Being reported to ChildLine is a traumatic experience. However, if you're a non-US citizen, the situation may be even more stressful since you may be unfamiliar with Pennsylvania law, and you may also have immigration concerns.
Even if you're a non-US citizen, the first thing you should do if you're reported to ChildLine is contact a PA ChildLine defense attorney for legal assistance. However, in the meantime, here is an overview of how ChildLine investigations work and how the investigations could impact your immigration status.
What Is ChildLine?
ChildLine is Pennsylvania's statewide service dedicated to receiving reports concerning child abuse and child welfare. Anyone can contact ChildLine, but some individuals have a legal duty to report their concerns.
Members of the public can call ChildLine's toll-free number to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The lines are staffed by trained caseworkers, and they're open 24/7.
Individuals who call ChildLine can choose to remain anonymous.
Mandatory or “mandated” reporters are people who encounter children due to their employment or the services they provide. Mandatory reporters include:
- Police officers
- Religious leaders
- Social workers
- Volunteers working with children
The reporting requirement is triggered when a child under the supervision or care of that person or their institution may be an abuse victim. There's a dedicated online portal available for mandated reporters to use.
What Can Be Reported to ChildLine?
ChildLine typically handles reports of child abuse. Under Pennsylvania law, child abuse is defined as recklessly or intentionally acting in a way that harms a child or risks causing them harm. Examples of behaviors that may be considered abusive are:
- Causing bodily injury
- Causing serious mental injury
- Denial of medical care
- Leaving a child in a situation where they're likely to be abused
- Fabricating a medical condition that leads to invasive treatment
- Sexual exploitation or abuse
ChildLine also accepts reports of suspected neglect, e.g., if a child appears malnourished or lacks appropriate clothing.
What Is the ChildLine Registry?
The ChildLine Registry is a database containing the names and details of anyone accused of child abuse in PA. Your name can appear on the Registry even if the accusations are exaggerated or untrue, although the listing can be removed later.
- If there's evidence to support the allegations against you, then your name could remain on the ChildLine Registry indefinitely. The report itself falls away when the victim turns 23.
- If the report against you is unfounded, then it stays on the Registry for up to one year. After this point, your details may be expunged within 120 days.
Whether you're a citizen or a non-US citizen, a ChildLine Registry listing can have significant long-term consequences. Hire an attorney immediately if you're facing ChildLine accusations so you can be supported through the process.
How Do ChildLine Investigations Work?
The procedure involved in a ChildLine investigation can be complex, especially if you're new to Pennsylvania law and how the justice system works. However, here is an overview of the main steps.
- When ChildLine receives a notification of suspected child abuse, they process the report and pass the details to the relevant child services agency within 24 hours.
- Once the agency receives the report from ChildLine, they assign a caseworker to the case.
- This caseworker, typically a social worker, performs a risk assessment to determine if the child is in immediate danger. If there's a serious concern for the child's safety and welfare, the child may be removed from the alleged perpetrator's care.
- After performing the initial risk assessment, the caseworker conducts their investigations to determine if abuse took place. This usually involves a home visit and meeting with family members.
Once investigations are complete, the caseworker must allocate one of three statuses to the report.
- Unfounded: There is not enough evidence to support the allegations of child abuse or neglect.
- Indicated: Based on the caseworker's investigations, there's sufficient evidence to show neglect or abuse took place.
- Founded: If there's a judicial hearing or decision that abuse or neglect took place, the report will be marked as “founded.”
If your report is marked as “pending,” it simply means investigations are still underway. However, investigations should take, on average, no more than 60 days to complete.
Is Child Abuse Domestic Violence?
Just because you're reported to ChildLine does not mean you will also be arrested for domestic violence or charged with such a crime. Under Pennsylvania law, child abuse is considered domestic violence if there's a domestic relationship between the accused and the child. For example, if the child lives with you, and you're accused of child abuse, you may face additional allegations of domestic violence.
Domestic violence charges can have serious consequences and may affect your immigration status. As an experienced PA domestic violence attorney, Joseph Lento can help, so contact him today.
Can a Tourist Be Reported to ChildLine?
Tourists can be prosecuted for crimes committed in Pennsylvania, although it's uncommon for a tourist to be reported to ChildLine. However, if someone does report a tourist to ChildLine for suspected child abuse, the person will be subject to the same investigations as any other individual, and they can be prosecuted according to Pennsylvania law where appropriate.
A tourist facing criminal charges or child abuse investigations in PA should retain an attorney immediately for help navigating the state's judicial processes.
Will I Be Deported?
Deportation is a huge concern for any immigrant facing legal challenges in PA. If you are undocumented or you don't have legal status (for example, if you overstayed a visa), you will not be automatically deported due to ChildLine investigations. However, you are subject to deportation if you're considered a threat to public safety, and a domestic violence or child abuse conviction may meet this threshold for deportation.
If you're a lawful resident, any criminal conviction may jeopardize your visa status or hurt your chances of securing a green card. So, although you may not be subject to automatic deportation, you could nevertheless lose your right to reside in the US or return in the future.
Can I Leave the US Before Investigations Are Complete?
You can choose to remain in the US during an investigation. Unless there are criminal charges filed against you, then you can leave the US while a ChildLine investigation is underway. It may also be possible to leave the US if a criminal investigation is ongoing, depending on the level of charges you face. However, it's best to consult an attorney before leaving the US if there's any criminal charge against you, but you're not in police custody.
You should generally avoid leaving the country while investigations are underway if you:
- Are undocumented
- Are currently deportable
- You have committed a crime that may make re-entry to the US difficult
If you're undocumented, returning to the US may attract attention from the authorities, which could prohibit you from reentering the country. There are other circumstances that make it inadvisable to leave during an investigation – your attorney can explain this complex area of law to you as it relates to your case.
What if the Actions Are Not Considered Child Abuse in My Home Country?
As an immigrant, you may arrive from a country with different social and parenting norms than we find here in the US. Depending on the nature of the behavior and the circumstances surrounding your case, it may be possible to make a cultural defense against the allegations. Other defenses which may be available include:
- Someone made false accusations about you
- The child's injuries are not the result of child abuse
- You have the parental right to discipline a child
- There's insufficient evidence to support the allegations
An attorney can explain what defenses may be open to you and how to best argue your case.
Could I Go to Prison?
The penalties for child abuse depend on the allegations against you and, in some cases, your immigration status.
- Endangering the welfare of children: Under Title 18 of the PA Consolidated Statutes, it's an offense for a parent or caregiver to knowingly endanger a child's welfare by failing to protect or support them. A charge under this law can range from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.
- Assault: Under Title 18, it's an offense to cause a child bodily injury knowingly or recklessly. The charges can range from a first-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, depending on the facts.
The penalties for child abuse charges can include monetary fines and prison time. However, if you have no legal status, there's the added issue that you may also face deportation. Deportation will seriously affect your chances of returning to the USA.
Can I Appeal a Child Abuse Decision?
Not only can you appeal a child abuse finding against you, but you should appeal it.
- There is a strict time limit for filing an appeal and requesting a hearing. Late requests may not be granted, so it's crucial you seek your appeal on time.
- If an appeal is granted, the appeal hearing officer revisits the case and considers whether there is “clear and convincing” evidence that abuse took place.
- As this is an appeal, the hearing officer will also consider any relevant defense and evidence to support your version of events.
- Should ChildLine fail to prove its case on appeal, then the report can be expunged. Otherwise, the report will stand, and you will remain listed on the ChildLine Registry.
Even if you're not at risk of deportation or losing your legal status, a ChildLine Registry listing could interfere with your ability to build the career you want, pursue academic goals, or spend time with your own children. You could lose out on priceless opportunities to build memories with your family, whether it's volunteering for a school trip or helping to coach a sports team. Don't hesitate to contact Joseph Lento for advice on appealing a ChildLine decision.
Will I Have Access to a Translator?
It's a basic principle of the US judicial system that everyone should be treated fairly. If an individual requires a translator or interpreter for any court hearing associated with child abuse allegations, then it's possible for the person to arrange this. A translator can ensure the person comprehends everything being said by the judge and their attorney, and they can help the person understand court documents.
The individual should request an interpreter in advance to ensure that someone is available for the scheduled hearing date.
What Happens to My Children?
What could happen to your children depends entirely on the circumstances of your case.
- Families may be referred to support services or offered counseling to help build more loving and healthy relationships
- Children may be removed from the home if there are serious and immediate welfare concerns
- It may be possible to make your home safer to help ensure your children can return home
- In the most severe cases, you may lose all custody of your children
If you're charged with a domestic violence offense, you may be required to undertake an intervention program or counseling to spend time with your children or return to the family home.
What if a Non-US Citizen Is a Victim?
The immigration status of the child involved does not matter – ChildLine will still handle the report to protect a potentially vulnerable minor.
Children who do not yet have lawful status in the US may be eligible for a U nonimmigrant status visa (U visa) if they're victims of domestic violence and the crimes occurred in the US. The U visa may be extended to other family members, depending on the circumstances. An attorney can explain how the process works and how U visas may affect your family in more detail.
Can Non-US Citizens Make Reports to ChildLine?
Anyone can call the toll-free number anonymously to make a report, so this includes non-US citizens. Even if the individual does not speak English, they can make their report in another language. For immigrants, the simplicity of ChildLine's reporting process presents another issue.
As discussed, victims of child abuse or domestic violence may apply for a U visa. If they're granted a U visa, they benefit from lawful status in the US for up to four years. This may serve as a route to formal citizenship for some individuals and their families.
Unsurprisingly, then, it's sometimes “beneficial” for an individual to make false or exaggerated claims against another person if it means they may be eligible for a U visa. Your attorney can explain whether it's possible to defend your case on the basis that the allegations are false or exaggerated in some way.
How Can a ChildLine Attorney Help?
ChildLine investigations can be hard to understand, even for US citizens and Pennsylvania natives. A PA ChildLine defense attorney knows how this complex system works, and they'll ensure your best interests are always respected. They will help you understand what the allegations mean, how to appeal a decision, and how a substantiated child abuse report could affect you in the future.
Since you're a non-US citizen, you're even more disadvantaged since you're less familiar with PA judicial proceedings. An experienced attorney will answer any questions you have about the process, and they'll ensure you always feel like there's someone on your side.
Can a PA ChildLine Defense Attorney Represent Me Even if I'm a Non-US Citizen?
Yes. If you're facing child abuse allegations in PA, but you're not a US citizen, you should still seek representation from a PA ChildLine defense attorney. An experienced PA attorney understands the challenges you're facing as a defendant, and they can walk you through the complexities of the state's justice system.
Do not feel like you need to handle these serious allegations alone just because you don't have US citizenship. Let Joseph Lento, a knowledgeable defense attorney, help you achieve the most favorable outcome possible in your situation.
Hire a ChildLine Defense Attorney in PA | Lento Law Firm
If you're an immigrant accused of a crime in Pennsylvania, you face the same consequences as any US citizen, but you're also dealing with potential immigration issues, too. Joseph Lento understands how immigration and criminal law connect, and he wants to help ensure you get the equal treatment you're entitled to under US law.
As an experienced defense attorney, Joseph Lento will guide you through how ChildLine investigations work and how you might appeal a decision against you. No matter what your immigration status is, he'll ensure you have fair access to justice, and he'll work tirelessly to help secure a favorable outcome.
If you have any ChildLine or immigration concerns, the Lento Law Firm is ready and willing to help. Contact Joseph Lento on 888.535.3686 or complete the contact form to tell him about your case.