The goal of ChildLine is to safeguard the mental, physical, and emotional health of children statewide. Anyone with concerns about a child's welfare can contact the service to report an issue; however, some individuals, known as “mandatory reporters” (MRs), have a legal responsibility to report their suspicions of child abuse.
Although MRs are often professionals with special training in how to handle abuse concerns, they can still make mistakes – and these mistakes can have grave consequences. Below is an overview of what happens if an MR reports someone to ChildLine and what MRs might expect if they're accused of breaching their reporting obligations.
What Is ChildLine?
ChildLine is a service dedicated to handling child abuse and neglect concerns. When ChildLine receives a child abuse referral, they pass the report to the relevant Children, Youth, & Family Services (CYF) agency for further investigation.
Anyone can report their concerns to ChildLine by calling a toll-free number. Lines are open 24 hours, seven days a week, and manned by trained advisors. Mandatory reporters should also file a report electronically.
In any case, if a child is in immediate danger, the concerned party should call 911.
What Is Child Abuse in PA?
PA defines child abuse as deliberately or recklessly doing something which causes a child mental or physical harm or creates a serious risk of harm. Examples of child abuse include:
- Denial of medical care
- Physical assault, e.g., kicking, biting
- Sexual abuse
- Unreasonable restraint
It may also be considered abuse to leave a child in a situation where they're likely to be neglected or abused physically, mentally, or emotionally.
What Is a ChildLine Report?
A ChildLine report is the initial report made by either a concerned individual or an MR. Once the relevant agency receives the report, they begin initial investigations and notify the alleged abuser about the allegations.
After the investigation is completed, the assigned caseworker determines whether there's evidence to support the abuse allegations. The caseworker makes this determination based solely on their observations and the evidence available.
You can – and should – seek representation when you're notified of pending investigations. You can also appeal a child abuse finding against you, and your attorney can help you through this process.
What Happens If I'm Reported to ChildLine?
If you're reported to ChildLine, remember: the first thing you should do is contact a PA ChildLine attorney for help. An attorney will ensure your best interests are always respected, and they can answer any questions you have about the proceedings. However, here's a summary of what to expect:
- If the child is deemed to be in immediate danger, they can be removed from your custody pending further investigation. Otherwise, you will likely receive a home visit from the caseworker.
- Once the investigations are concluded, you'll receive notice of the decision.
- If the report is substantiated, even if the allegations are untrue, your name is placed on the ChildLine Registry. Being listed here can make it harder to work with children, find employment, or get custody of your own children.
- You have 90 days to file the relevant paperwork for an appeal against a ChildLine Registry listing and the decision made against you.
Joseph Lento has experience representing individuals facing abuse allegations – contact him today to retain his services.
What Is a Mandatory Reporter?
A mandatory reporter, or mandated reporter, is a person who is legally obliged to report suspected child abuse. There's no need for the MR to know who is responsible for the suspected abuse – they only need reasonable cause to believe a child is the victim of abuse.
What counts as “reasonable cause” is open to some interpretation. However, it generally means that based on the reporter's experience and objective observations, they suspect that the child may be in danger.
- The suspicions could be “reasonable” if someone else with similar training and experience may reach the same conclusion
- A gut feeling, or instinct, may not amount to reasonable cause
A mandatory reporter can raise concerns with a colleague or supervisor if they're unsure whether they have reasonable cause to report abuse. However, the responsibility for making the decision lies with the MR.
Who Can Be a Mandatory Reporter?
Section 6311 of the PA Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) defines mandatory reporters as individuals who engage with children due to their profession, employment, or occupation. Examples of MRs include:
- Childcare service provider
- Healthcare professionals, e.g., doctor, nurse, coroner
- Law enforcement officers
- Religious leaders
- School employees
- Social workers
Volunteers who interact with children as part of a scheduled activity or program are also mandatory reporters under PA law.
Even if an individual does not have direct contact with a child, if they work in a setting where they may encounter children, e.g., they're affiliated with a school, there's a good chance they're a mandatory reporter. So, if an individual is unsure whether they qualify as an MR, it's best to ask the employer or an attorney for clarification.
What Should MRs Report?
Mandatory reporters have very specific reporting requirements. Put simply, they must report child abuse if their suspicion arises in one of four ways.
- The reporter is in contact with the child through their employment or profession, or through a regularly scheduled program, activity, or service
- The reporter is directly responsible for the child's care, guidance, training, or supervision, or they're affiliated with an organization or entity which is directly responsible for the child's care, guidance, training, or supervision
- An individual tells the reporter that a named minor is a child abuse victim
- A person aged 14 years or older tells the reporter that they have committed acts of child abuse
The reporter does not need to meet with the child before making a report, and they are not required to know who may be responsible. All that matters is that they report their reasonable suspicions of child abuse without delay.
If a mandatory reporter suspects child abuse, but it affects a friend or family member, and there's no specific disclosure made, they're strongly encouraged to make a report, but there may be no legal obligation to do so. If you're unsure, an attorney can confirm the scope of your reporting requirements.
What the Report Should Include:
To help the relevant agencies investigate the case thoroughly, the MR should provide as much information as possible. The report should contain the following details, if known:
- The child's address and the address for any parties responsible for the child's care
- The age and gender of each subject identified in the report
- Where the alleged abuse occurred
- The nature of the abuse alleged
- Whether there's evidence of prior abuse
- The name of the perpetrator
- A summary of the family relationship
- The reporter's name, telephone number, and email address
- Any evidence of action taken by the reporter, e.g., referring the child for x-rays
Even if you don't have all the details, this should not deter you from making a report if you feel it's justified.
How Long Do I Have to Make a Report?
The reporting time frame is set out in Section 6313, Title 23 of the PA Code.
- If a mandatory reporter suspects child abuse, they should immediately report their concerns to ChildLine using the toll-free number.
- Within 48 hours of making the call, the reporter must submit a written report online through the Child Welfare Portal.
- The reporter should then notify the individual in charge of their institution or facility, such as a school or hospital, that they made a report.
Although this is the standard reporting procedure, reporters should call 911 first if they suspect a child is in immediate danger.
Once ChildLine receives the report, they should forward it to the relevant agency. The agency must open an investigation within 24 hours, and it should be completed within 30 days unless there's a compelling reason why it will take longer.
As a reporter, you may wish to find out what happens to the report and what steps will be taken to protect the child. The relevant department will contact you once the investigations are complete to explain the outcome, including what services they plan on offering the child and the family.
Is My Name Released?
The defendant has no automatic right to know who reported them, so when you file a report, your name should remain confidential, although it may be provided to police and law enforcement officials.
In some cases, you may be required to provide evidence at a civil or criminal hearing once legal investigations are underway. Your attorney can explain what it means if you're called to a civil or criminal hearing and how the process works.
You can, of course, agree to release your name voluntarily if you wish to identify yourself.
Should I Get My Employer's Permission Before Making a Report?
Your employer's permission is not required. If you have reasonable cause to believe a child has been abused, you should make a report.
Remember, you have a mandatory reporting obligation to protect any children you have responsibility for, whether it's in a professional or voluntary capacity. Even if your employer doesn't believe a report is necessary, it's best to be cautious and report any concerns you have.
If you're concerned that your employer may act against you for reporting suspected child abuse, your attorney can advise how you might proceed.
What If I Have General Welfare Concerns?
Not all behaviors amount to child abuse, but they could still suggest there's an unhealthy home environment. So, if you have any concerns regarding a child's welfare or their opportunities for healthy development, you should report them to ChildLine. Concerns you might report include:
- Hygiene concerns
- Inadequate housing
- Lack of food
ChildLine will refer any reports for investigation to the appropriate agency. Child Protective Services (CPS) will handle abuse cases, while General Protective Services (GPS) oversees less serious welfare concerns. Don't fret about making this distinction yourself – if you're worried about a child's welfare, make the report.
Could I Face Criminal Charges If I Fail to Report Child Abuse?
If you have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of abuse, then you must report your concerns to ChildLine. A failure to make a report when required could result in criminal charges.
However, you will only face charges if you willfully fail to report child abuse concerns. If you're acting in good faith and have no reasonable cause to believe a child is in danger, then there may be no criminal penalty if you fail to make a report, and it later becomes apparent that the child was abused.
If you're charged with failing to report suspected abuse, then under Title 23 of the PA Code, it's normally a third-degree felony or second-degree misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances.
Felony in the Third Degree
If you have direct knowledge of abusive behaviors, which would be considered a felony offense in the first degree, and you fail to report it, this may be a third-degree felony if you fail to make a report.
If you have reasonable cause to believe the perpetrator is still working with children, or the child remains in danger of severe abuse, this may be elevated to a second-degree felony charge.
A felony in the third degree carries a penalty of fines not exceeding $15,000 and up to seven years in prison.
Misdemeanor in the Second Degree
It could be a second-degree misdemeanor if you suspect a child is being abused, but the abuse is less severe in nature. Second-degree misdemeanor convictions carry penalties of up to $5,000 in fines and a prison term ranging from one to two years.
What Happens If I'm Accused of Making False Reports?
A false report is one that is untrue and made for the purposes of:
- A personal benefit in a private dispute between the reporter and another person
- Gaining custody over the child
- Harming or embarrassing another person
- Making financial gains
If a reporter is deemed to have made a false report, or encouraged a child to make a false report, they could face second-degree misdemeanor charges. You should contact a PA defense attorney immediately if you're facing false reporting allegations.
How Can a Lawyer Help Me Handle a Mandatory Reporting Issue?
If you're facing child abuse allegations, or you're a mandatory reporter under scrutiny for allegedly breaching your reporting obligations, an attorney can help.
For one thing, ChildLine procedures can be complex, especially when you're unfamiliar with the system. An experienced attorney will help you understand what's required of you at every stage of the process.
What's more, the right attorney will understand how important it is to keep families together where possible. They will fight to secure the most favorable outcome for everyone involved while ensuring the child's best interests are prioritized.
Finally, ChildLine investigations can result in serious short and long-term consequences for defendants and mandatory reporters alike.
- Child abuse accusations may deprive individuals of the chance to work with children or pursue their academic and career goals. They may lose contact with their own children and miss out on building healthy relationships with loved ones.
- Mandatory reporters could face significant professional reputation damage, and even criminal charges, if they're accused of failing to report child abuse. If convicted, this could mean imprisonment.
You should not attempt to handle ChildLine investigations alone. Contact an experienced ChildLine defense attorney who will fight for your rights and ensure due process is always followed.
PA Mandatory Reporter Attorney | Lento Law Firm
Mandatory reporters play a key role in keeping children safe from abuse and neglect. But even professionals make mistakes sometimes, and it's important you have the right support on hand if you're dealing with a ChildLine accusation.
Whether you're an MR accused of failing to report a concern, or you're a defendant facing child abuse allegations, a dedicated and experienced attorney can help you achieve the best outcome. They can evaluate your case and determine the best way to proceed, and they'll do everything possible to minimize the long-term consequences of a ChildLine complaint or allegation.
As an experienced defense attorney, Joseph Lento has helped numerous individuals just like you get their lives back on track after ChildLine investigations. He understands the complexities involved in these proceedings, and he knows what's at stake for you professionally and privately if you're dealing with a child abuse issue. Let the Lento Law Firm guide you through this incredibly stressful time – call Joseph D. Lento now on 888.535.3686 or leave him a message online to discuss your ChildLine matters.