Facing child abuse allegations against you probably feels like you are living a nightmare. There are arguably none, if any, crimes taken more seriously or judged as harshly than child abuse. Child abuse allegations are incredibly serious; they will always be thoroughly investigated, often by more than one government agency with extensive resources.
Finding out that you have been reported for suspected child abuse is upsetting, regardless of whether or not there is a basis to the claims against you. Understandably, you may be afraid about the pending investigation against you and the potentially life-long consequences of the report. Whether or not the allegations against you are true, you must take the claims against you with the utmost seriousness.
Bucks County must take all reports of child abuse seriously until the time they can determine whether there is any basis or merit to the claim. Of course, all Bucks County children should feel safe and be protected from any harm or abuse, but sometimes claims of child abuse are false.
Unfounded cases of child abuse are unfortunately not uncommon. False child abuse claims are often reported by someone who has an interest in making you look bad in front of a court. This usually occurs if you are going through a divorce and have an ongoing custody or child support battle. Your former partner or someone close to them may think that if they report you for child abuse, a court will decide you are an unfit parent and take your child away from you.
Making a false child abuse report against someone is one of the cruelest actions you can take against them. Potentially ruining someone's life and possibly separating them from their child is selfish and harmful to not just the person being accused but also the child caught in the middle of the drama. LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team knows how detrimental allegations of child abuse can be. We have helped numerous Bucks County residents and Pennsylvanians facing child abuse allegations, whether there is truth to the claims against them or not. You can call us at 888-535-3686 or submit a confidential online consultation form for assistance.
What Is the ChildLine System?
The ChildLine system is Pennsylvania's 24-hour hotline where people can report suspected child abuse. The system is a statewide centralized database where staff must "accept child abuse referrals and general child wellbeing concerns and transmit the information quickly to the appropriate investigating agency." ChildLine accepts reports of suspected child abuse both over the phone and through the ChildLine webpage.
When someone reports suspected child abuse to ChildLine, they are allowed to remain anonymous. While anonymous reports can be beneficial for those who could face abuse or violence themselves if the abuser found out they reported child abuse, there are situations where anonymously reporting is concerning. This is particularly true when someone makes false claims of child abuse to ChildLine.
Because the report is anonymous, there are no repercussions for those who make malicious and false claims. Not knowing who has made a ChildLine report against you is challenging and upsetting. In this situation, it is unclear what evidence this person claims to have against you and why they have launched this attack against you. It isn't unusual for false reports to be made by someone interested in ruining your reputation or qualifications for child custody. False ChildLine reports are, unfortunately, not uncommon in divorce or custody proceedings.
Being Accused of Child Abuse in Bucks County
If the child who is the subject of the child abuse claim resides or the alleged incident happened in Bucks County, the Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services will be accepting the ChildLine referral. Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services are the authority in Bucks County tasked with protecting Bucks County children by investing claims of child abuse, providing food, housing and shelter assistance, and other services. The agency will accept not only abuse reported through ChildLine, but reports made directly to their office or through a 911 operator as well.
In Pennsylvania, child abuse reports are broken into the following categories:
- Sexual abuse
- Physical abuse/bodily injury
- Reasonable likelihood of bodily injury
- Serious physical neglect
- Engaging in per se acts
- Likelihood of sexual abuse/exploitation
- Serious mental injury
- Severe form of trafficking in persons or sex trafficking
- Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy/medical abuse
In 2022, Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services received and investigated 1,005 reported cases of child abuse or neglect, up from 938 in 2021 and 922 in 2020. Over $12.3 million was spent on investigating child abuse and neglect claims in 2022 alone. Eighty-three of the over 1,000 cases reported were ultimately substantiated.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?
It is incredibly easy to make a ChildLine referral (a referral is the term ChildLine uses for a report or a complaint made against you). In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, even those with no knowledge of the situation they are reporting can contact ChildLine and submit a referral. As stated above, because referrals can be made anonymously, there is no way of checking if the reporter could even have the requisite information to make a referral in the first place.
While anyone can make a call or online submission to ChildLine, some people are and are not required to report suspected child abuse. Those who are not required to report suspected child abuse but choose to voluntarily are called permissive reporters. Typical permissive reporters would be friends, family, or neighbors who have a relationship with the child who is reportedly the victim of child abuse.
Mandatory reporters are people who are required by Pennsylvania law to report any suspected child abuse or neglect they become aware of. Many different people fall into the category of mandatory reporters. Mandatory reporters tend to be anyone who comes into contact with children in the course of their employment or is the supervisor of anyone who comes into direct contact with children in the course of their employment. This definition is fairly broad, meaning a lot of professions fall within this definition. Jobs and professions that would fall into the category of mandatory reporters include, but are not limited to, doctors, nurses, other medical professionals, foster parents, clergymen (priests, rabbis, etc.), public library staff, daycare workers, counselors or social workers, and teachers.
Unlike permissive reporters, mandatory reporters must include their names and contact information in their reports. Therefore, they are not allowed to report anonymously. While they do have to submit their name, mandatory reporters' names are kept confidential. The purpose of submitting their name is to protect them from legal liability, essentially because they are legally required to report; submitting their name demonstrates they are in compliance with the mandatory reporting law.
Regardless of whether the reporter is permissive or mandatory, claims can be made in bad faith or as an honest mistake. Immediately taking action to prove that the claim against you was made in bad faith or an unfortunate misunderstanding is crucial. LLC Law Firm attorneys can help you forcefully defend yourself against ChildLine reports filed against you in Bucks County.
What Happens After a ChildLine Referral Is Made?
When a ChildLine referral is made, Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services will immediately begin investigating. First, it will conduct an initial screening to determine if the referral has merit. This means looking at the facts to see if the referral alleges actions that are in violation of Pennsylvania law. Pennsylvania law defines child abuse as "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly" committing a prohibited act against a child. Under Pennsylvania law, many acts constitute child abuse or neglect; a few of these include:
- Causing serious physical neglect of a child
- Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing, or cutting a child
- Leaving a child unsupervised with an individual who is a registered sexual offender
- Causing or substantially contributing to serious mental injury of a child through any act or failure to act
- Interfering with the breathing of a child
If the referral includes actions that violate the law, Children and Youth Social Services will begin an investigation. Whether action is taken immediately is dependent on the situation; if Children and Youth Social Services or law enforcement believe that the child is in immediate danger, the child may be removed from the home (if the alleged abuse is happening in the home environment). The timeline for the child being returned to their parents or guardians is case-specific.
Each investigation will be assigned to a case worker who will immediately notify the family and you, the person against which the claim was made, of the formal investigation. You will receive notice via a letter. Investigations should be completed within 30 days of the ChildLine referral, but in some situations, this time frame is insufficient, and the caseworker may request more time. Each request for more time must be accompanied by an appropriate reason for the delay. The caseworker will then typically be awarded an extension of an additional 30 days to complete the investigation.
If the investigation has not revealed any evidence to support abuse or neglect, the caseworker will determine the ChildLine referral is unfounded, and the investigation against you will be dropped.
ChildLine Referral Determinations
Once the investigation is completed, you will receive a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services with the findings from the investigation. The caseworker assigned to the referral will make a determination of either unfounded/unsubstantiated/dismissed, indicated, or founded/substantiated. Pennsylvania law defines a founded report as one in which any of the following events or actions have occurred:
- There has been a judicial adjudication (e.g., a guilty plea, finding of guilt, nolo contendere)
- There has been an acceptance into a rehabilitation program
- There has been a consent decree entered (relevant only for juvenile proceedings)
- A final protection from abuse order has been granted
If the report comes back as indicated, the caseworker has found substantial evidence of child abuse; evidence in support of the abuse allegation would include medical evidence, the investigation, and any acts you may have admitted to.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Finds You May Have Abused a Child?
When the caseworker investigating the ChildLine referral decides the claims are founded or indicated, you will be listed on the ChildLine Registry (also referred to as the Pennsylvania Child Abuse Registry). The shocking thing about being placed on the registry is that you can be placed on the registry without ever having been found guilty of child abuse or neglect in a court of law.
The ChildLine Registry is misleading; it suggests that it has been proven that you have committed a crime against a child when, in fact, this isn't necessarily the truth. ChildLine investigations are not criminal investigations, although they often occur simultaneously. You must take prompt action and contact your LLF Law Firm attorney if you receive notification that the referral against you was founded or indicated. This is the best way to fight your name being placed on the ChildLine registry and work towards removal if required.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
You have the legal right to appeal your ChildLine finding, but you need to file your appeal within 90 days of receiving notification of the determination. If your appeal has merit and was filed within the 90-day timeframe, you can proceed in requesting a hearing. The hearing will be scheduled and held in front of the Pennsylvania Department of Health's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.
Preparing for a hearing is similar to preparing for court; under no circumstance should you prepare for or attend your hearing without your qualified LLF Law Firm attorney. Administrative hearings, while very similar to criminal and civil cases, have different rules, standards, and procedures for what evidence or witnesses may be put forward and what timeframes or deadlines you must abide by. These rules and procedures are common knowledge for LLF Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team but are difficult to sort through and comply with on your own. Every day, people without legal representation lose their appeals on administrative technicalities. You cannot afford to be one of these people and face long-term serious life consequences for making an innocent mistake in your proceedings.
How LLF Law Firm Can Help
Having a strong advocate on your team to fight for your rights and defense is absolutely necessary when you are accused of child abuse. You have everything to lose if you end up with a negative outcome. Not only will your career prospects forever be limited, but your family may be destroyed. Even if the child abuse allegation has no connection to your own child or family, a negative determination against you can prevent you from being able to participate in important family activities such as school graduations, plays, or any event where children are present.
Let LLF Law Firm help you. Contact the LLF Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or submit a confidential online consultation form to get the best legal representation possible to defend yourself against a ChildLine referral.