Clinton County ChildLine Appeal Attorneys

Facing a ChildLine inquiry in Clinton County is one of the most challenging things a parent can experience in their lifetime. ChildLine investigations may seem beyond a parent's control, especially when weighed against the possibility of having your children removed from your care. Although a small minority of investigations uncover actual child abuse, the truth is that a large majority of these cases stem from misunderstandings, erroneous assessments, or even cultural, religious, or lifestyle biases.

If you are fighting a ChildLine abuse allegation in Clinton County or considering a ChildLine Appeal, our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has significant experience defending parents in Pennsylvania ChildLine Investigations. Contact us today for a free consultation by calling 888-535-3686, or feel free to use our confidential contact form.

Clinton County, Pennsylvania

Clinton County is a rural county located in the north-central part of Pennsylvania. The county of incorporated municipalities, cities, boroughs, townships, and towns, some of which include:

  • Lock Haven
  • Allison
  • Avis
  • Bald Eagle
  • Beech Creek
  • Castanea
  • Chapman
  • Dunnstable
  • East Keating
  • Flemington
  • Gallagher
  • Greene
  • Grugan
  • Lamar
  • Loganton
  • Mill Hall
  • Noyes
  • Renovo
  • Rote
  • Salona
  • South Renovo
  • Wayne
  • Westport
  • West Keating

According to the 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services ("DHS,") of the 132 child abuse allegations in Clinton County, only 31 were substantiated. Most of the substantiated reports involved instances of sexual abuse, followed by physical abuse, and lastly, physical neglect.

Clinton County Children and Youth Services

Allegations of suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment in the county are reported to the Clinton County Children and Youth Services ("CYS"), the county agency responsible for protecting the safety, welfare, and well-being of children within the county. CYS's mission is to provide "family-focused and strength-based services" for family preservation.

As part of the county's mission to provide family-centered services in instances of child abuse and neglect, the county offers a wide range of services designed to help prevent out-of-home placements or, in the alternative, help parents make enough progress so their children can safely return to their care. Some of these services include training and assistance in the following areas:

  • Appropriate Disciplinary Methods
  • Parenting skills
  • Behavior Modification Strategies
  • Stress Management
  • Household organization and budgeting assistance.
  • Assistance in building a solid support network, including but not limited to collaboration with service providers and community activities.

If children cannot safely remain with or return to their parents' care, CYS also assists with foster care placement, guardianship, and independent living for foster care youth transitioning into adulthood.

Family Group Decision Making

CYS also operates a program known as Family Group Decision Making. This program encourages and assists families in creating a plan tailored to their needs and helps keep their children safe. This program typically occurs in multi-step family conferences where parents, children, case workers, and other supportive team members can discuss the best steps forward for reunification.

While CYS professionals undergo comprehensive training to address child abuse allegations, there can be occasions where simple misconceptions, oversights, or gaps in expertise lead them to initiate ChildLine investigations based on unsubstantiated claims of child abuse. In order to strategically defend yourself in these instances, parents must have a comprehensive understanding of the legal processes involved, as well as their rights and case plans.

How Is Child Abuse Defined in Pennsylvania?

A majority of the state's laws on child abuse and neglect are contained within Chapter 63 of the state's statutes. Some of the major acts that qualify as child abuse under the chapter include intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly doing any of the following:

  • Bodily harm through an act or failure to act.
  • Fabricating or intentionally exaggerating a medical symptom resulting in a potentially harmful medical evaluation.
  • Mental or emotional injury through an act or failure to act.
  • Sexual abuse through an act or failure to act or causing sexual exploitation through an act or failure to perform.
  • Creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury through an act or failure to act.
  • Serious physical neglect (not to be confused with symptoms of poverty)
  • Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing, or cutting.
  • Unreasonable confinement.
  • Placing a child in an unsafe environment or location where crime is likely to occur.

Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters

Mandated reporters are obligated under state law to report any instances of suspected child abuse. Mandated Reporters typically receive training from their employers or organizations so they can be equipped to identify indicators of potential abuse or neglect. Reporters usually fall within the following three categories: 1) those who work in child-centered or family-centered fields; 2) those who regularly volunteer with children or families; and 3) government employees. Some examples of Mandated Reporters include:

  • Teachers and other educators
  • Social workers
  • Therapists
  • Doctors and nurses
  • Paramedics
  • Camp counselors
  • Church volunteers
  • Coaches
  • Police officers
  • School counselors
  • Childcare providers
  • Scout leaders

Failure to report suspected child abuse as a mandated reporter can lead to serious legal consequences, ranging from a misdemeanor to a second-degree felony.

Permissive Reporters include all other members of society that are not Mandated Reporters. Permissive reporters are therefore strongly encouraged, though not legally obliged, to instances of suspected abuse to authorities. Examples of Permissive Reporters may include:

  • Family members, friends, and acquaintances
  • Neighbors
  • Community members
  • Colleagues and co-workers

The ChildLine System in Pennsylvania

CYS is obligated under Pennsylvania law to utilize ChildLine, a state-designed and mandated system that receives, investigates, and refers allegations of suspected child abuse claims. Overseen by DHS, this system provides a round-the-clock hotline available to the public if they suspect potential child abuse or neglect. Various other tenants of the more extensive ChildLine System and investigation process are addressed below.

The ChildLine Registry

The ChildLine Registry is a statewide mandated directory that houses the names of individuals who have had child abuse allegations against them substantiated. Having your name on the Registry can carry significant consequences as it will affect your ability to pass criminal background checks in certain instances, such as applying for a government role or job that is child or family-focused. Inclusion on the Registry can also trigger consequences in child custody disputes, leading courts to modify custody or visitation arrangements.

ChildLine Investigations

ChildLine Investigators have 24 hours to initiate a ChildLine investigation after receiving a report from Mandated or Permissive Reporters. These Investigations typically last 30 days but can extend as far as 60 days. Throughout the investigation, Investigators are looking for whether there are possible signs of abuse or neglect as defined within the context of Chapter 63. It's important to note that although investigations occur within a confined system of rules and regulations, Investigators may fall below these standards.

Throughout the investigation, Investigators (also called "Caseworkers" at times) should prioritize interviewing the children, parents, and any other witnesses who may have information about the family, such as neighbors, relatives, teachers, etc.

Investigators may also conduct announced or unannounced visits to the family home or the child's school. During these visits to the family home, Investigators are looking for signs of possible abuse or neglect, such as drug or weapon paraphernalia, unsanitary conditions, lack of nutritious food, and dangerous conditions like exposed wiring or hazardous items.

If ChildLine Investigators determine that there is no cause for concern, they may close the case. If they feel there is enough information to substantiate claims of possible abuse, they will open a ChildLine case that includes recommendations for services. In some instances, Investigators can close a topic while still referring parents to agencies that provide supportive assistance such as food stamps, parenting classes, substance abuse counseling, etc.

Although the goal of CYS Investigators should always be to keep children in their parents' care, Investigations can result in children being removed from their parents' care if CYS believes the child is no longer safe under their care.

What Rights Do Parents Have Throughout a ChildLine Investigation?

Experiencing a ChildLine investigation can be a highly stressful experience for the entire family. Although Investigators are expected to adhere to strict legal protocols and timelines to ensure that all their assigned families are treated equitably and fairly, deviations from this standard can drastically affect a case's outcome.

Sometimes, Investigators may intentionally or unintentionally lead parents to admissions they would not usually concede to. Investigators may also demonstrate implicit or explicit bias towards a family's culture, lifestyle, income status, or religious beliefs.

Therefore, our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team pays close attention to our clients to ensure they are treated equitably. We also spend a great deal of time advising our clients about their parental rights, some of which include:

  • The right to be notified about child abuse allegations and the nature of the accusations against you.
  • The right to maintain regular contact with your children throughout the investigative period, absent a contrary court order.
  • The right to be fully informed about the specifics of the investigation, including its scope and anticipated duration.
  • The right to be informed about any potential next steps CYS plans to take, such as removing your children, requesting monitored visitation, etc.
  • The right to be treated with respect, free from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, or economic circumstances.

CYS Confirmed the Allegations Against Me, Now What?

In the event that the allegations against you are substantiated, the Child and Youth Services (CYS) will proceed to enter your name into the ChildLine Registry. Following this, you want to immediately consider initiating a request to have your name removed from the registry and/or to appeal the allegations. It is important to be aware that this process can be challenging, particularly given the complexities of the state's bureaucratic system. However, our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has experience navigating these requests and can walk you through your next steps.

What Steps Are Involved in ChildLine Appeals?

Should you wish to challenge a ChildLine decision, you may be able to file an appeal. Appeals must generally be lodged within 90 days of issuing the order substantiating the allegations. The legal requirements for filing a request are stringent and require strict compliance with the state's prescribed timelines and procedural requirements.

The appeal process typically follows one of two paths: Appellants may either request an administrative review by the state's Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) or a hearing before the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA). In cases where the outcome at the BHA is unfavorable, there may be a further opportunity to file an appeal request through the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Appeal hearings can be an overwhelming experience for lay people or inexperienced legal counsel. These hearings are structured like a type of trial, allowing both parties to present their legal arguments. Should the state fail to meet this evidentiary standard, you will win the appeal and succeed in having your name removed from the ChildLine Registry.

How Can I Get My Name Removed From the ChildLine Registry?

Generally, two avenues exist for removing your name from the ChildLine Registry. Firstly, the Secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS) may remove your name if newly discovered evidence emerges indicating that the child abuse reports against you were inaccurately made. DHS may also remove your name if you can prove that you no longer pose a risk to children. Both routes require a substantial amount of effort, time, and resources.

ChildLine Appeal Attorney in Clinton County

Our LLF Law Firm Criminal Law Defense Team is well-equipped to provide the assistance you need to fight ChildLine claims or initiate a ChildLine appeal. With years of experience navigating Pennsylvania's ChildLine system, we are fully prepared to safeguard your rights and protect your family. Contact us today for a confidential consultation by calling 888-535-3686 or utilizing our online contact form.

Contact Us Today!

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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