Facing accusations of child abuse is a serious matter that can adversely affect many areas of your life. Virtually anyone can report you for suspected child abuse, be it a former spouse or romantic partner, a friend or neighbor, or a physician or childcare provider. No matter who reported you or the circumstances surrounding the report, the ordeal has likely caused you many sleepless nights and constant worry throughout the day.
What's worse, the person who reported you could have ulterior motives for doing so, and many people are falsely accused of child abuse by their spouses during contentious divorce proceedings as a way to villainize the other parent so they can gain full custody of their children. Other times, false accusations can come from those seeking revenge, or the person who submitted the report may have simply misinterpreted the evidence of abuse they think they saw in a child when no abuse actually occurred.
The problem is more common than you may think. In 2021, there were 7235 reports of suspected child abuse filed in Pennsylvania, but only 7.4 were substantiated. Many of these reports came from people who have no legal obligation to file reports of suspected child abuse.
The mental toll a false allegation of child abuse can have on you cannot be understated. Even if officials can't substantiate the report, just being accused of child abuse can impact your reputation and even your job. If officials add your name to Pennsylvania's ChildLine registry as a result of the report, you could have a difficult time trying to remedy the situation, and you will need an attorney for help appealing the decision.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Delaware County
The Delaware County Office of Children and Youth Services (CYS) is a division of the Department of Human Services. Its mission is to provide “immediate safety and protection of children.” CYS investigates all allegations of child abuse and neglect made through Pennsylvania's ChildLine reporting system, and the agency provides other services, such as counseling and support, to abused children and their families. The agency has offices in Eddystone and Upper Darby that serve families according to their child's school district.
Delaware County has a population of more than 564,000, with nearly 125,000 residents under the age of 18. In 2021 CYS received 1,030 reports of suspected child abuse, with 111 of those being substantiated.
If you have received notice CYS is investigating you for alleged child abuse, or if your name is already on the ChildLine registry, you should contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team right away. They have helped many clients in Delaware County and across Pennsylvania with their issues involving child abuse accusations and Childline registry entries.
What Is Pennsylvania's ChildLine System?
Pennsylvania has created a statewide child abuse reporting system for residents to use who feel the need to report suspected child abuse. The system is available 24/7, and parties may submit reports online or by telephone. When someone submits a report through ChildLine, officials forward the report to the appropriate authorities, which is the CYS department for reports of alleged abuse that occurred in Delaware County.
Along with providing a method for people to report suspected child abuse, ChildLine also maintains a registry, or list, of individuals who have substantiated reports of child abuse against them. The registry is open to the public, and anyone can search it. This includes not only your friends and neighbors but also your current employer or a prospective employer you apply to who then runs a background check on you.
In many cases, people have their names added to the ChildLine registry without having first had the opportunity to appeal the decision or defend themselves. Sometimes, people are totally unaware there are on the registry because they did not receive notice.
The moment you learn CYS is investigating you for alleged child abuse or you discover your name is on the ChildLine registry, you must contact an attorney immediately to safeguard your rights and help you appeal the decision.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?
Although anyone can submit a report through ChildLine, Pennsylvania law recognizes two categories of reporters: mandated and permissive reporters.
Mandated reporters refer to individuals who work in certain fields, such as teachers, doctors, social workers, and law enforcement officers. They can also include members of the clergy and daycare workers. State law requires these people to report suspected child abuse or neglect when they discover evidence themselves or receive reports from others. If they fail to report the matter, they could face criminal consequences themselves.
Because of their position and profession, mandated reporters are considered to be more trustworthy and expected to act in good faith when reporting suspected child abuse. Oftentimes, officials place more weight on reports mandated reporters submit. However, false accusations can still come from mandated reporters for a variety of reasons.
Permissive reporters are people who do not have a legal obligation to report child abuse, which can be just about anyone. An individual needs to have only reasonable cause to suspect child abuse, and they can report the matter anonymously.
What Happens After a Report Is Made ChildLine?
When ChildLine receives a report of suspected child abuse in Delaware County, the report will be forwarded to CYS for review. An investigator will examine the report and determine whether it has merit. If so, they will investigate the claim further. This is when things can become very stressful and challenging for the individual being investigated.
A CYS investigation can feel invasive because the investigator usually goes to the person's home and asks a lot of personal questions. Also, the ordeal can be particularly shocking and confusing to the accused if someone filed the report maliciously, and the accused had no reasonable way of knowing they were going to be in this situation because they have never harmed anyone's children, including their own.
During their investigation, the CYS investigator may interview others in your home, including other children, as well as your friends and neighbors. They may even interview your employer and co-workers, which can lead to serious issues at work, even if the accusations ultimately prove to be baseless.
All in all, the investigation and follow-ups will take a considerable toll on your life, and you need to know where to turn for help.
What You Can Do If You Are Being Investigated by CYS
No matter the allegations against you or who filed the report, you have rights, and one of those rights is to have an attorney represent you. You need a knowledgeable legal advocate on your side who can protect your rights and help you fight for your future.
You should have an attorney with you during any interviews with a CYS investigator or any other child protection services official. Many times, investigators will try to make you think they're on your side or act very friendly toward you, so you will put your guard down. Also, investigators may ask you questions that are unclear, or they could ask misleading questions to try to gain a false confession or get statements they can use against you to establish your guilt.
You should always be as cooperative and honest as possible, but you also don't want to inadvertently implicate yourself. An astute attorney can advise you on how to best respond to the investigator and ensure the investigator is playing by the rules.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team have many years of experience assisting people in Delaware County who are under investigation by CYS or any other Pennsylvania or municipal child protection agency. They can advise you during the investigation and stay in contact with the investigator to offer any exonerating evidence that could clear you of the accusations.
What Happens if a CYS Investigator Confirms the Abuse Report?
A Delaware County CYS investigator may place your name on the ChildLine registry almost immediately if they confirm, or substantiate, the report of child abuse against you. What's worse, you could have no idea you're on the registry, and the situation puts you at a considerable disadvantage because you are now marked with a substantiated report of child abuse.
It is vital that you contact an attorney the moment you learn your name is on the registry for advice regarding your options.
Appealing a ChildLine Abuse Decision
If you want to appeal the decision to place your name on the ChildLine registry, you must act quickly, as you typically only have 90 days to request an appeal. You may appeal the decision in one of two ways:
- Ask your attorney to petition the Delaware County CYS to conduct an administrative review of the decision.
- Have your lawyer request a hearing from the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (BHA).
For Delaware County, your BHA appeal will most likely be heard in the Philadelphia State Office Building. Note that the administrative hearing is not the same thing as a court trial. There are substantial differences regarding rules of evidence and evidentiary procedure and other areas.
At the administrative hearing, CYS officials only need to provide “clear and convincing” evidence to determine that you likely committed abuse. They do not have to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a good thing in that your lawyer may present evidence to refute the allegations, and if officials cannot exhibit evidence of your guilt, they should remove your name from the ChildLine registry.
If the CYS or BHA appeal does not rule in your favor, you may have your attorney request an appeal with the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS). You have only 15 days after the decision to file an appeals request, and it may be your only option for finding relief.
The appeals process is important and not something you want to handle on your own. You need a knowledgeable legal advocate to represent you and help you build the strongest appeal possible.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team have in-depth knowledge of Pennsylvania's child abuse and protection laws and considerable experience with all areas of the investigation and appeals process. They can help you devise an effective defense or appeal and protect your rights and future.
Expunging Your Name From the ChildLine Registry
If Delaware County CYS officials or the BHA appeal rules in your favor, they should expunge your name from the ChildLine registry. However, even if your name has been on the registry for some time, you may have options to expunge it.
The Secretary of the DHS may expunge your ChildLine registry if any of the following applies:
- New evidence comes to light that shows the initial report of abuse was bogus or inaccurate
- Officials determine you pose no threat of child abuse, and no public purpose exists for keeping your name on the ChildLine registry.
How The Lento Law Firm Can Help
Whether you are under investigation by Delaware County CYS or you learn your name is on the ChildLine registry, you should contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team right away.
They have years of experience and extensive knowledge to help you make the most informed decisions, and they have assisted many people throughout Delaware County and throughout Pennsylvania with obtaining favorable outcomes regarding child abuse investigations and ChildLine registries.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands how Pennsylvania's child protection services operate, and they have seen how false allegations upend and ruin the lives of innocent people.
Do not let this happen to you. No matter the reason for your legal issues, you have the right to answer all allegations and clear your good name. For help, you need to call Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team today at 888.535.3686 or go online and complete their contact form to request a confidential consultation.