If you coach a community sports team in Pennsylvania (e.g., Little League, Pop Warner), you probably are doing it for one of three reasons (or possibly all of them): you love sports, you love children, and you believe in using sports as a way to invest in young people. In other words--you're doing it because you love it, and you get a great deal of fulfillment out of it.
Unfortunately, that all changes the minute someone reports you to ChildLine for suspected child abuse.
Whether the allegations have an element of truth, are based on a misunderstanding, or are completely false--the allegation itself can have a grave impact on your family, your work, your living situation, your custody rights, and your life in general. In Pennsylvania, being reported to ChildLine results in your name being automatically entered into a child abuse registry, possibly for life. Such allegations can affect your current job status, hinder future employment prospects, restrict your involvement with children, and potentially lead to the loss of access to your own children. In some cases, it might even provoke civil or criminal charges.
And yes--being on the ChildLine registry disqualifies you from any kind of employment or volunteer work around children. Unless you can successfully beat the allegations and get your name removed from the list, your days of being a community sports coach are basically over.
The Lento Law Firm Can Defend Against Child Abuse Accusations
If you are accused of child abuse, those accusations can cause serious damage before you're even charged with a crime. What's even more remarkable is that the vast majority of reports made to ChildLine prove to be unfounded. In fact, in 2021, out of 38,013 reports made to ChildLine, only 13.2 percent of those reports could be substantiated. That represents tens of thousands of innocent adults in Pennsylvania alone whose names are being tarnished each year by being unfairly listed on ChildLine as abusers!
Because the stakes are so high here, it's critical to hire an experienced Pennsylvania child abuse defense attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his experienced Criminal Defense Team understand the unique complications arising from child abuse cases. They will strive to safeguard your rights, ensure you're treated fairly, and your side is heard, offer key strategies to minimize the damage caused by a ChildLine report, and represent you vigorously in court should charges be brought against you. To discuss your case, reach out to the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.
An Overview of ChildLine
Established by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, ChildLine is an around-the-clock hotline dedicated to combating child abuse. Any member of the public can utilize this service to report incidents or patterns of suspected child abuse or neglect. Moreover, certain professionals, including healthcare workers, clergy, law enforcement, etc., are legally mandated to report any suspicions of child abuse to ChildLine.
What Occurs When Someone Reports You to ChildLine?
Upon receiving a child abuse report, ChildLine forwards the information to the local Child, Youth, and Family (CYF) Services within 24 hours for a thorough investigation of the allegations.
If you're a community sports coach who has been reported to ChildLine, brace yourself for a whirlwind of swift and potentially destabilizing events. Here's a quick overview of what to expect.
Your name is automatically registered in the ChildLine potential child abusers' list.
This is current Pennsylvania law. Regardless of your guilt or innocence, your name is now in a directory that labels you as a possible child abuser, and it can only be removed through lawful expunction, even if the allegations are proven false.
A comprehensive investigation is initiated by CYF Services.
The investigation itself can be quite disruptive and typically lasts about 30 days, during which time the CYF caseworker will not only speak to the child in question but also may interview you, interview the child's parents (if you are not the parent), review physical evidence any relevant medical records, subpoena school records, and even conduct home visits. If the allegations claim the abuse took place in your role as a coach, you can expect the organization and even parents of team members to be interviewed, which is quite likely to cause damage to your reputation in the community--plus, you'll most likely be removed from your coaching position, at least during the investigation. Should you be accused of harming your own child, CYF is authorized to temporarily place the child elsewhere if deemed necessary during the investigation.
CYF makes a determination based on available evidence.
Upon completion of the investigation, CYF categorizes the allegations as one of the following:
- Unfounded--meaning no evidence of child abuse was discovered (i.e., the claim is probably false);
- Indicated--meaning there may be some evidence of child abuse, but not enough to prove it definitively; OR
- Founded--meaning there was clear evidence to corroborate the allegations of child abuse.
You will receive a formal notification from the Department of Human Services outlining the findings.
Be prepared for legal action.
If CYF finds ample evidence to support the allegations of child abuse, the case will be forwarded to local prosecutors, and you could be faced with civil and criminal charges. Upon conviction, penalties may range from fines to imprisonment, as well as a criminal record. There's also a strong potential for loss of custody rights over your child(ren), especially if you're accused of abusing your own offspring.
What Actions Constitute Child Abuse in Pennsylvania?
Actions considered to be child abuse are prosecuted under Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law. Under this law, the definition of child abuse includes any act, or failure to act, that causes harm to a child on purpose, with knowledge and/or carelessness. It also covers actions that put children at risk of harm. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Causing bodily injury
- Causing mental injury
- Sexually assaulting a child
- Allowing someone to sexually assault a child
- Leaving a child unsupervised with a known registered sex offender
- Interfering with a child's breathing
- Unreasonably confining a child
- Withholding necessary medical treatment from a child
- Slapping, hitting, or shaking a child under the age of one year
- Physical neglect (i.e., a behavior of failing to provide a child with appropriate supervision)
Is the Sports Program Required to Report to ChildLine if Someone Suspects Abuse?
Yes. Under Pennsylvania law, the list of "mandated reporters" includes "individuals—paid or unpaid—who, on the basis of the individual's role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity, or service, are responsible for the child's welfare or has direct contact with children." Under this definition, anyone who interacts with children under a community sports program is legally required to report to ChildLine if they have reason to believe a child is being abused. This includes any other coaches or volunteers helping with the teams. Because of this rule, it's a valid possibility that an onlooker could misunderstand your actions toward a child and report you to ChildLine.
Is It Possible to Have My Name Expunged From the ChildLine Registry?
Although challenging, the removal of your name from the ChildLine Registry is not impossible. If CYF determines the allegations are "unfounded," the abuse report will generally be purged from the database after 120 days. For determinations of "indicated" or "founded," the report must remain on the registry until the child turns 23 at the very least--and unless you file a successful appeal within 90 days, your name will remain in the registry for life even if the report drops off.
The Long-Term Impact of a ChildLine Report in Pennsylvania
Accusations of child abuse can leave a profound, lasting impact on your life, even if they are ultimately judged as "unfounded." The social stigma, potential legal consequences, and emotional distress can be crippling, not to mention the risk of losing custody rights if you are a parent. Specifically, being reported to ChildLine carries severe and enduring consequences. Despite the ChildLine registry being generally non-accessible to the public, certain government agencies, employers, and community programs (particularly those engaging with children) can access it. Being listed on the ChildLine Registry can have the following implications, irrespective of your innocence or guilt.
You'll be disqualified from community activities involving children.
This includes Little League, Pop Warner, or any other community coaching position, as well as Boy Scouts, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, etc. As long as your name appears on this registry, you won't be able to get the required clearance to work or volunteer in these types of positions. You'll even be disallowed from chaperoning school dances, field trips, etc.
You'll be disqualified from any type of employment involving minors.
This includes positions in schools, daycare centers, youth programs, or even medical practices. Any employer that deals with minors has the right to access your ChildLine record and will likely refuse you employment.
You'll be disqualified from foster care and adoption proceedings.
If you're trying to adopt a child or become a foster parent, you won't be able to do so if your name is listed in the ChildLine registry.
Your ChildLine report can be used against you in custody proceedings.
If you're a parent and your name appears on the ChildLine registry, it could play a role in determining a current or future custody dispute--even if the child you allegedly abused was not your own. A judge may take into consideration any potential risk of harm to the child when deciding who should maintain primary physical custody. The report can also result in having your visitation rights limited, suspended, or revoked entirely.
Appealing to Have Your Name Expunged from ChildLine
If CYF Services makes a determination of "indicated" or "founded," you have the legal right to file an appeal. It's important to act quickly--you only have 90 days from the date of the notification letter you received from the Department of Human Services to file your appeal. If you fail to act within this window, you can expect your name to remain on the ChildLine Registry for life, permanently labeling you as a suspected child abuser.
Once you file your appeal, you'll be scheduled to appear for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge and present arguments for why the report should be expunged from ChildLine. If your appeal is successful, your name will be removed from the registry, and you may also regain any privileges that were lost as a result of the initial report--including (if you wish) receiving clearance to coach community sports again. If the ALJ rules against you, the report will stand.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help
Being implicated in child abuse allegations in Pennsylvania can pose significant threats to your life, employment, parental relationships, and community life. The detrimental effects can be immense even if the claims are later proven unfounded. Hiring skilled legal counsel at the first sign of trouble can make all the difference in your case.
At the Lento Law Firm, we recognize the intense fear and stress accompanying accusations of child abuse. We've witnessed the swift and destructive nature of CYF investigations, especially when the accused lacks adequate legal representation. Joseph D. Lento and his Criminal Defense Team have extensive experience representing individuals who have been reported to ChildLine, are under investigation by CYF, or have been charged with domestic violence crimes. We can aid you in formulating an efficient defense strategy, gathering evidence in your favor, pursuing all viable appeals, and defending you against resulting criminal charges.
You started coaching kids because you wanted to do good in the community. Unfair allegations of child abuse should not take that away from you. Let us work on your behalf to minimize the damage to your reputation and your future. For assistance, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us using our online form.