In Pennsylvania, child abuse reports can be made through their ChildLine reporting system. However, because the system allows anonymous reporting, many of these reports are made out of spite, boredom, or to influence child custody cases or divorce proceedings. In fact, in 2021, there were over 38,000 reports of child abuse, but only about 13% could be corroborated.
Despite this, accused individuals still experience disastrous consequences, even when their reports are proven to be false. If you or someone you love has been accused of child abuse through the ChildLine reporting system, LLF Law Firm can help. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Clarion County
The Clarion County Children and Youth Services (CCCYS) office oversees ChildLine reports that are made about children or individuals living in Clarion County, Pennsylvania. Once the office receives a report from ChildLine, they will begin their investigation.
In 2021, there were 145 reports of child abuse, but only 20 of them could be substantiated. This means many of those 145 reports are made without any evidence to support them.
What Is the ChildLine System
The ChildLine program was created in Pennsylvania to collect concerns over a child's well-being, including accusations of child abuse. After the ChildLine system receives a report, it forwards it to the corresponding county's investigating agency. In Clarion County, the office that oversees ChildLine reports is the Clarion County Children and Youth Services (CCCYS) office.
Additionally, the ChildLine program manages a registry of names of individuals who have been found guilty of child abuse in Pennsylvania. As this is a government agency and database, these records are available to anyone conducting a background check in the state. Thus, if you are reported to ChildLine for an alleged incident of child abuse and then found guilty of it, your name will be entered into the database for any future or prospective employer or government agency to see.
That being said, the ChildLine program is not supposed to add a defendant's name until they are found guilty of child abuse. Unfortunately, this decision is made after an investigation and before an appeal can be made. As such, any individual who is accused of child abuse can be punished for it long before they are able to actually defend themselves in front of a hearing panel. Working with LLF Law Firm from the get-go will ensure you do not suffer from such harsh consequences before you have the chance to prove your innocence.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report is Made
After the ChildLine system receives a report of child abuse for a child who lives in Clarion County, they will send it over to the CCCYS office. CCYS will review the report and start their initial investigative process to see if it is true. If they believe the accusation holds credence, they will initiate the formal investigation.
During formal investigations, the investigator will review the report and reach out to the accused individual, as well as other people in their life, like their children, family, friends, and co-workers. When anyone digs into your life, it can be overwhelming, but these particular questions and interviews can be frustrating, stressful, and devastating. What's worse is knowing that many of the child abuse allegations are made by people who do not like the defendant, are bored, or are trying to alter a child custody or spousal support decision.
Understandably, this can leave a defendant feeling angry, stressed, and distrustful, which will make it harder to succeed in their preliminary defense. If the investigator believes the accusations are true, they will place the defendant's name on the ChildLine registry.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Investigated by a Child Line Investigator
When you are being investigated by a ChildLine investigator, you are being investigated by a government agency. Because of this, they must uphold your due process rights. Due process rights are meant to protect you from governmental persecution, such as being charged with a crime and not having access to a fair trial or competent counsel. So, if the investigator fails to provide these rights to you or infringes on them in some way and then finds that you should be placed on the ChildLine registry, the decision should be reversed.
To ensure your rights are upheld throughout the investigation process, LLF Law Firm will make sure to prepare you for the interviews and be present during them. One tactic a lot of investigators use is befriending the defendant. The hope is that it will make them feel at ease and more likely to open up. By having your attorney present during these interviews, they can prevent you from falling for this tactic and saying things that are superfluous, but that could be hurtful to your case.
Furthermore, the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has helped a number of individuals in Clarion County and will reach out to the CCCYS office to begin negotiations on your behalf.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides to Confirm an Abuse Report Against You
Once the investigator's interviews are completed, they will review their findings and either endorse the child abuse allegation or dismiss it. If they endorse it, though, the suspect's names will be entered into the ChildLine registry.
ChildLine registry entries can have catastrophic consequences on your personal and professional lives. You could be forced to move out of your home if there are children present, fired from your job, or even prevented from seeing your children, friends, and family. This can be incredibly isolating and have a significant impact on your mental and physical health. Working with the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is the best way to ensure you are not only prepared to answer the investigator's questions but also fully aware of the possible next steps if your interviews do not turn out as planned.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
Undergoing a ChildLine investigation is an upsetting process. Not only are the inner parts of your life exposed to the investigator, but also the people around you, including your employers, friends, and family. Then, when it is over, and you are placed on the registry, you may find it difficult to muster the strength to pursue an appeal.
Nevertheless, appeals are the last chance you have to prove you should not be on the ChildLine registry. LLF Law Firm understands this and, as such, works hard to ease that burden and make the process easier for you.
In Clarion County, Pennsylvania, there are several ways to appeal a ChildLine finding of abuse. Typically, you have a maximum of 90 days to file your appeal with Pennsylvania's Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF). While this may seem like a long time, once the clock starts ticking, it will go by quickly. You do not want to delay in filing your appeal.
The first step to initiating your appeal is to determine whether you want OCYF to conduct an administrative review of CCCYS's findings or if you want OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) to conduct a formal hearing. Both procedural paths have clear benefits; however, the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will review your case and help you determine which one is best suited to the facts of your particular case.
For the most part, LLF Law Firm will suggest you follow the BHA appeal hearing procedure. BHA appeal hearings give you the chance to present your argument and any relevant evidence and witness testimony that supports it. When you are done presenting your defense, the BHA will review it and determine whether the ChildLine registry entry should be overturned.
BHA appeal hearings are not classic courtroom hearings, but the state still has the burden of proving, with clear and convincing evidence, that you committed an act of child abuse, as it was relayed in the ChildLine report. The “clear and convincing evidence” standard means that the state must present evidence that shows it is more likely than not that the individual committed the crime. Thus, an aspect of your defense will likely revolve around poking holes in the state's evidence to show that it either does not prove you likely committed an act of child abuse or that there is some other reasoning for the evidence being connected to the case.
For example, if the state presents a series of text messages that are supposedly from the defendant, in which the defendant is graphically explaining an incident involving child molestation, your defense attorney will present evidence that shows the texts were created by an app that lets you text from any number. If the app lets someone text from any phone number, then the evidence does not prove, clearly and convincingly, that the defendant is the one who sent the texts.
However, if the BHA decides to uphold the ChildLine registry entry and does not approve your appeal, it is not the end. You can still appeal their decision to the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Human Services. The Secretary will assess the BHA's finding and conclude whether it should be overturned.
If you decide to follow the OCYF administrative review procedural path instead, their decision is final and cannot be appealed to the Secretary.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
When your appeal is approved, the ChildLine registry entry will be removed, but the record of it could still come up in some cases. As such, it is important to seek an expungement of the entry as soon as possible to ensure you are not subjected to personal and professional issues for long. ChildLine registry entries can and will, affect your entire life. You should not rest until they are expunged.
In Clarion County, for instance, individuals who are placed on the registry will be prevented from living within a certain distance of school zones. As the county is split into seven school districts, it could be quite difficult to find an area to live that is far enough away from them. This issue becomes even more complicated if you already reside or work within that forbidden distance. You could be forced to move, change jobs, and maybe even have to leave your profession (especially if you are a schoolteacher).
Moreover, all ChildLine entries will be revealed on background checks. So, if you are forced to change jobs or careers, your employer will see the entry on any background check they conduct. This would further complicate your ability to change jobs, even if you move to a new county.
As you can see, not getting your ChildLine entry expunged will greatly impact your life and could possibly derail your entire future. To seek an expungement in Clarion County, you have to petition the Secretary of the Department of Human Services. The Secretary will review the petition to see if you presented new evidence that proves the original abuse claim was made in error. If they are satisfied with your petition, the Secretary will agree to expunge your registry entry. However, if you are unable to present such evidence, you must present information that shows you are no longer at risk of committing child abuse, and thus, there is no reason to keep you on the registry.
How LLF Law Firm Can Help
Child abuse is a heinous offense that should incur serious consequences, but these consequences should only be suffered by individuals who are found guilty. In Clarion County, many of the child abuse accusations that are reported to ChildLine are unfounded – made out of anger or boredom. As such, innocent people are subjected to stressful investigations and forced to defend themselves in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion. Then, even if the accusation is found unsupported, the defendant is left to deal with the ramifications of being accused of child abuse.
If you or someone you know has been reported to Pennsylvania's ChildLine reporting system in Clarion County, LLF Law Firm can help. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team knows how overwhelming these proceedings can be and how hard it is to push yourself to appeal these reports. They have worked on dozens of child abuse accusation cases and understand the complexities you are up against. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.