Every year, thousands of Pennsylvania residents are put on the state's ChildLine child abuse registry. Being placed on the list — or getting "ChildLined," as it's often referred to — can be devastating. It can affect all aspects of your life and drastically affect your ability to earn a living. This is because people on the ChildLine registry can't work in certain places and are even prohibited from taking on certain volunteer roles. They also have to deal with the stigma of having been accused of child abuse. What's worse is that many people don't even know what ChildLine is until after they wind up on the list.
The seriousness of child abuse allegations and the uncertainty of how they'll affect your life can be overwhelming. Defending against child abuse allegations is time-consuming, expensive, and emotionally exhausting. Dealing with the intrusiveness of a child abuse investigation is probably one of the most challenging and stressful situations you'll ever face. With so much at stake, you shouldn't handle this alone.
The LLF Law Firm has years of experience successfully representing Columbia County clients who have been accused of child abuse. The knowledgeable Criminal Defense Team can help you understand how ChildLine investigations work and help ensure that your rights are protected every step of the way. Contact us at 888-535-3686, or submit a confidential online consultation form.
What's Pennsylvania's ChildLine System?
ChildLine is a 24-hour hotline that Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services established to prevent child abuse. Anyone can make a report of suspected child abuse or neglect to ChildLine. Generally, 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.
In Columbia County, the Office for Children and Youth (OCY) receives ChildLine reports of suspected child abuse for incidents that happen within Columbia County and that involve children who live in Columbia County. OCY assesses the allegations and determines what, if any, additional action is needed.
The ChildLine registry lists the names of individuals who are found to have "indicated" or "founded" reports of child abuse in Pennsylvania. Although the registry isn't available to the general public, some employers can access it to make hiring – and sometimes firing – decisions based on who's on the list.
Having your name in the ChildLine registry has severe repercussions for your life and livelihood. What's worse is that once your name is on the list, it's very difficult to remove it. The experienced attorneys at The LLF Law Firm can help you defend yourself and restore your good name.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?
Anyone can report suspected child abuse or neglect to ChildLine, but some people are required by law to report it. Pennsylvania encourages anyone who reasonably suspects a child is being abused or neglected to report the matter to ChildLine or to local authorities. "Permissive" reporters – i.e., people who aren't required by law to report suspected child abuse – can make their reports to ChildLine anonymously.
Mandated reporters are required by law to report any suspected child abuse or neglect that they're aware of. These people generally work in jobs where they come into contact with kids and families on a regular basis, so they're given more responsibility when it comes to reporting child abuse. Healthcare workers, teachers, law enforcement officers, social workers, daycare workers, and religious organization staff are generally considered to be mandated reporters. They can actually face criminal liability if they don't report suspected child abuse or neglect that they're aware of.
Mandated reporters can make a ChildLine report by phone or via ChildLine's online submission system. They can't make their reports anonymously; they have to provide their name and contact information in their reports. Because mandated reporters can't make their child abuse reports anonymously, the state protects them from civil liability – unless they file a false report with malicious intent. The state also keeps the names of mandated reporters confidential.
Under Pennsylvania law, there's a general presumption that mandated child abuse reports are made in good faith. But unfortunately, many people do make false accusations of child abuse. There are many reasons why someone might do this. For example, someone involved in a messy divorce or nasty custody battle might falsely accuse their ex of child abuse in order to get a favorable outcome for themselves. A co-worker, colleague, or even a neighbor might make false child abuse allegations as a way of getting back at you or to get ahead professionally.
The problem of false child abuse accusations in Pennsylvania is compounded by the fact that people can make anonymous reports of child abuse or neglect against someone else through the state's ChildLine child abuse reporting system.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made?
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. So, if ChildLine receives a report of suspected child abuse that happened in Columbia County or that involves a child who lives in the county, they will forward the report to the Columbia County OCY. An OCY investigator will then assess the allegations and determine whether or not the report alleges behavior that constitutes child abuse.
If the report does sufficiently allege child abuse, OCY will begin an investigation into the allegations. They have 60 days to complete the investigation. OCY can interview anyone who has any information about the report, including the accused person, their friends, children, family members, co-workers, employers, and exes.
ChildLine will also sometimes contact law enforcement officials in addition to contacting the county OCY. This is because Pennsylvania often takes a multidisciplinary approach to child abuse cases. It's common for law enforcement and social services agencies to work together to investigate child abuse allegations. Also, if the accused offender is a licensed Pennsylvania professional, ChildLine might also contact their state licensing board so the board can determine whether to discipline that they feel is necessary or appropriate under the circumstances.
It's important to understand that although a ChildLine investigation isn't a criminal investigation, it's possible for you to be the subject of both a ChildLine investigation and a separate criminal investigation into the child abuse allegations at the same time. That's why it's so important to contact The LLF Law Firm the minute you find out that you're under investigation by ChildLine.
What Can You Do if You're Being Investigated by ChildLine?
It's important to know your rights if you're under investigation for child abuse in Pennsylvania. If you're the subject of a ChildLine investigation, you have to be notified of:
- Your right to an attorney
- The existence of the child abuse report made against you
- Your right to seek to amend or expunge the county's decision
- Your right to have an attorney present during any meetings or interviews with government officials.
The stakes of the ChildLine investigation couldn't be higher. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, your name could be added to the ChildLine registry. This 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're allowed to do, and more.
Even though ChildLine investigations aren't criminal investigations, in some circumstances, a separate 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.
ChildLine investigations can be emotionally exhausting and can traumatize even the most resilient people. The process is intense. Having investigators question your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors about your alleged abusive behavior can be very intrusive and ruin your reputation. Even if you are cleared of all wrongdoing, the emotional toll of the experience can last many years after the investigation ends.
That's why the best thing you can do the moment you find out you're being investigated by ChildLine is to talk to the experienced attorneys at The LLF Law Firm. They have years of experience helping people successfully navigate the ChildLine investigation process in Columbia County and throughout Pennsylvania. With so much at stake, you shouldn't handle this alone.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigation Determines You Committed Child Abuse?
The outcome of your ChildLine investigation will determine many things, including whether or not your name will be added to the ChildLine registry. At the end of their investigation, ChildLine investigators determine whether a child abuse report is unfounded, indicated, or founded.
If they determine that the child abuse report is unfounded, this means that the county didn't find evidence of child abuse and won't add your name to the ChildLine registry.
If the county determines that the child abuse report is indicated, it means that they concluded that there was substantial evidence of child abuse and will add your name to the ChildLine registry.
If the investigators find that a report is founded, this means that there's a judicial adjudication – such as a trial verdict – that found substantial evidence of child abuse, and they'll add your name to the ChildLine registry.
Immediately after the ChildLine investigation, the county will submit its results to the state, which will then notify you of:
- The result of the investigation and status of the report (I.e., unfounded, founded, or indicated)
- Your right to request to amend or expunge the report
- The effect the report will have on your future job and volunteer opportunities
- The fact that your name, the nature of the child abuse, and the report's indicated or founded status will be entered into the ChildLine database
- Your right to file an appeal of an indicated finding within 90 days
- Your right to a hearing on the merits on appeal, where the county must prove its case by substantial evidence.
How to Expunge Your Name From the ChildLine Registry
In order to remove or expunge your name from the ChildLine registry, you'll have to follow a complicated process and carefully follow the strict rules and deadlines.
Generally speaking, indicated reports can be expunged for good cause – such as new evidence that the child abuse report is inaccurate – along with proof that you no longer pose a child abuse risk and that no public purpose would be served by keeping your name in the registry.
You have 90 days to request an administrative review or appeal and a hearing to amend or expunge the indicated report. If your request is granted, you then have 90 days to file your appeal. (If your request is denied, you can appeal the denial.) If you file your appeal within the 90-day window, a hearing will be scheduled.
The expungement hearing will take place at the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. The county has the burden of proving by substantial evidence that the report should remain an indicated report. For Columbia County, the proceedings will likely be held at the Central Regional location of the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals in Harrisburg. It's important to keep in mind that this is an administrative proceeding, not a criminal one.
You'll be able to speak at the hearing and present evidence, including witness statements, photos, and medical records. If the report status changes to unfounded, county officials will update their records to reflect the new status, and they'll remove your name from the ChildLine registry.
In some cases, it might be possible for someone named as a perpetrator in a founded report to expunge their name from the ChildLine registry. In order to do this, a perpetrator in a founded report has to provide a court order that shows that the underlying action that formed the basis of the founded report has been vacated or reversed. The knowledgeable attorneys at The LLF Law Firm can help you determine the best course of action in your situation.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Finding of Child Abuse
There are many opportunities to appeal decisions that are made at various junctures of the ChildLine investigation process. Like expungement, appealing a ChildLine finding is complicated, and you have to carefully follow the process and filing deadlines to have a chance at making a successful appeal.
Generally speaking, the process of expunging your name from the ChildLine registry is one form of appeal. It's also possible for you to appeal the denial of an initial request for an administrative review of a ChildLine finding. If your initial request is denied, you also have the right to appeal the denial and request a hearing to amend or expunge the finding of the indicated report.
You have 90 days to request a hearing, and in the hearing, the county has the burden of proving the allegations against you. If they fail to do so, they'll remove your name from the ChildLine registry.
If the hearing doesn't go your way, it's possible to appeal this decision as well. You'll have 15 days from the date of the final order to request reconsideration of the decision. If your request is granted, you'll then have 30 days to file an appeal with the Commonwealth Court.
Although it might seem like a long shot, it's definitely worth going to the trouble of filing an appeal at this point. Of the 86 decisions that were appealed in 2021, almost half were overturned. The key to a successful appeal is a strong, knowledgeable legal team who is familiar with the ins and outs of the Pennsylvania ChildLine appeal process.
The LLF Law Firm has been helping people in Columbia County and throughout Pennsylvania successfully navigate the ChildLine appeals process for many years. We'll work with you to create a solid legal strategy that will ensure the best possible outcome for you.
What to Do if You're Facing a ChildLine Investigation for Suspected Child Abuse in Columbia County
In Columbia County, the Office for Children and Youth Services investigates and manages reports of suspected child abuse that are sent to them through the ChildLine system and also handles reports that are made directly to them. Columbia County residents should know that, according to a 2020 Child Protective Services Report, there were 188 reports of suspected child abuse in Columbia County and only 31 substantiated reports – which means that out of all of the reports that were made in the county, only 16 percent were substantiated.
If you're a Columbia County resident and have been notified that you've been added to the state's ChildLine registry, the stakes couldn't be higher. You should contact the experienced attorneys at The LLF Law Firm for help. The Criminal Defense Team has years of experience successfully representing clients throughout Columbia County in ChildLine investigations and all other matters pertaining to child abuse allegations.
How The LLF Law Firm Can Help Columbia County Residents Who Are Under Investigation by ChildLine
If you're the subject of a Columbia County ChildLine child abuse investigation, or you've been notified that your name's been added to Pennsylvania's ChildLine registry, you need to take immediate action and get yourself the best legal representation possible.
The attorneys at The LLF Law Firm have years of experience successfully representing Columbia County clients who have been accused of child abuse. The knowledgeable Criminal Defense Team can help you understand how ChildLine investigations work and will work hard to ensure that your rights are fully enforced every step of the way. Contact us at 888-535-3686, or submit a confidential online consultation form.