Every year, thousands of Pennsylvania residents are referred to the state's ChildLine system for suspected child abuse. Being placed on the ChildLine registry – which is sometimes called being "ChildLined" – can be devastating. People on the ChildLine registry can't work in certain jobs or places and can't volunteer in their communities wherever they'd like to. They also have to deal with the stigma of being suspected of child abuse.
The seriousness of a child abuse accusation and how it will affect you can be overwhelming. Having to defend against accusations of child abuse and endure the intrusiveness of an investigation is probably one of the most stressful situations anyone can face. The knowledgeable attorneys at The LLF Law Firm have years of experience helping Pennsylvania residents with ChildLine referrals and family law issues throughout the state. Call us at 888-535-3686, or submit a confidential online consultation form.
But how do ChildLine referrals work? Who can report someone for child abuse? You might be surprised to know that, in Pennsylvania, anyone can make an anonymous accusation of child abuse to ChildLine. This can result in false accusations that can wreak havoc on every aspect of your life.
What Is ChildLine?
ChildLine is a 24-hour hotline established by Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services to prevent child abuse. The ChildLine registry lists the names of people who are found to have "indicated" or "founded" reports of child abuse. Although the registry isn't available to the general public, some employers are able to access it and screen out people who are on the list.
Having your name listed in the ChildLine registry can drastically affect your life and livelihood – and once you're on the list, it's extremely difficult to get off. Unfortunately, in many cases, people don't know about ChildLine until after they've been put on the list.
What's a ChildLine Referral?
When ChildLine receives a report of suspected child abuse, they refer the matter to the appropriate county's Child, Youth, and Family Services department within 24 hours. Each county has its own process for handling these referrals.
Generally, after receiving a ChildLine referral, county workers assess the allegations and determine whether the behavior constitutes child abuse. If it does, the county starts an investigation, which they have 60 days to complete. They can interview anyone who has any information about the case, including the accused person, their friends, spouses, exes, kids, and co-workers.
In addition to contacting the county, ChildLine sometimes contacts law enforcement officials. In fact, it's very common in Pennsylvania for multidisciplinary teams made up of law enforcement and social services agencies to investigate child abuse allegations together.
Also, if the accused offender is a licensed Pennsylvania professional, ChildLine might also contact the appropriate state licensing board so they can decide if they want to take action against the accused's professional license.
With so much at stake, if you're the subject of a ChildLine referral, your best chance of success is to contact the experienced attorneys at The LLF Law Firm for help.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?
Basically, anyone can report suspected child abuse to ChildLine. In fact, Pennsylvania encourages anyone who reasonably suspects that a child is being abused to report it. These so-called "permissive" reporters can report suspected child abuse to ChildLine anonymously by phone.
Mandated reporters are required by law to report any suspected child abuse that they're aware of. These people work in many different jobs that give them the opportunity to come in contact with kids and families. They include healthcare workers, teachers, police officers, social workers, and clergy. They can face criminal penalties if they don't report suspected child abuse that they're aware of.
Mandated reporters can make a ChildLine report by phone, or they can use ChildLine's online submission system. Unlike permissive reporters, mandated reporters have to include their names and contact information in their reports.
There's a general presumption in Pennsylvania that mandated child abuse reports are made in good faith. The state protects mandated reporters by keeping their names confidential and also by protecting them from legal liability unless they file a false report with malicious intent.
But many people are falsely accused of child abuse in Pennsylvania, perhaps because anonymous reports are allowed and encouraged. For example, people involved in nasty custody fights and messy divorces might resort to falsely accusing their exes of child abuse in an attempt to obtain a favorable outcome for themselves. Co-workers may make false child abuse allegations against colleagues based on a personal grudge or to get ahead professionally.
The knowledgeable attorneys at The LLF Law Firm can help Pennsylvania residents vigorously defend themselves against ChildLine reports of abuse.
What Happens if a ChildLine Referral Results in a Finding of Child Abuse?
The outcome of your ChildLine investigation will determine whether or not your name is added to the ChildLine registry. ChildLine investigators determine whether a child abuse report is unfounded, indicated, or founded.
If the county determines that a child abuse report is unfounded, this means that they didn't find evidence of child abuse and won't add your name to the ChildLine registry. If the report is indicated, they concluded that there was substantial evidence of child abuse and will add your name to the ChildLine registry.
A report that is given founded status means that there's a judicial adjudication – such as a trial verdict – that found substantial evidence of child abuse, and your name will be added to the ChildLine registry.
Having your name on the ChildLine registry can wreak havoc on your personal and professional life. It will also restrict the kind of jobs that are available to you, the volunteer opportunities that you are allowed to do, and more.
In some circumstances, a criminal investigation might take place alongside your ChildLine investigation. So, you could wind up facing criminal child abuse charges in addition to what the ChildLine investigation determines. Even if the ChildLine investigation doesn't result in a finding of abuse, it's possible that you could still face criminal charges.
The LLF Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team can work with you to assess your case and craft a strategy that will ensure that your rights are protected and enforced.
What Are Your Rights if You've Been Referred to ChildLine?
Unfortunately, the way Pennsylvania's ChildLine system is structured, people can be put on the ChildLine registry without due process – i.e., notice and an opportunity to respond. But it's important for you to know that if you're referred to ChildLine, you do have certain rights. Anyone who's the subject of a ChildLine investigation must be notified of:
- The existence of the report that's made against them
- Their right to a lawyer
- Their right to amend or expunge the county's decision, and
- Their right to have an attorney at any interviews or meetings with county officials.
After the investigation, the state has to notify you of:
- The result of the investigation and the status of the report
- Your right to request to amend or expunge the report and get your name removed from the ChildLine registry
- The effect the report will have on your future career opportunities
- The fact that your name, description of the abuse, and whether your report is indicated or found will be entered into the ChildLine database
- Your right to file an appeal within 90 days, and
- Your right to a hearing on the merits of appeal, where the county has to prove its case by substantial evidence.
If you're referred to ChildLine for child abuse, having the experienced attorneys at The LLF Law Firm at your side can help ensure that you know your rights and can make decisions that will help you achieve the best possible outcome.
How the LLF Law Firm Can Help You if You've Been Referred to Pennsylvania's ChildLine System
If you've been referred to Pennsylvania's ChildLine system, you need an experienced legal team at your side. ChildLine investigations can be intrusive and exhausting and can traumatize even the strongest, most resilient people. The process is intense, and even if you're cleared of all wrongdoing, the emotional effects can take a toll long after the process wraps up.
The consequences of being referred to ChildLine can wreak havoc on your life, and if your name is added to the ChildLine registry, you need to act immediately and get the best legal representation possible. Being named on the ChildLine registry can limit where you work, go to school, and volunteer. It can also affect a custody arrangement that's in place. The best thing you can do the moment you find out that you've been referred to ChildLine is to talk to the experienced attorneys at The LLF Law Firm.
The LLF Law Firm has been successfully representing clients in Pennsylvania with ChildLine referrals and investigations for many years. The knowledgeable Criminal Defense Team can help ensure that your rights are protected every step of the way. Contact The LLF Law Firm at 888-535-3686, or submit a confidential online consultation form. With so much at stake, you shouldn't handle this alone.