Many residents of Delaware County are aware of Pennsylvania's ChildLine program, which allows people to call a toll-free number and report suspected child abuse or neglect. It's comforting to know that anyone can put wheels in motion to help a child who may be in danger. However, when you find yourself the subject of a ChildLine referral — meaning someone has called the number and made accusations against you — it can be shocking and scary. One call can wreak havoc on your life. The call may cause you to lose your job or a professional license. It may lead to changes in a child custody arrangement. It could prevent you from volunteering with certain organizations. You could find yourself ostracized by family, friends, and neighbors. The call could also lead to criminal charges being filed against you. One call can trigger a domino effect of trouble.
If you are the subject of a ChildLine referral, you need to act quickly with the goal of minimizing the problems that can arise. You need experienced and knowledgeable legal representation to guide you through what is a stressful and confusing investigatory procedure. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. Attorneys with the firm understand the ChildLine process and know how Delaware County handles matters of suspected child abuse. An attorney from the firm can go over the details of your case, answer your questions, explain how the matter will proceed, discuss your options, and work to reach the best outcome possible. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you no matter where you are in Delaware County. From Chester to Media to Newtown Square to Springfield and in all surrounding towns, the LLF Law Firm is your best choice for legal assistance. Reach out to our office at 888-535-3686 or use this online form to contact us.
What Is Pennsylvania's ChildLine System?
Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services set up the ChildLine system so anyone can report instances of child abuse or neglect by calling a toll-free number. The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, every day. Callers do not have to give their names and can remain anonymous. In addition to taking calls, the ChildLine program maintains a database of people who have been accused of abuse and those who have been determined to be abusers. The database is called the registry. One group of names covers people who are labeled as “pending.” This means someone has been accused of abuse, but authorities have not finished investigating the matter. Another group is labeled as “indicated.” This means that following an investigation, authorities determined that there was substantial evidence of child abuse. Other people are labeled as “founded.” This means there has been a judicial ruling (arising from a guilty plea or trial verdict, for example) that substantial evidence of abuse existed. On the other hand, when authorities find that allegations of abuse are groundless, the person who was under investigation is listed as “unfounded.” So, when ChildLine receives a call, and someone is accused of abuse or neglect, their name is going to be listed in the registry under one of these labels.
Members of the public cannot access the registry, but some employers are allowed to view the listed names when conducting background checks. Employers will view the registry when an employee or potential employee may be working directly with children or coming into contact with them in any number of circumstances.
Being listed in the ChildLine registry is exactly what it sounds like. Your name is listed. This is not the same as a criminal matter. Some child abuse allegations may result in criminal charges and a guilty plea or a conviction, but the registry is a separate thing. But that does not make it any less important. Being listed in the registry is serious business, and it can lead to devastating consequences.
What Is a ChildLine Referral?
After someone calls ChildLine and reports suspected child abuse or neglect, the hotline staff refer the case to the relevant county's child, youth, and family services department within 24 hours. The hotline staff may also contact law enforcement if it appears that a criminal offense has been committed against a child. After a referral is made to the county, department employees review the accusations and decide whether an investigation is warranted. If an investigation is necessary, the department must complete it within 60 days. Investigators can contact anyone who may have knowledge of the case, such as the person facing accusations, family members, spouses and ex-spouses, friends, coworkers, and children. Depending on the circumstances, the county investigators may work with law enforcement to investigate the matter.
If someone has called ChildLine about you and there has been a referral to Delaware County, LLF Law Firm is ready to guide you. The firm's skillful attorneys will strive for the best resolution of the case since they know what is at stake.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Referral?
Anyone who is concerned that a child is being abused or neglected can voluntarily call ChildLine and make a report. These callers, who can remain anonymous, are known as “permissive” reporters. A permissive reporter may be anyone, such as a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a total stranger. Certain other people, known as “mandated” reporters, are required under Pennsylvania law to report suspected abuse by virtue of their jobs. These individuals include, for example, childcare workers, healthcare professionals, law enforcement officers, religious leaders, school employees, and social workers. People who volunteer to work with children as part of an activity or program are also considered mandated reporters. These volunteers include youth sports coaches, for example. Mandated reporters must report suspected abuse, and if they don't, they can face criminal charges.
A mandated reporter can call ChildLine to make a report or they can use the program's electronic submission portal. However, a mandated reporter cannot remain anonymous. The individual must provide their name and contact information. ChildLine keeps this information confidential. Pennsylvania also shields mandated reporters from liability unless they intentionally make a false report of abuse.
Of course, there are situations when a permissive or mandated reporter makes a false report because they were mistaken. There are also situations when a reporter, whether permissive or mandated, acts in bad faith and makes a false report on purpose. Even though a report is false, it can still be damaging to an accused person. If you are in Delaware County and believe allegations made against you are groundless, you cannot ignore them. You need to fight with the assistance of a strong legal team, and the LLF Law Firm has that team.
ChildLine Referrals in Delaware County
Delaware County's Department of Human Services has a Children and Youth Services (CYS) division that handles suspected abuse and neglect cases when a report comes in from ChildLine. There are two offices that handle cases, with matters assigned based on the school district encompassing the area where the child in question lives. The Eddystone office handles cases for children in these school districts:
- Garnet Valley;
- Rose Tree-Media; and
The Upper Darby office handles cases for children in the following school districts:
- Southeast Delco;
- Upper Darby; and
- William Penn.
When a ChildLine report comes in, a CYS employee reviews the report, and there are several outcomes that can occur. If the screener determines that there are no safety concerns or risks for the child, the matter is closed out. If the screener finds that there are concerns and an investigation is needed, the case is then assigned to a caseworker. The caseworker investigates the matter and assesses the child's safety. If there are safety and risk concerns, CYS may offer child welfare and community-based services to the family. In such a situation, the child in question remains with the family, and there is a re-assessment of safety and risks at a later point in time. If the re-assessment does not reveal any concerns, the case is closed.
If the caseworker's initial investigation, or the re-assessment, reveals the existence of significant threats to the child's safety, CYS will request emergency legal intervention to have the child removed from the family. There will be a court hearing to decide whether the child stays with the family or goes to a relative or foster family. After this decision is made, the court will periodically review the child's situation and determine the goal of the case. The goal will either be the child's return to the family, placement with a relative or guardian, or adoption. During the review sessions, the court will check on whether progress has been made toward the goal and whether the child should, at that time, remain with a relative or foster family or be reunited with their parents. When the placement goal is achieved, the child will return to the family, be adopted or put under guardianship, or be emancipated. At this point, CYS closes its file.
As you can see, a ChildLine report and investigation can result in very serious consequences. If you are in Delaware County and are the subject of a ChildLine referral, do not wait to see what happens. You should immediately seek legal advice. The LLF Law Firm is ready to help you.
What Are Your Rights if ChildLine Has Referred You to Delaware County?
When Delaware County CYS intends to investigate suspected abuse, the agency will notify the accused person that a report of child abuse or neglect has been made. CYS must also tell the individual that he or she has the right to be represented by an attorney and can pursue amendment or “expunction” (which basically means expungement) of the county's final decision on the case. After an investigation is concluded, CYS will give the accused person another notice. This new notice will repeat the content of the first notice and inform the accused person that he or she can obtain a copy of the report from the ChildLine registry or CYS. The notice must also state that if the case is determined to be unfounded, the accused's name will be removed from the registry within 120 days of the date when the initial call was received. Further, the new notice must also tell the accused individual the impact a finding of founded or indicated will have on someone seeking work in a school or child care service. Lastly, the notice must state the implications the final decision will have under the law and list the types of youth and family services available from the county.
When CYS completes its investigation and determines that an accused person is indicated, ChildLine will notify the individual of this finding. The notice will also explain that the individual's name and the nature of the abuse will be kept on file indefinitely. Further, the notice will outline the individual's right to seek amendment or expungement of the finding.
When a case results in someone being labeled as founded (which arises after a judicial action such as a guilty plea or trial verdict), ChildLine will notify the individual that this status is listed in the registry. The notice will also explain that the person's name and the nature of the abuse will be listed indefinitely.
Can a ChildLine Finding Be Appealed?
When your name is in the registry, the repercussions are many, and they are not to be taken lightly. Jobs, child custody arrangements, social relationships, and professional licenses are at risk. The good news is that you can appeal a ChildLine finding of indicated or founded. But any appeal must be taken within a limited timeframe. Do not hesitate, and don't go it alone. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team knows how ChildLine, Delaware County CYS, and the appeals process work.
You Need Strong Legal Representation in a Delaware County ChildLine Referral
If you have been placed on the ChildLine registry for any of the reasons discussed above or fear that you will be, you need a strong and competent advocate at your side. An attorney from the LLF Law Firm will be that advocate. Regardless of your location in Delaware County, the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can guide you. We can help if you are in Brookhaven, Drexel Hill, Ridley Park, Swarthmore, or any other town in the county. Don't wait. Call our office at 888-535-3686 or contact us by using this online form.