If you were recently informed that ChildLine is investigating you for potential child abuse allegations, you are likely overwhelmed with the experience and shocked that your parenting skills are being questioned. ChildLine investigations can be incredibly overwhelming for the whole family, and opening your home to public scrutiny can affect your self-esteem and confidence. ChildLine investigations can also be traumatic for your children; you may feel forced to discuss mature subject matter with strangers. Though the purposes behind each research in Cambria County are undeniably crucial to society, it's equally essential to acknowledge that not every referral stems from sincere concerns for a child's safety, and not every county investigator or supervisor is acting competently or fairly and not every child abuse referral is made with honest intentions.
Fortunately, the LLF Law Firm understands that not every child abuse allegation in Cambria County is accurate. If you are currently being investigated for Child Abuse in Cambria County or attempting to file a ChildLine Appeal, contact our Criminal Defense Team for help by calling (888) 535-3686 or using our online contact form.
Cambria County, Pennsylvania
Cambria County is in the southwestern portion of Pennsylvania, set against manufacturing plants, dense forestry, and suburban developments. Some well-known cities, boroughs, and townships in the area include:
- Northern Cambria
- Nanty Glo
- Mundy's Corner
- St. Michael
According to a 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, of the 444 reports of suspected child abuse in Cambria County, only 38 were substantiated. Most of the substantiated reports involved sexual abuse, physical abuse, and severe neglect.
Suspected child abuse reports are made to Cambria County's Department of Children and Youth Services ("CYS"), the agency responsible for identifying, investigating, and preventing child abuse and neglect within the county. As noted on their site, the agency provides the following services:
- General protective, placement, and adoption services.
- Ongoing case management for children and families at risk for abuse and neglect
- Additional family support services for children and families through services such as psychological evaluations, mentor services, parenting courses, psychological evaluations, etc.,
- When appropriate, reunification services for children removed from their parents/caregivers.
What Is the ChildLine System?
Established in response to Federal requirements, ChildLine is Pennsylvania's established system for receiving and investigating reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. ChildLine arises from the state's commitment to safeguarding children in Pennsylvania and the result of the state's reporting procedures for suspected child abuse codified within Chapter 63 ("Chapter 63") of the state's Child Protective Services Laws. Mandated or permissive reporters concerned about suspected child abuse can call ChildLine's toll-free hotline at 1-800-932-01313, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Reports can also be made through ChildLine's report portal online.
Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters
Chapter 63 mandates reporting of suspected child abuse by certain Pennsylvania professionals and permits reporting by the remaining public members.
Mandated reporters are required under Pennsylvania law to report any suspicion of suspected child abuse or neglect. Mandated reporters are often government employees and/or individuals who have close contact with minors because of their volunteer status. Examples of mandated reporters include government workers such as teachers, nurses, cops, firefighters, doctors, social workers, and counselors. Individuals who are secularly employed or regularly volunteer with children, such as ministers or camp counselors, may also be deemed mandated reporters. Mandated reporters receive training through the state on how to identify signs of possible abuse and neglect. If mandated reporters fail to report child abuse, they can suffer severe penalties such as loss of employment, misdemeanor, or even second-degree felony charges.
On the other hand, permissive reporters are encouraged, but not required, to report suspected child abuse to the state. Some common examples of permissive reporters include neighbors, colleagues, friends, family, etc.
What Does a ChildLine Investigation Look Like?
The Reporting Stage
First, a mandated or permissive reporter reports suspected child abuse by calling the ChildLine hotline or submitting a referral online. A ChildLine worker speaks with the reporter and confirms the alleged abuse or neglect details. During this call, the worker typically inquiries about the following:
- The name, age, and physical description of the child.
- The home address and contact info of the legal guardian or parent and the alleged perpetrator, if not the parent or guardian.
- Description of the alleged abuse and information about where the incident occurred.
- The caller's relationship to the child and any other concerns the reporter may have.
Once a report is received, the ChildLine worker screens the information to determine if it qualifies as child abuse or neglect within the requirements set forth under 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 the ChildLine worker determines that the report satisfies Chapter 63 requirements, they forward it to a ChildLine Investigator for further processing.
The Investigation Phase
After receiving the report from the ChildLine worker, a Childline Investigator within Cambria County must begin an investigation within 24 hours of receiving the report. Throughout the investigation, investigators must adhere to the following (non-exhaustive investigation requirements outlined in Title 23 of the state's codes:
- Workers must provide services necessary to protect the child during the investigation phase and, if necessary, beyond.
- Workers must notify the perpetrator of the allegations of their rights.
- Interview all persons mentioned in the child abuse allegations, including the alleged perpetrator.
Throughout the investigation, investigators must also ensure that parents or caregivers are treated fairly and equitably under the law. Although investigators should not coerce parents into admitting to baseless allegations, they may sometimes use the parent's anxiety to their advantage. Investigators must also ensure that parents have the right to see and speak to their children throughout the investigatory process, absent an order to the contrary. Parents also have the right to be informed about the nature of the allegations against them and expected timelines and expectations throughout the investigation process.
Investigators may use many methods to gather data, including visiting your home and interviewing family members, care providers, friends, neighbors, teachers, etc. When visiting your home, investigators may ask to speak with your children or take a tour of your home. During this tour, they are looking for specific safety thresholds such as proper food for your child's nutritional needs, cleanliness, safety of the house, etc.
Contact our Criminal Defense Team today if you feel Cambria County ChildLine investigators are coercing you.
The Determination Phase
After the investigation, a determination is made regarding whether the report is "founded," "indicated," or "unfounded," as defined in Chapter 63. A founded report indicates that a judicial adjudication has determined abuse, meaning that a hearing officer has determined that the allegations in the report are accurate and that further intervention is needed to ensure the safety and well-being of the minor. Messages can also be "indicated," meaning that although there was substantial evidence of abuse, it has not been adjudicated as accurate. Finally, a report may be "unfounded," meaning that the county or hearing officer has determined insufficient evidence to find the abuse allegations are true.
If the allegations of child abuse against you are deemed "founded" or confirmed, your name will be placed on the ChildLine Registry.
What Is the ChildLine Registry?
The ChildLine Registry is a database overseen by the Department of Human Services ("DHS.”) The Registry serves as an abuse registry for past child abusers. Having your name on the Registry can have drastic complications and affect your ability to work or volunteer with minors, adopt, or have other minors, such as family members or substitute care children, move into your home. Once you are informed that your name is on the Registry, you should immediately file a request to remove your name. This process is not particularly navigable by a layperson, and there is no guarantee that you will be treated fairly. Fortunately, our Criminal Defense Team has a wealth of experience filing these requests on our client's behalf and is here to walk you through the strategic steps you must take.
Can I Have My Name Removed From the ChildLine Registry?
If your name is listed on the ChildLine Registry, you have the legal right to request removal or "expungement." The expungement requirements are contained within Section 6341 of the state's code and include the following steps.
- File a Request: If you are seeking expungement, you must file a written request with DHS within 90 days of being informed that allegations against you were confirmed or indicated; if you are unsure of whether your name appears on the Registry, contact our Criminal Defense Team for assistance.
- Administrative Review: After receiving a request for expungement, DHS conducts an administrative review to determine whether the report constitutes abuse within the context of Chapter 63. If DHS determines the allegations are unfounded, they will remove the name from the Registry.
- Administrative Hearing: If DHS cannot decide that the allegations are unfounded from an administrative review of the file, an administrative hearing will be scheduled. This hearing operates like a small trial, where both sides can present evidence and testimony on their behalf before an administrative law judge.
- Decision: The administrative law judge issues a written decision after the hearing. If the appellant disagrees with the hearing outcome, they have the right to appeal the decision to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania and the state Appellate and Supreme Courts if need be.
Throughout this process, it is crucial for individuals seeking expunction to have knowledgeable legal representation. Our Criminal Defense Team can navigate the statutory requirements, effectively present evidence and arguments, and advocate for your rights and interests in seeking to have you removed from the ChildLine Registry.
Can I Appeal a ChildLine Decision?
Like requesting that your name be removed from the ChildLine Registry, you have the right to appeal to the state's decision of confirmed child abuse. This request must be submitted to DHS's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals ("BHA.”) The appeal is presented at an administrative appeal hearing before an administrative law judge, who reviews evidence, testimony, and legal arguments within the case's records. At this hearing, the county agency must establish by "clear and convincing evidence" that the allegations are "indicated" or "founded." Clear and convincing evidence means the evidence is so clear, direct, and convincing that the hearing officer can decide without hesitation. If you disagree with the hearing officer's decision, you can appeal the matter to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania or other higher courts.
Legal representation is crucial for individuals appealing a child abuse allegation. Our knowledgeable Criminal Defense Team can help you navigate the complexities of Pennsylvania's child welfare statutes, present evidence effectively, and advocate for your rights.
ChildLine Assistance in Cambria County
If you dread what consequences can result from a ChildLine investigation in Cambria County, the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can calm your nerves and walk you through the steps and strategies used to fight the Cambria County child welfare system. Our thoughtful attorneys are armed with compassion for their clients and in-depth knowledge and experience. Contact us to schedule a confidential consultation by calling (888) 535-3686 or using our online contact form.