Child abuse allegations are terrifying. Not only do you need to deal with the stigma of child abuse investigations, but there's the chance you could face criminal charges. Your relationships with friends and family could be damaged, you may lose contact with your children, and you might struggle to cope with the emotional challenges. And in Chester County, even accusations of child abuse can be enough to have you placed in a statewide offender's registry – an outcome that has serious long-term consequences for you.
Even if the allegation is dismissed, the trauma of child abuse accusations can take a long time to recover from. It's especially troubling when you know that anyone can make a child abuse allegation anonymously in PA – and it's not unheard of for people to make false reports. While the safety of children must always be a priority, it's an unfortunate reality that individuals abuse the reporting system. This may be to improve their own chances of gaining custody, as "revenge" in divorce proceedings, or simply as an act of malice.
Even more worryingly, these false reports must be investigated just as vigorously as genuine reports. After all, no one knows for sure whether a report is genuine until all the facts have been established. But while investigators investigate these reports, they're diverting much-needed resources away from the children who truly need help. Good parents lose out on precious time with their children, and those children lose the chance to form priceless memories with their mother or father.
At the Lento Law Firm, we know how serious and life-changing child abuse accusations in PA can be. If you're notified of child abuse allegations against you, then you need an immediate consultation with an experienced attorney. Attorney Joseph Lento and his Criminal Defense Team will help you fight unjust and unfair reporting if you call 888.535.3686 today. We will help you appeal determinations against you and build the most compelling case in your favor.
In the meantime, we will briefly address how child abuse allegations work in Chester County, how to appeal a determination, and whether you can have your name removed from the statewide database.
Accusations of Suspected Child Abuse in Chester County
- Physical harm
- Sexual assault or abuse
- Threatening or menacing behavior
- Unreasonable restraint or confinement
Accusations of child abuse are handled by Chester County's Department of Children, Youth, and Families (CYF). When the CYF first receives a report of suspected child abuse, it must conduct initial investigations within 24 hours. This is to protect a child's welfare and ensure they are not in immediate mental, physical, or sexual danger.
The most recent stats from 2021 show that there were 804 child abuse and neglect reports in 2020. Thankfully, this is less than in previous years. However, although the number of reports is falling, the number of founded or indicated reports is on the rise.
- Indicated reports mean that the investigator believes that there's evidence of abuse.
- Founded reports are more significant and are normally confirmed at judicial hearings.
The ChildLine Registry
The ChildLine agency is hosted by Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare. Its role is to protect children from being neglected and enduring abuse using a 24-hour toll-free hotline. The public is encouraged to call that number when they witness or simply suspect that a child is being abused.
Once a report is made, ChildLine investigators gauge the plausibility of this report. Factors such as the relationship between the reporter and an alleged perpetrator, details in a case, and more are considered before the next step in the process – the investigation – ensues. If a report is deemed feasible by the agency, ChildLine and Chester County's Children Youth and Families agency will conduct a countywide investigation within the timeframe for the sole purpose of finding evidence to support these claims.
If enough evidence is found (in the eyes of the agency), the alleged perpetrator will be contacted and immediately placed on the ChildLine Registry.
Who Can Make a Report to ChildLine in Chester County
Anyone can report suspected child abuse to ChildLine. However, the process for making a report differs depending on who the person is.
- Mandated reporters: In Pennsylvania, certain individuals are required to report suspicions of child abuse. These individuals are adults in positions of responsibility who must report their suspicions as soon as possible. Mandated reporters include teachers, doctors, and caseworkers.
- Permissive reporters: Anyone who is not a mandated reporter can decide to report suspected child abuse. They're not legally obliged to do so (although it's strongly encouraged). These individuals can stay anonymous.
Mandated reporters must identify themselves when they make a report, but you will not be told who they are if they make a report against you.
What Happens After a Person Makes a ChildLine Report
Within 24 hours of receiving the initial report, the CYF must either visit the child or at least start preliminary investigations. The purpose of these first steps is to determine whether the accusations have any merit.
If the CYF decides that a child could be at risk, then they will undertake more thorough investigations.
- CYF caseworkers can remove a child from the home without warning if they suspect a child is in imminent danger of harm.
- CYF performs a home visit and interviews the parent(s). They may also ask other adults in the child's life, such as teachers, for information.
- Other children in the home may also be interviewed.
- Investigations take around 30 days on average, but they can take longer.
ChildLine and CYF investigations are emotionally draining and, sometimes, mentally scarring. Joseph Lento and the Criminal Defense Team can help if you're facing child abuse accusations.
What to Do if You Are Investigated by a ChildLine Investigator
First, don't panic. Cooperate with investigators but remember you do not need to answer any questions. Be polite but call an attorney immediately.
- You have legal rights. Attorney Joseph Lento and the Criminal Defense Team will help you understand and exercise these rights.
- An attorney can prevent you from falling into common traps, such as answering unclear, unfair, or misleading questions.
- Your attorney will ensure that investigators always treat you fairly.
Caseworkers can conduct various investigations as part of the process. For example, they can obtain medical records, hold interviews, and inspect your home. An attorney will help you deal with the stress of the situation to ensure you get a fair chance at the most favorable outcome.
What Happens if the ChildLine Investigator Decides the Report Is Confirmed?
Following the investigations, the caseworker will determine if there is evidence of child abuse. There are three possible "verdicts."
- Unfounded: No evidence of abuse. The case is dismissed.
- Indicated: Some evidence of concern, although not necessarily enough to suggest abuse occurred.
- Founded: Evidence that abuse occurred.
If there's a "founded" verdict against you, then your name is placed on the ChildLine Registry. Although this is not a criminal conviction, it carries significant consequences. Given how serious the consequences can be, you have the right to appeal these decisions – and this is a right you should exercise.
Appealing a Child Abuse Finding in Chester County
There is a specific process for appealing child abuse findings in Chester County. It's important that you follow the right steps, or else your appeal may be dismissed before it's even heard.
- You can request a hearing by contacting the CYF. These hearings, although formal, are administrative rather than criminal in nature.
- You normally only have 90 days from the date you receive notice of the decision to make an appeal. While this may seem like plenty of time, it's best to get started right away.
- If you miss the appeals window, you can contact the ChildLine Appeal Unit. You can explain, in writing, why you missed the deadline and why you believe you should be granted a hearing. There's no guarantee your request will be granted, and if you don't request a hearing, the case is closed.
Once the hearing request is received, a hearing will be scheduled and held at the applicable Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Bureau of Hearing and Appeals (BHA) Regional Office. Chester County ChildLine cases will often be heard at the Southeastern Region office located in Philadelphia at the following address:
Philadelphia State Office Building
Commonwealth of PA
Department of Human Services
The Appeal Hearing
Within a hearing, an officer will revisit the facts of a case with an appeal in mind. ChildLine will then be responsible for proving that an alleged perpetrator did, in fact, commit the acts of abuse listed in the original report. The standard of proof is "clear and convincing" evidence. Meaning the agency must prove that there's substantial evidence to show that abuse occurred, and your name should remain on the Registry (23 Pa.C.S. § 63(c.2)).
If the agency fails to prove the facts on appeal, an appeal will be granted, and all reports and related documentation will be expunged. This is, of course, a relief for the parties involved. However, it does not undo the damage already done to your relationships and the mental stress of preparing for child abuse hearings.
If Your Appeal Is Unsuccessful
You can appeal the BHA's decision by filing a request with the Secretary of the Department of Human Services. You normally only have 15 days from the hearing date to file for further review.
Appeals are inherently complicated, and the stakes are high. Do not feel like you need to appeal alone – tell us about your case instead.
Consequences of a Child Abuse Determination Against You
There's no doubt that placement on the ChildLine Registry severely limits a person's life. Some of the consequences of an abuse determination going against you include:
- Loss of job opportunities: For example, you may be prevented from working with children or entering public health or social services if there's a child abuse finding against you.
- Loss of relationships: Your relationships with friends, family, and even work colleagues will often be affected by child abuse findings.
- Missed family time: Even if you're entirely innocent, you may lose the chance to build nurturing relationships with your children. For example, in divorce proceedings, you may be denied custody. And you won't be able to volunteer to chaperone social events, such as school trips if you're on the Registry.
Not to mention that an alleged perpetrator will be placed on a registry with the likes of pedophiles and people who have committed heinous acts against children. The stigma attached to a ChildLine Registry listing can be significant, which is why you must do all that you can to challenge abuse allegations.
ChildLine Registry Expungement
It may be possible to have your name expunged or removed from the Registry. Unfounded reports, for example, can be expunged after one year. And you may be able to have a substantiated report expunged before the child turns 23, which is the default age when a report falls off the Registry.
Even if you can apply to have your name expunged, there's no guarantee your request will be granted. You will only get an expungement if there's no risk of child abuse, the initial report was wrong, or there's no meaningful reason for keeping your name on the ChildLine Registry any longer.
Contact a Chester County ChildLine Appeal Attorney
Have you been notified of child abuse allegations against you in Chester County, PA? If the Chester County Department of Children, Youth, and Families decide to investigate you, then you need legal advice immediately. You deserve the chance to defend yourself, assert your rights, and protect your relationship with your children.
Attorney Joseph Lento and his Criminal Defense Team know that family is precious. We care about keeping families together as much as possible. We believe that everyone deserves a fair trial, and we will do what we can to help you through this traumatic process. From explaining your legal rights to representing you at an appeal hearing, the Lento Law Firm is in your corner.
Don't let the weight of child abuse accusations in Chester County overwhelm you. Contact the Lento Law Firm for advice and representation from an experienced criminal defense and child abuse attorney. Call 888.535.3686 now.