Being accused of child abuse is an incredibly serious situation to be in. If you have been reported for potentially abusing a child, it is understandable that you are scared about the investigation and determinations that may be found in your case. Even those who have not committed child abuse can be accused, as may be true for you. Unfounded child abuse reports can cause immense pain and suffering and may even isolate you from your family, friends, and community.
Understandably, Crawford County takes all reports of suspected child abuse seriously; protecting the County's children is important and necessary, but it doesn't mean that innocent people like you don't get caught in the crossfire all too often. While there are, without a doubt, many founded cases of abuse where children do need intervention from the state to protect them, there are even more cases, unfortunately, where abuse claims are made due to a dispute that doesn't involve the child at all. For example, your spouse or their family or friends could make a child abuse claim in an attempt to sway a court in divorce or custody proceedings against you. These tactics are cruel and damaging for you and the child who has been dragged into a dispute that no child should be involved in.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Crawford County
Crawford County Children and Youth Services (CYS) is the county government authority that accepts and investigates reports of suspected child abuse. CYS will investigate all claims reported to its office directly, through ChildLine, or any other reporting method.
Suspected child abuse cases are divided into the following three categories:
Unfounded. The reported case will be considered unfounded if no substantial evidence of the alleged abuse exists.
Indicated. The reported case will be labeled as indicated if substantial evidence of the alleged abuse is found based on available medical evidence, a Child Protected Services investigation, and/or admission of the acts of abuse by the perpetrator.
Founded. A case is considered to be founded if there has been any judicial adjudication based on a finding that a child who is a subject of the report has been abused, including the entry of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or a finding of guilt to a criminal charge involving the same factual circumstances involved in the allegation of child abuse.
In 2022, CYS received and investigated 571 suspected incidences of child abuse, of which 51 cases were eventually substantiated (a substantiation rate of 2.9 substantiated reports per 1,000 children).
If you are a Crawford County resident or the child involved in the allegation against you is a resident of Crawford County, and you are under investigation for suspected child abuse or are now on the ChildLine registry, you need an attorney experienced in this delicate and stressful situation. The Lento Law Firm frequently works with clients who, unfortunately, are being or have been investigated for suspected child abuse. Our team is here to help you through all stages of the process, from investigations to appeals.
What Is the ChildLine System?
The ChildLine system is Pennsylvania's suspected child abuse reporting hotline. ChildLine must "accept child abuse referrals and general child wellbeing concerns and transmit the information quickly to the appropriate investigating agency." ChildLine reports can be made 24/7 over the phone or electronically on the ChildLine webpage. One thing that is important to know about the ChildLine system is that all reports, regardless of whether a mandatory or permissive reporter makes them, can be made anonymously. The Lento Law Firm Team understands that the anonymous aspect makes an allegation of child abuse against you even more stressful because you don't know who in your circle has launched this malicious attack against you.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?
In Pennsylvania, anyone can report suspected child abuse. There are two types of reporters of child abuse: permissive reporters and mandatory reporters. Permissive reporters are not required by law to report suspected child abuse to the authorities. Permissive reporters can be anyone: a neighbor, a friend, a family member, or quite literally anyone who may have an issue with you, regardless of whether there is an ounce of truth to their claim. Mandatory reporters are people who are, by law, required to report child abuse to the authorities. Mandatory reporters include but are not limited to teachers and educators, doctors, law enforcement officers, foster parents, clergymen (priest, rabbi, minister, etc.), and even public library staff who interact with children.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report is Made?
When CYS receives a report from ChildLine, it will begin by reviewing the facts of the report to assess whether the facts presented even constitute child abuse. Under Pennsylvania law, child abuse is "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly" committing one or more of numerous acts detailed in the statute at Pa. Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6303(b.1)
When a child abuse report is referred to Child Protective Services, it will immediately start an investigation. The Child Protective Services worker has 30 to 60 days to complete their investigation. An initial home visit will be made to the child's home where the child's family will be informed of the specifics of the report, begin to gather information, conduct a safety and risk assessment, make the family aware of services CYS has to offer and develop a safety plan for the child if necessary.
You will also receive a visit from the authorities during the investigation. This visit will undoubtedly feel uncomfortable and invasive of your privacy. The investigator will extensively question you on topics including your relationship with the child, the alleged incident(s) of abuse, and more. Other people in your life may also be subject to interviews, such as your friends or family. You may be subject to a series of follow-up interviews before the end of the investigation.
What You Can Do if You Are Being Investigated by a ChildLine Investigator
Knowing how to respond in this high-stress situation can be difficult, but you have rights and must exercise them, particularly your right to an attorney. As soon as you learn of the investigation against you, you should immediately retain counsel with specific experience in defending those reported to ChildLine, like the Lento Law Firm. You cannot afford to wait to hire an attorney, make an appointment for a consultation as soon as possible, and try to limit contact with the investigating agency until your attorney can advise you.
Without an attorney, the investigators may try to trip you up, ask confusing questions, or try to get buddy-buddy during the interview in the hopes you reveal information that could be negative to you in your case. When your attorney is present, they can ensure your rights are preserved, and all aspects of the interviews are conducted fairly, in a manner where you thoroughly understand what is being asked and have time to formulate a thoughtful answer. Your attorney can also help have non-hostile lines of communication open with the investigators, which keeps you informed and allows investigators to receive information that can benefit your case that otherwise may not have been presented. Having the Lento Law Firm as your advocate means you never fight this battle alone.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Finds You May Have Committed Child Abuse?
If a CYS investigator decides, based on their investigation, that you may have committed child abuse, your name can be placed on the ChildLine registry. This means your name can be put on the registry even if you have not been convicted on a child abuse claim – mere allegations can get you placed on the registry.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
Generally, you have 90 days from the mailing date listed to appeal a ChildLine registry determination. You cannot afford to waste any time in this appeal period because being on the registry is life-altering because your child's school and potential employers have access to this registry. You may be barred from employment opportunities or participating in your child's school events, such as school plays, concerts, and graduations. If you do not appeal within 90 days, it is very possible your name could remain on the registry for the rest of your life.
There are two methods to appeal the determination against you. The first option is to ask the Office of Children, Youth, and Families for an administrative review of your case. The second is to be assigned an Administrative Law Judge through the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal, and an administrative hearing will be scheduled.
At the hearing, you can put forward your case and show evidence as to why the determination should be reversed. Administrative hearings are very different than a criminal trial. The most significant difference is that the rules judges and attorneys follow are more lenient, particularly regarding what evidence is allowed to be presented. Unlike in criminal cases, in administrative cases, hearsay is permissible. Additionally, courts generally favor the state agency presenting the case. Having a team like the Lento Law Firm, which is well-versed in administrative law in child abuse case hearings, is crucial to your success in getting your name off the ChildLine registry.
In the event the hearing does not end successfully, you have the opportunity to request that the Secretary of the Department of Human Services review your appeal for reconsideration. You only have 15 days from the hearing determination to make this request. While it might feel like all hope is lost, it most definitely is not; in 2021, of the 86 appeals cases that came before the Secretary of the Department of Human Services, 34 were overturned.
The appeals process is delicate and, without assistance from counsel, can often result in an outcome against you. Do not go into the process unprepared when you can have the Lento Law Firm Team building the most effective appeal possible, just as they have done for others like you throughout Crawford County.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
If the timeframe for an appeal has passed for removing your name from the ChildLine registry, expunging your record is still possible. Two scenarios exist where the Secretary of the Department of Human Services may expunge your ChildLine registry entry. The First is when newly discovered evidence is uncovered that indicates the initial report of abuse was inaccurate. The second situation is where you can establish you do not present a risk of child abuse and that there is no public benefit to keeping your name on the ChildLine registry. Your attorney can help you determine your eligibility and how to best proceed if you are eligible.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help
Crawford County spent over $4.6 million between 2021 and 2022 on child abuse investigations and general protective service assessments. When the country is throwing that much money towards investigating these cases, you cannot fight without bringing your own resources, the Lento Law Firm. We have successfully taken on ChildLine suspected child abuse cases throughout Crawford County and helped many falsely accused restore their good name.
If you have received word that a ChildLine report has been filed against you and that you are facing an investigation by CYS, or if you've already been investigated and have been placed on the ChildLine registry, you need help from the experienced counsel at the Lento Law Firm. Child abuse allegations are a fragile matter in which the suspects are rarely treated as innocent during the investigative process. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will ensure your rights are upheld and will fight for you to remain off the ChildLine Registry or promptly remove your name if you have already been listed. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 or contact us online for a confidential consultation.