Finding out you have been accused of child abuse is one of the scariest things that can happen in a person's life. Not only does it cause serious personal and professional repercussions, but it can also have a devastating effect on the accused person's mental health.
Worse than that is the reality that many child abuse accusations are made from a place of spite, anger, or even boredom. Further, a lot of times, the accusations are made to get a better chance at child custody, a higher amount of child support, or a better outcome in a divorce proceeding. The number of false accusations is clear when you look at the amount of child abuse claims made in 2021 in Pennsylvania – totaling more than 38,000. However, only about 5,000 could be substantiated. That means that almost 90% of the claims made in 2021 had absolutely no validity.
Moreover, in Pennsylvania, child abuse reports are generally made through the state's “ChildLine” reporting system. Many of these are made anonymously, which makes it next to impossible to hold false reporters accountable. Not to mention, does nothing to protect individuals from being falsely accused.
If you are accused of committing child abuse and investigated for it in Centre County, Pennsylvania, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. They will not only prepare you for your interviews but also ensure you are ready to defend yourself on appeal. Call 888-535-3686 today for help.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Centre County
In Pennsylvania, the child abuse claims that are made to the ChildLine reporting system are subsequently managed by the county where the child resides. In Centre County, the Children and Youth Services (CCCYS) agency oversees the investigation of claims made to ChildLine for children in their county.
When CCCYS is sent a child abuse accusation from ChildLine, they initiate an investigation immediately. Usually, this first investigation is internal, and they will make sure the complaint is valid. For instance, in 2021, in Centre County, there were 224 complaints of child abuse made, but only 27 of them could be substantiated. That means only 12% of claims made could be validated; the rest were made without evidence or corroboration.
If CCCYS notifies you of a child abuse complaint they received from ChildLine, you must contact an attorney immediately. The Lento Law Firm understands how overwhelming these proceedings can be and ensures you are not being taken advantage of. You should not have to suffer because of someone else's unfounded – anonymous – accusations.
What Is the ChildLine System
Pennsylvania state has established a reporting system called ChildLine, which accepts written or verbal reports of well-being concerns, including child abuse accusations. This system is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the minute an allegation reaches it, it is forwarded to the county in which the child lives. For children residing in Centre County, ChildLine will refer the allegation to Centre County Children & Youth Services (CCCYS).
Furthermore, ChildLine is also responsible for maintaining an online registry of individuals found responsible for committing child abuse. Law enforcement officials, employers, and federal and state agencies all have access to this registry. Regrettably, though the system is meant to help abused children, there are times when individuals are falsely accused of child abuse and placed on the registry prior to their appeal being approved. When this happens, falsely accused individuals can face serious repercussions to their mental and emotional health and professional or personal well-being.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made
Once Centre County receives a report of alleged child abuse from the Pennsylvania ChildLine system, the report is forwarded to CCCYS. CCCYS will immediately begin an internal investigation into the report, which usually consists of ensuring the report has some sort of credibility. Afterward, the CCCYS investigator will reach out to the accused individual for a formal interview.
During a formal interview, the investigator will ask the accused individual about the claims made in the report and gather potential witnesses to speak to about them. Unfortunately, there are several cases where ChildLine reports are made because of spite, anger, or boredom. Worse yet is the fact that the reporting individual can remain anonymous throughout the entire process and face zero repercussions once the accusations are discovered to be false.
Moreover, if you are accused of child abuse in Centre County, CCCYS will not only interview you but could also interview other people or roommates living in your home, coworkers, employers, and anyone else in your life that they believe might have pertinent information about you. Working with the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is the best way to guarantee you are not being taken advantage of during these interviews.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Investigated by a Child Line Investigator
In the US, all citizens have something called due process rights. Due process rights are ones that must be provided to US citizens and cannot be infringed upon. Thus, if a federal agency, law enforcement official, or the court fails to provide you with these rights, their decisions can be overturned, and they may also face punishment. However, it is not uncommon for these rights to be trampled upon during child abuse registry proceedings.
Some of the more common due process rights are the right to face your accuser, the right to defend yourself, and the right to counsel. Many investigators will endeavor to make you feel more comfortable during your interview. They might even pretend to be your friend so you will feel more comfortable and trusting. When we trust the people questioning us, we end up revealing more information than necessary, which can be used against us later on.
By working with an attorney from the moment you learn of these accusations, you can prevent such things from happening. The Lento Law Firm Team are knowledgeable and skilled professionals who have helped defend individuals accused of child abuse throughout Pennsylvania. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will negotiate with CCCYS's investigator on your behalf to try and resolve the matter before it moves before the court.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides to Confirm an Abuse Report Against You
At the end of the investigation, the ChildLine investigator will use the information they've gathered to decide whether the child abuse report is valid or if it should be dismissed. When they believe the investigation has substantiated the child abuse report, they will enter the accused individual's name into the ChildLine registry.
Obviously, having your name entered into this registry can greatly impact your entire life. Many individuals whose names are on the registry are then prevented from living or working within a certain distance of school zones, forcing them to move their residence or find new work. In addition to the logistical issues this entry can have on a person's life, it can also seriously affect their mental health. Being accused of child abuse is one of the worst accusations that can be made about someone and could force even the most resilient person into a dark hole of despair.
Hiring an experienced law firm during this time is crucial. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands the kinds of pressures and consequences you are facing and will work diligently to help you avoid such issues, including helping you file an appeal immediately.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
In ChildLine abuse findings, the accused individual has the option to take part in the appeals process. It is very important that if you are placed on the registry, you pursue an appeal to prevent any further damage from occurring.
ChildLine abuse findings must be appealed within 90 days of receiving the CCCYS's decision. At Lento Law Firm, we know that 90 days sounds like a long time, but it is important to remember that 90 days go by quickly. Moreover, you do not want to stay on the registry longer than necessary. As such, it is vital you remain aware of all deadlines and get in your appeal as soon as possible.
There are two ways to appeal the ChildLine finding: one way is to contact the Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) and ask them to organize an administrative review of CCCYS's findings. The second option allows you to avoid this administrative review, instead requesting a formal appeal from the OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA). It is important to know, though, that BHA appeals are not court proceedings, which means that evidence can be presented that would probably not be admissible in a regular courtroom.
If you choose the BHA appeal hearing, they will give you the chance to present relevant evidence you think shows that the ChildLine registry finding should be overturned. The state has the burden of proving, with clear and convincing evidence, that the accused individual did actually commit the alleged child abuse, and the CCCYS finding is correct. If they are unable to do this, the hearing panel will reverse CCCYS's finding and remove the accused individual's name from the registry.
Sometimes, the hearing panel may determine that the CCCYS's finding should be maintained, in which case you can petition for a second appeal from Pennsylvania's Secretary of the Department of Human Services. The Secretary will review the BHA appeal and either agree with it or have the original CCCYS finding reversed. Many attorneys will opt for the BHA appeal over the OCYF administrative review to ensure their clients have ample opportunities to appeal. The Lento Law Firm will review your case and determine which appeal is the most beneficial to you in particular.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
In some cases, even after having your CCCYS finding overturned, a record of your name could remain on the ChildLine registry. Therefore, it is important to try and get it expunged immediately. While expungement is challenging, it is nevertheless possible. Working with a skilled criminal defense attorney will ensure you are aware of the challenges and what is required of you. In Pennsylvania, though, individuals placed on the registry typically need to request that their record be expunged by the Secretary of the Department of Human Services. The Secretary will only expunge records when there is newly discovered evidence that demonstrates that the abuse claim was invalid. Otherwise, an accused individual must prove to the Secretary that they no longer present a risk of committing child abuse, and thus, there is no reason for them to be on the registry now.
How the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team Can Help
Getting accused of child abuse is a severe crime that can cause lifelong consequences for the accused individual. Unfortunately, many child abuse complaints made to the ChildLine system in Pennsylvania force defendants to endure uncomfortable investigations, prying appeals proceedings, and professional and personal trespasses.
If you or someone you love has been notified of a child abuse accusation made to ChildLine or is looking to appeal a registry finding in their county, The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. The team is well aware of how important these proceedings can be to your basic freedoms. Not only could a negative outcome affect your personal reputation, but it could also affect how you provide for yourself or your family, who you can interact with, and how you move about the world. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.