Facing accusations of child abuse or neglect can be a frightening, emotionally draining, and mentally taxing experience. For many, being notified that someone has issued a report implicating them in a claim of this serious nature comes as a shock. If you are finding yourself in this situation, your next thoughts may turn to whether your name will be publicized, potentially viewable by employers, friends, family, or community members.
Child abuse is a serious issue, but the unfortunate truth is that false claims are made frequently. It could be related to a custody issue, a breakup or divorce, retribution, or someone with control issues.
In Pennsylvania, those concerned about a child's welfare can report an adult to the authorities and file a report anonymously online or over the phone through the state's “ChildLine” reporting system. The county with jurisdiction will then be forwarded the case to investigate.
Many people are surprised when they learn how many suspected cases of child abuse or neglect are to be found unsubstantiated after being looked into. As an example, in 2021 in Pennsylvania, out of 7,235 reports of suspected child abuse by “permissive reporters” (those without a legal mandate to do so, such as someone who comes in direct contact with children through their occupation), 6,700 were found to not be “substantiated” by child protected services agencies. That should give you a good idea of the number of individuals who may be in need of defending themselves from unmerited accusations.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Cumberland County
In Pennsylvania's Cumberland County, the Cumberland County Children & Youth Services is the organization responsible for investigating reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. In 2021, there were 689 reported incidents of suspected child abuse and neglect – or about 14 reports for every 1,000 children in Cumberland County – through the ChildLine registry. Of these, 13.2% were found to be substantiated once the investigation concluded.
Someone Reported Me to ChildLine. Now What?
Once Cumberland County receives the ChildLine report, they will screen the claim for relevance by opening an investigation. If they determine the report has relevance, they may interview you, possibly multiple times, as well as any of your household members, family, or friends.
The outcome of this process will dictate whether your name is added to the ChildLine Registry. This is something many people wish to prevent, given that If this happens, potential employers, for example, have access to the registry in order to screen candidates. This can be a frightening experience because the stigma associated with it – warranted or not – can have long-term consequences in someone's life, personally and professionally. A child abuse accusation, even one found to be unsubstantiated, has the potential to harm or even ruin relationships and careers.
How Do Mandatory Reporters Differ From Permissive Reporters?
In Pennsylvania, there are two types of reports of child abuse and neglect – “mandated” or “mandatory” reporters and “permissive” reporters. Mandatory reporters are those who come in direct contact with children through their occupation or as a volunteer. They are legally bound to report suspected child abuse or neglect and face penalties, from misdemeanors to felonies, for neglecting to report. Some common mandatory reporters are teachers, healthcare workers, social workers, public librarians, police officers, daycare workers, and members of the clergy. Mandatory reporters are protected from civil liability unless they maliciously submit a false report.
“Permissive” reporters, on the other hand, are those who are encouraged, but not legally required, to file a report through ChildLine, their local child welfare agency, or law enforcement if they have a “reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse.” Because they can report anonymously and therefore not be held accountable, sometimes unsubstantiated reports are made for ulterior motives.
Someone Has Reported Me for Child Abuse – What Should I Do?
If you have been unfairly reported to ChildLine for suspected child abuse or neglect, you are likely wondering whether you need legal representation. Hiring an attorney at this stage is something many individuals decide to do, given the nature and severity of the accusation. For many, navigating this legal landscape with the guidance and support of an experienced legal team gives them peace of mind and saves them from making potentially costly oversights or missteps. Whether you choose to go it alone or hire representation, be very vigilant about cooperating with child protective services authorities and the investigation if one is opened. But keep in mind that your answers to questions they may pose are extremely important. It can feel very invasive and emotionally jarring to be questioned about this type of suspected crime. You need to be careful about your responses. If you feel at all that it may be difficult to tell your side of the story with a calm demeanor, caution, and transparency, this is an opportunity for legal guidance to take on that burden for you and ensure your answers give you the most accurate representation possible.
If your name has already been added to the ChildLine registry, you might find yourself in a panicked state. It's imperative to keep a cool head, put one foot in front of the other, and take the steps needed to address this. Your name may have been added because you had an opportunity to challenge a finding by appealing and missed the window to do so. There may be other reasons your name was added. In many cases, there are actions you can take, and it is here that you may find the representation of a legal team skilled in defending clients against claims of child abuse and neglect to be of value. The nuances and sensitivity of defending such a claim can take a heavy mental and physical toll. Requesting guidance from professionals in this area may be a wise idea.
If you are facing an accusation of child abuse or neglect in Cumberland County, contact an attorney with a background in this area. If you are within the window of time during which you can file an appeal, you could potentially prevent your name from being published in the ChildLine registry.
How can a legal team help you file an appeal? One option is to request that the Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF) conduct an administrative review of any findings. (The Central Regional office in Scranton oversees this process for Cumberland County.) Alternatively, you could request a hearing in front of the OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (BHA).
If the previous two avenues are unsuccessful, you can further appeal the BHA decision to the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. At this stage, you could provide evidence that supports your defense and potentially have any findings against you overturned. To do so, you will need to show specifically how the incident(s) described in the report did not correctly state what did or did not happen. If you have witnesses who you feel would support your defense, you would list their names at this point and articulate what potential testimony and evidence they would bring to the case. Finally, you can supply any documentation you have supporting your case.
Unless Pennsylvania can show that there is “clear and convincing” evidence supporting the accusation, your name could then be removed from the ChildLine registry.
If the state does believe there is such evidence, they may rule not in your favor. In this case, you have 15 days to request a review of the appeal by the Department of Human Services. Many people under such circumstances find that 15 days is not a lot of time to prepare for such an important appeal and choose to have a legal team handle this expeditiously. An appeal at this point does have a chance; out of 86 appeals, 34 were overturned by the Secretary of DHS.
How to Get Your Name Expunged From ChildLine
If your name has been listed on the ChildLine registry, you may still have a chance to have it removed. Particularly if you have new evidence that supports your defense, or if authorities believe you no longer present a risk, the Secretary of the DHS may decide to remove your name.
Joseph D. Lento and his Criminal Defense Team bring hard-earned experience to the table, winning appeals for the accused in Cumberland County and throughout Pennsylvania.
Those being investigated for child abuse or neglect find that having legal counsel on hand gives them an upper hand, helping ensure that questions are asked fairly and clearly and that you understand each question before you answer. The best time to arrange for legal representation is before an investigation is even opened because it can be more complex to undo any damage you may have caused in your case after the fact. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will also remain in communication with the investigator to eliminate surprises and get play-by-play updates. Timeliness is key.
If someone has issued a ChildLine report implicating you, you face being investigated by Cumberland County Children & Youth Services, or your name has already been added to the Childline registry, contact Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team. They are extensively familiar with Pennsylvania's child abuse reporting system and can protect your rights. They understand the system's intricacies and how the anonymous reporting system can be manipulated by those seeking revenue or in the context of custody disputes or divorce hearings.
If you plan to defend accusations made against you, you will find value in seeking guidance from a legal team who has practiced in this area for years and can protect your rights and reputation. Call Joseph D. Lento today at 888.535.3686, or through the Lento Law Firm to set up a confidential consultation. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is here for you.