Maybe you've received a letter in the mail notifying you that you are under investigation for a ChildLine report, however you haven't ever heard of ChildLine. This article will help you understand what ChildLine is, and most importantly, by the end, you'll have a better grasp of the process of a ChildLine investigation. Taking action immediately is key—a ChildLine report can drastically impact your future employment, earnings, and volunteer capabilities. An attorney well-versed in ChildLine reports can help you more easily navigate the process.
What Triggers a ChildLine Investigation?
A ChildLine investigation is triggered after someone (usually a mandated reporter) contacts Pennsylvania’s ChildLine. Individuals will either call the toll-free number (1-800-932-0313), or if they are mandatory reporters, they may access the Child Welfare Portal to complete their report.
Many industries or sectors have mandated reporting as a condition of maintaining your license or credentials. The list of types of mandatory reporters might surprise you. Some examples include:
- Law enforcement officials
- Teachers or classroom aides
- Psychologists, therapists, and social workers
- Volunteers who serve in activities where they interact with children
- Medical practitioners, such as doctors, nurses, and Pas
- Foster parents
- Religious or congregational leaders
Although this list is non-comprehensive, it does offer an indication of how mandatory reporting is taken seriously in a broad range of industries. An easy way to think of it is that if an individual works or volunteers in a situation where they might encounter children, there's a high likelihood that they are legally obligated to report any suspected abuse or neglect.
What is a ChildLine Investigation?
A ChildLine investigation is what occurs after the ChildLine Abuse Registry gets notice of suspected abuse or neglect. After ChildLine has processed the report, they pass it on to the relevant Child, Youth, and Family (CYF) services agency within no more than 24 hours. There are various names for the CYF offices — including the Department of Child & Youth — throughout Pennsylvania, so depending on what county you live in, it may be known by a different name. The CYF office will then assign a social worker to determine the validity of the report. Although each county's office has its own process, there are four main components that might be included across the board.
- Screening – the office decides whether or not the call merits investigation
- Intake unit – intake caseworkers are the individuals who investigate reports and interact with the family. Usually, these are social workers or other trained persons.
- Ongoing services – situations where the family needs ongoing services usually result in assignment to a new caseworker
- Placement or adoption – sometimes, circumstances demand placement in foster families or adoption. In these instances, caseworkers who work in this area will usually work with them.
In some counties, there may be overlap; One unit may be responsible for both screening and intake, or there may be only one unit, and each caseworker works within all four areas. It varies, so make sure that you check with your specific county.
Once the caseworker begins the investigation, two things usually occur. First, there will be a risk assessment. Second, the caseworker will determine whether or not the allegation or reported abuse and neglect actually took place. Let's take a closer look at the standards for the risk assessment.
Standards for Risk Assessment
55 Pa. Code § 3490.321 details the state regulations for the standards for risk assessment. It lists five requirements for the standards:
- Statement of purpose for the process
- Recordkeeping requirements
- Process for getting Pennsylvania to approve
- Core factors that will be used for assessing the risk
- The application of the process and all the steps therein
When the caseworker comes to assess the risk factors, they will rate them on the following scale: no risk, low risk, moderate risk, and high risk. The statute only lists three categories of factors. However, those three factors expand to include a much broader assessment. The factors are:
- Characteristics of the primary person responsible for the child's care (this could be a parent, a caregiver, or another member of the household), including any history of drug or alcohol abuse
- The characteristics of the environment where the abuse or neglect purportedly took place, including any prior history of abuse or neglect
- Characteristics of the family and all of its members not included in #1. This includes any history of family violence.
Although each county has its own assessments and implementation of these statutes, the University of Pittsburgh's “Reference Manual for the Pennsylvania Model of Risk Assessment,” updated in 2015, offers a look into what some of these might look like in practice. The manual divides the assessment into 15 factors, segmented into three areas (child factors, caregiver/household members, and family environment factors). For our purposes, here's a list of the fifteen factors, taken directly from the manual.
- Severity/Frequency and/or Recentness of Abuse/Neglect
- Prior Abuse/Neglect
- Extent of Emotional Harm
Caregiver/Household Member/Perpetrator Factors
- Age, Physical, Intellectual, or Emotional Status
- Parenting Skill/Knowledge
- Alcohol/Substance Abuse
- Access to Children
- Prior Abuse/Neglect
- Parental Relationship with Child
Family Environment Factors
- Family Violence
- Condition of the Home
- Family Supports
If you want to examine more thoroughly the descriptions of each, you can explore the manual, which is available as a pdf.
What Happens Next?
In instances where there's a concern for the child's immediate safety, then either the social worker or the law enforcement official will find the child right away. They may even remove the child from their school or home in an effort to protect the child. If there isn't a concern for immediate safety, then by Pennsylvania state law, all reports must be looked into within 24 hours of being made. A caseworker will reach out to the family and conduct a home visit, usually, where they will begin to evaluate the risk factors listed above.
Once the investigation is complete, the caseworker will assign one of several statuses to the report. These statuses are:
An unfounded report means that the caseworker did not find sufficient evidence to support the allegation of abuse or neglect made in the ChildLine report. An indicated report is when the OCYF or CPS has found sufficient evidence in support of the allegations of abuse or neglect. Neither of these two statuses involve any sort of judicial hearing or due process. They're purely based on the caseworker's impressions and documentation. A founded report is most often associated with a hearing and is based on a judicial decision that the abuse or neglect took place.
How Long Will an Investigation Take?
Generally, investigations take 30 calendar days. There is, however, some flexibility with this, and in instances where caseworkers aren't able to complete the investigation in that time frame, they can document why the investigation is still open. Once they complete the documentation, the clock resets, and they have another 30 days to work on (and complete) the case. Sometimes, you'll see “pending” listed as a status. When this happens, it's because there's either a criminal or juvenile court action in progress. All in all, most investigations should take no more than 60 calendar days.
Is it Possible to Appeal the Findings of a ChildLine Investigation And How Do You Do So?
It is possible to appeal a ChildLine Investigation finding. Not only is it possible, but it's important to do so. Although it's ideal to take action prior to receiving notice of a finding, if you haven't done so, there are still options. You'll know that an investigation has closed when you receive written notice from DHS with the determinations from the report. If you want to appeal the finding, you should speak with an attorney who can help you file the paperwork and prepare for the administrative hearing. You must file your request for an appeal within 90 days of receiving notice of the determination of the report. 55 Pa. Code Section 3490.106a and 23 Pa. Code Section 6341 outline the process for hearings and appeals of ChildLine findings.
Talented Pennsylvania ChildLine Investigations Defense Attorney
When your future employment, earnings, and volunteer opportunities are on the line because of a ChildLine investigation, you don't want to waste time by trying to navigate it on your own. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have successfully helped many families over the years when faced with similar circumstances. An attorney can advise you about which steps will have the most (and best) impact. Understanding how to protect your rights in a ChildLine investigation — which has no due process — can mean the difference between having your name on the ChildLine Registry and keeping it off of it. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 or reach out online for more information.