegations of suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment in the county are reported to the Blair County Children, Youth, and Family ("BCCYF"), the county agency responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect reports. In instances of severe abuse or neglect, BCCYF may also remove children from dangerous home environments. However, its goal should always be to provide rehabilitative services so children can stay with their parents or reunify with them later. Some of the types of rehabilitative services BCCYF provides to families facing DCP&P investigations include:
- Adolescent and youth counseling
- Sexual abuse counseling
- Family counseling
- Parenting Education
BCCYF also works with various other agencies who help investigate child abuse accusations, including the county's District Attorney's Office, Child Advocacy Center, Multi-Disciplinary Investigatory Team, Child Advocacy Center, Domestic Violence Unit, and the Drunk Task Force.
Although BCCYF 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
BCCYF utilizes Pennsylvania's ChildLine System, a state-driven framework designed to receive and investigate child abuse and neglect allegations. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, also known as "DHS," oversees the ChildLine hotline, a 24-hour hotline where members of the community can anonymously report instances of suspected abuse or neglect. If needed, ChildLine refers the allegations to the appropriate agencies, such as law enforcement, the Drug Task Unit, and the Domestic Violence Unit.
The ChildLine Registry
The ChildLine Registry operates as a state-mandated record system, cataloging individuals as suspected or confirmed child abusers. The ramifications of being listed in this database are substantial, often resulting in barriers to employment. Having your name on the Registry can also prevent you from volunteering with different organizations such as churches or schools or even impact a family law court's order about your custody and visitation rights.
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 are not accessible to the public.
Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters
In alignment with Pennsylvania's framework, some individuals, known as "mandated reporters," are required under law to report instances of suspected child abuse. Predominantly, this obligation applies to professionals in roles that necessitate interaction with children, such as teachers, social workers, daycare workers, juvenile probation officers, and coaches. Mandated reports often include government employees or professionals who operate within the domain of family-oriented services. Some additional examples of mandated reporters include:
- Police Officers
- Church employees
- Mental health professionals.
Mandated reports who fail to report instances of child abuse can face felony convictions in the third degree or higher, depending on the circumstances and severity of child abuse. Conversely, permissive reporters are advised but not legally obligated to report suspected child abuse. Some examples of permissive reporters may include neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, relatives, etc.
What Exactly Happens During a ChildLine Investigation?
ChildLine investigations will typically occur in the following phases.
The Investigation Phase
Once a report of suspected child abuse or neglect is made to BCCYF, they must determine whether further investigation is warranted or if the allegations are not considered child abuse within 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, BCCYF has 24 hours to launch an investigation. During this time, Investigators may use various methods to gather further data. Under Section 3490.55 of the Pennsylvania State Code, Investigators must also conduct interviews with any persons who know or are suspected of learning about the alleged child abuse incident, such as family members, parents, neighbors, teachers, etc.
As protocol dictates, Investigators may also visit the child's home. During this visit, Investigators prioritize looking for signs of abuse or neglect. Some potential signs that abuse or neglect 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
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 to help the family rather than punish the parents. 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?
Childline Investigators must adhere to exact legal standards to ensure impartiality. Despite these standards, Investigators may inadvertently or intentionally overlook parental rights. The leverage of an investigator's position may also push parents towards admitting guilt when they are innocent. In an effort to curb potential biases and power imbalances, parents have certain rights throughout a ChildLine Investigation, some of which include:
- The right to be notified about child abuse allegations and the nature of the allegations.
- 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.
- The results of the social worker's investigation
- What next steps are being considered, such as whether or not they are considering removing your child from your care?
- 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.
What Happens if BCCYF Confirms Allegations?
Should the ChildLine investigator determine substantial evidence of child abuse, your name will be immediately added to the ChildLine Registry. As soon as you become aware that your name is on the Registry, you should request to have your name removed and file a subsequent appeal against the department's filings. Although you may feel tempted to make these requests on your own, navigating through the state's bureaucracy can be challenging, and BCCYF will not go out of its way to help you challenge its findings. Without the support of an attorney, fair and equitable treatment by BCCYF is not guaranteed.
ChildLine appeals must usually be filed within 90 days of BCCYF's decision. The procedural requirements for filing a request can be stringent, leaving no room for mistakes. Appeals can either be processed through the state's Office of Children, Youth, and Families ("OCYF"), which will process the case as an administrative review, or proceed to a hearing before the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal ("BHA.”) If you receive an unfavorable finding from BHA, you may be able to file one last appeal.
Appeal hearings can feel incredibly overwhelming for someone without a legal background. These hearings are run like a small trial, allowing both sides to present arguments of law, cross-examine witnesses, and present evidence. At the hearing, the state must prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that the parent or perpetrator is guilty of the allegations. The clear and convincing standard requires the state to demonstrate that the evidence against the parent is so clear, direct, and convincing that the hearing officer can decide without hesitation.
How Can I Have My Name Removed From the ChildLine Registry?
Typically, there are two ways to remove your name from the Registry. First, the Secretary of DHS may remove your name if there is newly discovered evidence demonstrating that the reports of child abuse are false. Secondly, DHS may also remove your name if you can establish that you do not currently present a risk to children. Fortunately, our Criminal Defense Team has filed numerous requests and can help you file an expungement request immediately.
Work With a ChildLine Attorney in Blair County
If you are facing a ChildLine Investigation or appeal in Blair County, you are likely terrified about what is yet to come. However, you do not need to feel the weight of developing your own strategy. Our Criminal Defense Team values your family, and we are here to support you through this challenging time. Not only do we have experience challenging ChildLine accusations in Blair County, but we are equipped to challenge the state's bureaucracy on your behalf. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation by calling (888) 535-3686 or using our online contact form.