Being accused of child abuse is one of the most terrifying and overwhelming things that can happen to a person. No matter who reported you, the result is always the same: sleepless nights, excessive stress, and the mental and emotional scars that result from undergoing intense investigations into your personal and professional life.
The truth is child abuse reports happen every day, and while children absolutely need to be protected from actual abusers, many child abuse reports are made from spite, anger, boredom, or misinformation. And often, these reports are made as strategies to better the outcome of a divorce, custody dispute, or even child support cases. For instance, the number of reported child abuse cases in 2021 totaled 38,013, yet only 5,036 could be substantiated. That's just 13.2%.
In Pennsylvania, most child abuse reports are made anonymously through the state's “ChildLine” reporting system. The ability to make reports anonymously just adds to the occurrence of false or ill-informed reporting. Moreover, once child abuse reports are determined to be unsubstantiated and, thus, dropped, there's no way to hold these anonymous reporters accountable.
Besides just being embarrassed by being falsely accused of child abuse, most people go through significant mental anguish. This stress and anxiety can last long after the charges are dropped and their name is cleared. It can make even the most stable person feel paranoid and depressed.
If you are accused of child abuse through ChildLine, it is important you reach out to a skilled defense attorney immediately. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understand the pressure you are under. They will work tirelessly to ensure your life is not disrupted by such heinous allegations. Call 888-535-3686 today for help.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Dauphin County
In Dauphin County, child abuse reports are managed by the Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth (DCSSCY). When a suspected case of child abuse is reported through the Pennsylvania ChildLine system, it is delivered to DCSSCY. DCSSCY then investigates the complaint to determine if there is any credence to it. In 2021, 1,110 cases of child abuse were reported, and with DCSSCY's help, 874 were dropped because they could not be validated.
When a resident of Dauphin County is notified that they are under investigation for alleged child abuse or that they have been put on the ChildLine registry because of a child abuse investigation, the first thing to do is hire an attorney. Attorney Lento has spent years helping individuals in similar situations navigate these investigations, hopefully mitigating any negative consequences that might arise. No one should be accused – or found responsible – of child abuse without strong corroborating evidence. Attorney Lento will ensure your due process rights are not forgotten during this process.
What Is the ChildLine System
ChildLine is a statewide child protective services program that receives both verbal and written reports of child abuse and other child well-being concerns. They are available 24.7, and the moment the information reaches them, they forward it to the appropriate investigating agency. In Dauphin County, the agency responsible for investigating suspected child abuse is DCSSCY.
Additionally, ChildLine maintains an online registry of individuals who have been found responsible for child abuse. This registry is available to employers who are doing background checks on current or prospective employees. While this list is supposed to only be for individuals involved in confirmed cases, there are instances where people are placed on the ChildLine registry before they have a chance to appeal the DCSSCY's decision, which can seriously impact both their livelihood and their mental health. Thus, it is crucial that you check this registry regularly after you are notified of a claim made against you to ensure your name has not ended up on the registry prior to your hearing or appeal. And if it has, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made
Once the Pennsylvania ChildLine receives a report of alleged child abuse transpiring in Dauphin County, it will forward the report to the DCSSCY. DCSSCY will then start an investigation into the matter. Initially, this investigation will remain internal, and the investigators will review the report and determine what kind of behavior is being alleged and if it establishes incidents of child abuse.
If the behavior in the report constitutes child abuse, the DCSSCY will begin a more formal investigation, including reaching out to and questioning the person being named in the report. Investigations can be overwhelming on their own, never mind when they have been made out of spite. You will likely be interviewed by the DCSSCY investigator, which usually takes place in your home.
The DCSSCY might also request to interview anyone living with you, including any children that might be there, your family and friends, and anyone else they believe might be able to help them sort through the investigation. And this might just be the start. Often, these initial interviews become follow-up interviews, stretching the investigation out until a decision is made as to whether the DCSSCY should add your name to the ChildLine registry.
This entire process can be nerve-wracking, especially if it stretches on. Working with an experienced Criminal Defense Team is really the only way to prevent significant consequences from befalling you.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Investigated by a Child Line Investigator
In the United States, all individuals have certain due process rights that federal agencies must abide by. If they fail to provide these due process rights or violate them in some other way, their decisions could be easily overturned. As such, most agencies are keen to follow the rules, but many times they still fail to do so.
One of your due process rights is to be represented by an attorney. A key investigative tactic is to make the accused feel at ease around the investigator. They will try to make you feel comfortable – like they are your friend, and you can trust them. It is important to see through this charade and not meet with the investigator without your attorney present. Your attorney will review the report prior to your meeting and ensure everything is in order. Then during the interview, they will ensure the investigator asks clear questions and that you understand them prior to answering.
Attorney Lento is an experienced criminal defense attorney who has spent his career helping individuals accused of child abuse in Dauphin County and all over Pennsylvania. Together with the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team, he will be in your corner, sitting by your side throughout the entire process. Moreover, he will continue to negotiate on your behalf with the investigator and the DCSSCY outside of the interviews. There have been times when these additional negotiations have helped resolve the issue prior to it being presented in front of a judge or jury.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides to Confirm an Abuse Report Against You
After the initial interviews, the ChildLine investigator will decide whether to confirm the report of child abuse or have it dismissed. If they determine that the child abuse report is valid, they will place the accused individual's name on the registry immediately. This is another reason it is so important to work with a skilled attorney. They will make sure you are aware of the situation and work to have your name removed until after your appeal.
Having your name on the ChildLine registry can have a disastrous impact on your reputation and life as a whole. You must appeal the DCSSCY's decision as soon as possible to mitigate any negative consequences you might face.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
There are several ways to appeal a ChildLine abuse finding. Generally, you have 90 days to make your appeal. That being said, those 90 days will fly by, so you must work quickly to file your appeal.
The first option is to ask the Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) to conduct an administrative review of the finding the DCSSCY made against you. Alternatively, you can skip the administrative review and request that the OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) conduct a formal hearing.
BHA appeals are not court proceedings, so if you opt for one, you will not be presenting your case in the courtroom. Unfortunately, this means that the rules of evidence are relaxed, which opens up the possibility of evidence being presented that wouldn't normally be admissible in the courtroom.
During the BHA appeal hearing, you will have the chance to present relevant evidence that proves that ChildLine registry finding should be overturned. Even though this is not a court case, the state has the burden of proving, with clear and convincing evidence, that you committed the acts alleged in the ChildLine report. If they cannot do so, their determination of responsibility will be reversed, and your name will be dropped from the registry.
However, if the BHA determines that the registry finding should be upheld and does not approve your appeal, you can actually request an additional appeal from the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Human Services. They will review the appeal and determine if the BHA's decision should be upheld or overturned. This is a clear benefit of choosing to bypass the OCYF's administrative review for the BHA's appeal hearing, as this additional appeal is not possible under the first option.
It also should be noted that there have been a lot of cases overturned by the Secretary of the Department of Human Services in the past. In fact, in 2021 alone, out of 86 appeals, 34 were reversed. But to be truly successful in your appeal, you need the advice and guidance of a knowledgeable attorney. This is especially true if you are feeling burned out and exhausted by the initial investigation process.
Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will ensure your appeal is not only prepared perfectly but that it is as effective as possible. They have worked with countless residents in Dauphin County and elsewhere in Pennsylvania and know how to craft a strategic appeal to ChildLine registry listings.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
Having your ChildLine registry entry expunged is difficult but not impossible, even if you've been on it for a long time. The Secretary of the Department of Human Services will remove a name from the registry and expunge its entrance if there is fresh evidence that was recently discovered that shows the claim of abuse was erroneous. Another option to have your name expunged from the registry is to show that you do not present a risk of committing child abuse. In this case, there is no public purpose for keeping you on the registry, so the Secretary is more inclined to remove you.
How Lento Law Firm Can Help
Child abuse is a serious crime that deserves a serious set of consequences. Unfortunately, many complaints made to the Pennsylvania ChildLine are done so out of malicious intentions, falsely accusing innocent individuals. Once a complaint is made through ChildLine and the Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth is made aware of the complaint, those falsely accused individuals are forced to suffer through uncomfortable interviews, stressful hearings, and desperate appeals.
If you or someone you love has been accused of a ChildLine report of abuse, or is looking to appeal an unsuccessful interview process, Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. They know how the system works and will use this knowledge as leverage for your defense, guaranteeing you the best possible outcome for your case. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online. You don't need to feel stressed, exhausted, and frustrated. Our attorneys have the experience you need to protect yourself.