Pennsylvania has a toll-free number that anyone can call to report child abuse or neglect. The number is for the ChildLine program, which is designed to help children who are or may be in danger. The program operates in Chester County and across the state. Protecting children is a good thing, of course. But when someone calls ChildLine and tells the operator that you have abused or neglected a child, your world can be turned upside down. The call, which is known as a ChildLine referral, can have serious consequences. Your job or professional license could be placed in jeopardy, and any child custody arrangement you have can be altered. The call could also stop you from volunteering with some organizations and could subject you to social stigma. The accusations could also lead prosecutors to file criminal charges against you. A ChildLine referral can cause a lot of problems.
If you are the subject of a ChildLine referral in Chester County, you must not ignore it. You need skillful legal representation to help you navigate the stressful investigatory procedure that results from a call to the hotline. The LLF Law Firm is ready to help. The LLF Law Firm's attorneys know how Childline operates, and they understand the process Chester County uses when someone is accused of harming a child. An attorney from the firm will discuss the specifics of your case, explain what happened, evaluate your options, answer your questions, and work to reach the most advantageous outcome. Regardless of your location in Chester County, the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can assist you. The firm can help you if you are in Downingtown, London Grove, Malvern, Oxford, or any other town within the county. Get in touch with our office at 888-535-3686 or use this online form to contact us.
What Is Pennsylvania's ChildLine Program?
Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services established the ChildLine program so individuals can easily report child abuse or neglect by making a call. The line is staffed 24 hours a day, every day, and most callers can remain anonymous when speaking to the operator. The ChildLine program also keeps files on people who have been accused of abuse and those who have ultimately been determined to be abusers. The files are called the registry. The registry has several groups of people listed. One group covers individuals who are labeled as “pending.” This means a person has been accused of abuse, but authorities have not yet completed an investigation into the matter. Another group of names is labeled as “indicated.” This means that after an investigation, authorities determined that child abuse occurred. Another label is “founded.” This means there has been a judicial ruling, perhaps arising from a guilty plea or a trial verdict, that there was substantial evidence of abuse. The final group is called “unfounded.” That label means authorities determined that the accusations of abuse were groundless. Regardless of the exact label attached to a name, an individual who is accused of abuse will find themselves placed in the registry.
The registry is not accessible to the public. However, some employers can see the listed names when performing background checks. Employers can access the registry when an employee or potential employee works directly with children or encounters them while on the job.
Having your name placed in the ChildLine registry is not the same thing as being criminally charged. There are situations when child abuse or neglect allegations lead to criminal charges, but the registry is a different matter. Although being listed is not the same as being subject to criminal charges, it is still serious. When your name is in the registry, it can wreak havoc on your life.
What Is a ChildLine Referral?
When a call comes into ChildLine regarding suspected abuse or neglect, within 24 hours, the staff refers the case to the appropriate county's child, youth, and family services department. The staff may contact law enforcement as well if it appears that a criminal offense has been committed against a child. When the referral comes into the county, the department employees look over the allegations and determine whether an investigation is needed. If the department decides to perform an investigation, it has 60 days to do so. During an investigation, department staff can talk to anyone who might have knowledge about the case. They can interview the accused person, members of the family, children, friends, coworkers, and spouses and ex-spouses. Law enforcement may work with the department on the investigation in some circumstances.
If someone has called ChildLine and made allegations against you, and there has been a referral of the matter to Chester County, the LLF Law Firm can assist you. The attorneys at the firm know what is at risk, and they can work with you to achieve the most advantageous solution.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Referral?
There are two categories of callers to ChildLine. Anyone who is worried that a child has been harmed or is at risk of harm can voluntarily call and make a report. These individuals, who can choose to be anonymous, are known as “permissive” reporters. Anyone can be a permissive reporter. For example, a friend, a relative, a neighbor, or a stranger can make a call. The second category of caller is known as a “mandated” reporter. Pennsylvania law demands that these individuals, by virtue of their jobs, report suspected abuse and neglect. Mandated reporters include childcare workers, healthcare professionals, law enforcement officers, religious leaders, school employees, and social workers. Volunteers who work with children as part of an activity or program are also included. Mandated reporters can face criminal charges if they fail to report suspected abuse.
However, mandated reporters must provide their name and contact information to ChildLine, which keeps this information confidential. Pennsylvania also protects mandated reporters from liability unless they intentionally make a false abuse report.
There are times when a permissive or mandated reporter makes a false report because they were mistaken. There are also situations when either type of reporter makes a false report on purpose. Even though a report is false, it can still be harmful to the accused person. If you are in Chester County and think someone has made false accusations against you, ignoring the matter will not help. You need to defend yourself with the help of a skillful and experienced legal team, and the LLF Law Firm has that team.
ChildLine Referrals in Chester County
Chester County's Children, Youth, and Families (CYF) agency deals with suspected abuse and neglect matters when ChildLine makes a referral. CYF, which has offices in West Chester, has an intake unit that reviews calls about possible abuse. The intake unit staff will evaluate the situation to determine whether CYF can offer services that will ensure the child's safety.
CYF will investigate the case and assess the risks posed to a child in each particular situation. The agency will discuss the available assistance options with the family and work with them to develop a service plan. Services include the provision of family counseling, parenting skills development, and life skills education. CYF caseworkers will continually monitor the family's progress toward the goal of maintaining a safe environment for the child.
On the other hand, when CYF determines that a child is in immediate danger, it will remove the child from the home. The agency has short-term emergency shelter care available 24 hours a day. While the child is in shelter care, CYF caseworkers will evaluate the family's situation and come up with a service plan to remedy the problem. The plan's goal is to reunite the child with the family. If these efforts fail and the agency determines that the child will not be safe at home, CYF will place the child with a relative or another family that the child knows. CYF also considers placing children in foster homes or with private foster care agencies. The agency will also place a child with medical or behavioral needs in a group residential care facility.
If CYF determines at some point that a child cannot return home to the family, adoption is considered. The agency will try to place the child in a new home with adoptive parents.
When a child is in foster care or living with a relative and turns 16, CYF offers what are called independent living services. These services include job readiness and life skills classes, as well as counseling. The agency's goal is to help teenagers become self-sufficient.
A ChildLine referral to Chester County can result in serious ramifications. If you are in Chester County and someone has called ChildLine and raised allegations against you, do not ignore them. You need the advice and assistance of the attorneys at the LLF Law Firm. They know what to do.
Do I Have Any Rights if ChildLine Referred Me to Chester County?
You definitely have rights when you are the subject of a ChildLine referral in Chester County. When CYF intends to investigate, the agency has to notify you that a report of abuse or neglect has been filed. CYF also has to tell you that you have the right to be represented by an attorney during any interviews and that you can seek amendment or “expunction” (expungement) of Chester County's final decision on the case.
When CYF finishes its investigation, the agency has to send you a second notice. The notice contains the same information as the first one, but it adds additional information. In the second notice, CYF must tell you that you have the right to get a copy of the report from the agency or the ChildLine registry. CYF must also inform you that in the event the case is declared to be unfounded, your name will be taken off the ChildLine registry within 120 days, running from the day someone made the call to report suspected abuse or neglect.
In addition, the second notice must explain what a determination of founded or indicated will mean for someone who is trying to gain employment at a school or with a child care service. Finally, CYS must inform you of the implications the final decision will have under the law and provide a list of Chester County's available services for youth and families.
If, following an investigation, CYF comes back with a finding of indicated in your case, ChildLine will notify you of this label. ChildLine's notice will also explain that your name and the nature of the abuse will be kept on the registry indefinitely. ChildLine's letter will also discuss your right to seek amendment or expungement of the decision.
ChildLine will also send a notice to you if you receive a founded label after an investigation by Chester County. The notice will state that this status will be listed under your name in the registry for an indefinite period. The registry will also mention the nature of the abuse.
Can I Appeal a ChildLine Finding?
There can be a lot of fallout when someone's name ends up in the ChildLine registry. You should take this matter seriously because your job or professional license may be impacted. When your name is in the registry, a pre-existing child custody agreement may be changed, and you may find yourself shunned by family and members of the community. But, you can make an appeal of a ChildLine finding of indicated or founded. However, you have to make your appeal within a short time frame. Do not wait, and do not attempt an appeal on your own. The LLF Law Firm is familiar with how ChildLine, Chester County CYF, and the appeals process work, and an attorney from the firm can help make the experience easier for you.
You Need Knowledgeable Legal Representation in a Chester County ChildLine Referral
If you are worried that you are going to be placed on the ChildLine registry or you have already been listed, you need to fight for your rights. You need a strong, capable attorney to help you. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is ready to review your case and guide you through the ChildLine process. No matter where you live in Chester County, the LLF Law Firm is ready to go. We can advocate for you if you are in Easttown, Kennet Square, Phoenixville, West Brandywine, or any other area of Chester County. Make contact with our office by calling 888-535-3686 or reach out to us by using this online form.