Child abuse reports in Pennsylvania can be made through the ChildLine reporting system. Unfortunately, the ChildLine system allows anonymous reporting, which means anyone can make a report without any evidence to support it. This also means that people can make reports out of spite, anger, or even boredom, and they can force you to suffer through serious consequences that will impact all areas of your life.
In 2021, there were 133 claims of child abuse in Elk County, but only 44 could be substantiated. This means that nearly two-thirds of the claims were unfounded and potentially made out of malicious intent. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team knows what's at stake for you, and they have the fighting spirit to help you get through this period of stress. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Elk County
In Elk County, the Office of Children and Youth Services (ECCYS) manages ChildLine reports that are made about incidents that supposedly occurred within the county. After the office receives the ChildLine report, they will launch a preliminary investigation to ensure there is credence to the claim. Then, they will begin the official investigation.
What Is the ChildLine System
In Pennsylvania, they created the ChildLine program to record complaints about child abuse or child well-being concerns. Once a report is made in the system, the program will forward it to the Elk County Children and Youth Services (ECCYS) office. ECCYS will begin investigating the claim immediately and determine whether it is founded or not.
Further, the ChildLine program also involves a registry of individuals who have been found guilty of committing child abuse in Pennsylvania. The ChildLine registry is a government agency and database, and, as such, can be pulled up during background checks. So, any future employment or volunteering opportunity that requires a background check will pull the registry entry.
However, a defendant's name is not supposed to be added to the ChildLine registry until after a full investigation is conducted. When a defendant is found guilty of child abuse and placed on the registry, they do have the option to appeal the decision. But their name will stay on the registry until the appeal is approved. As such, it is incredibly important to present a strong defense before, during, and after ECCYS's investigation to ensure you do not have to suffer unnecessary and harsh consequences.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made
After the ChildLine system receives a claim of child abuse, they will refer it to the ECCYS. As we explained above, ECCYS will review the matter and decide if an investigation is warranted. If it is, they will appoint an investigator to interview the accused individual, the complainant (if known), and anyone else they see fit, including the accused's family, friends, employers, employees, or co-workers.
Having someone poke around the inner parts of your life is more than uncomfortable; it's frustrating, exhausting, and scary, leaving the accused individual emotionally, mentally, and physically bereft. What's more, if the investigator believes the accusations are true, based on the evidence and testimony they've gathered, they will find the defendant guilty and place their name on the ChildLine registry.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Investigated by a Child Line Investigator
ECCYS is a government agency; as such, their investigators are government agents who must uphold your due process rights. If they fail to do so or infringe on them in some other way, their decisions can be overturned.
While due process rights sound like some sort of buzzphrase, they actually consist of a number of rights that protect you from governmental persecution. For example, the right to a fair trial or competent counsel are due process rights. To guarantee these rights are maintained throughout the investigation, the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will not only prepare you to answer interview questions but also be present during the interviews to advocate on your behalf.
Often, investigators will employ negotiation tactics to try and get defendants to open up more. One such tactic is trying to become the defendant's friend. The idea that finding common ground helps defendants feel more at ease and thus prone to talking more is not a new one. Countless law enforcement officials have employed such tactics for decades. However, by having your attorney present at the time of the interview, they will make sure the investigator does not take advantage of you or your answers.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides to Confirm an Abuse Report Against You
The investigator's interview ends once they believe they have enough evidence to find the child abuse claim founded and place the accused individual's name on the ChildLine registry. Once a name is placed on the ChildLine registry, it will immediately begin to affect the accused person's life. It could force you to move, change jobs, drop out of school, or alter your friendships. Not only can this experience be lonely and isolating, but it can also drastically affect your ability to make ends meet and take care of yourself and your family.
Hiring the LLF Law Firm is the only way to guarantee the best possible outcome for your case. You must be prepared to answer the investigator's questions and posit possible scenarios to show your innocence. If you show up unprepared and try to “wing it,” you will be extremely unsuccessful, which will force you to stay stagnant until you can get the decision overturned. LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will review the complaint and prepare you for the worst of it. Don't try to navigate this process alone. Let us help.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
ChildLine investigations are exhausting. The investigators poke into your inner life, exposing these accusations to friends, family, co-workers, and employers. Then, after all that, if you are placed on the registry, it can be hard to push yourself to file an appeal.
However, ChildLine registry entry appeals are your last chance to prove that you are innocent. LLF Law Firm understands how overwhelming this step of the process can be, so they will work overtime to help shoulder the burden for you, giving you room to breathe.
In Elk County, there are two ways to appeal a ChildLine abuse finding. Either way, you have about 90 days to file this appeal with the Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) in Pennsylvania. Ninety days may sound like a lot of time, but it will go by very quickly once the clock starts to tick. Don't waste any time; contact LLF Law Firm today.
As there are two paths to a ChildLine appeal, the first step is figuring out which one is more beneficial for your case. You can either request an administrative review from OCYF where they will review ECCYS's findings or you can request the OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) conduct a formal hearing. The Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you decide which to pursue.
If you pursue the BHA appeal, you will have the chance to present evidence and witness testimony to support your case. Prior to the appeal hearing, the LLF Law Firm Team will begin its own investigation into the matter and use that information to create your defense. After you have finished presenting your side, the BHA will review it and decide whether the ChildLine registry entry should be removed.
While a BHA appeal hearing may feel like a classic courtroom hearing, it is different and will not be held to the same standards as the courtroom. However, the state does have the burden of proving you committed the alleged child abuse by clear and convincing evidence. This evidentiary benchmark forces the state to present evidence that shows it is more likely than not that the individual committed the crime alleged.
When the burden is on the state to prove this, an aspect of the defendant's argument will be used to poke holes in the state's evidence and show that there is more than one reason the evidence exists. For instance, if the state presents evidence of text messages between a child victim and, supposedly, the defendant, which is sexual in nature, the defense will present evidence that shows the phone belonged to another individual and a fake phone number was being used. Thus, the state would be unable to show clearly and convincingly that the text messages were evidence of child abuse between the child victim and the defendant.
In instances where the BHA decides to uphold the ChildLine registry entry, you have the option of appealing that decision to the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Human Services. The Secretary will evaluate the BHA's finding and determine if it should be reversed and, thus, the entry deleted from the database or upheld.
Moreover, if you decide to pursue an administrative review instead of the BHA appeal, you cannot appeal it further. Whatever the OCYF decides, it is final.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
When your ChildLine registry entry is taken down, there may still be a record of it. And, in certain situations, this record can be accessed. To prevent this from happening and to erase any evidence of a ChildLine registry entry, you must get it expunged.
Failing to pursue an expungement, even if it is removed from the database, can still impact your life. For instance, if you are a school teacher or a pediatric nurse who is looking to switch jobs, your future employer may see the entry on a background check and decide not to hire you. Alternatively, if you are trying to join the Pennsylvania bar, the character and fitness screening may show the entry and prevent you from being accepted.
If you are unable to get employed at, or cannot qualify for admission to, new organizations, you will have a hard time taking care of yourself or your family, whether monetarily or emotionally. The only way to ensure something like this does not happen is to pursue an expungement petition.
To have your ChildLine registry entry expunged in Elk County, you first need to petition the Secretary of the Department of Human Services for the state of Pennsylvania. The Secretary will assess your petition to see if you have presented either new evidence that proves the original abuse claim was made erroneously or evidence that you are no longer at risk of committing child abuse. If you can show proof of either of these things, the Secretary should expunge your ChildLine registry entry.
Many accused individuals get so burned out completing the initial investigation process and appeal hearing that they decide not to pursue the expungement petition. Unfortunately, the consequences they experience cause more exhaustion, overwhelm, and stress than the actual petition would have. LLF Law Firm will help ease this burden, giving you a chance to breathe and still pursue your freedom.
How LLF Law Firm Can Help
Child abuse is a serious crime that warrants severe consequences, but we can all agree that these severe consequences should only be endured by individuals who are actually guilty of the crime. In Elk County, Pennsylvania, hundreds of child abuse accusations are made to ChildLine each year, yet dozens are proven false every day. Moreover, many of these accusations are made out of hatred or spite, sometimes even boredom. When this happens, innocent individuals are being subjected to horrific consequences for no reason.