Being investigated by ChildLine investigators in Fayette County can be an incredibly overwhelming and terrifying experience for parents. Just the thought of having your parenting skills questioned or your children possibly removed from your care can create a whirlwind of fear, uncertainty, and deep worry about your family's stability. Unfortunately, while some ChildLine investigations uncover legitimate instances of child abuse, neglect, and abandonment, this is often untrue. Many allegations of child abuse can stem from misunderstandings, misinterpretations, or personal vendettas.
An unfounded child abuse investigation does not only damage your reputation and personal life. These investigations often affect your children, who feel shame, confusion, and anxiety throughout the entire process. If you are currently being investigated for Child Abuse in Fayette County or attempting to file a ChildLine Appeal, contact the LLF Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team for help by calling (888) 535-3686 or using our online contact form. Our Criminal Defense Team can help you navigate the challenges ahead while safeguarding the rights and integrity of your family.
Fayette County, Pennsylvania
Nestled in the Laurel Highlands, Fayette County is marked by rolling hills, lush forests, and the sprawling Youghiogheny River. The county comprises five incorporated municipalities: Fayetteville, Brooks, Woolsey, Tyrone, and Peachtree City.
According to the 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, of the 508 child abuse allegations in Fayette County, only 84 were substantiated. Most of the substantiated reports involved instances of sexual abuse, followed by physical abuse, and lastly, physical neglect.
Allegations of suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment in the county are reported to the Fayette County Children and Youth Service ("FCCYS,") the county agency responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect reports. In instances of severe abuse or neglect, FCCYS may also remove children from dangerous home environments. Throughout this process, FCCYS can assist families by implementing and overseeing supportive reunification services between children and their parents or caregivers. When appropriate, FCCYS also provides the following services to children and their families,
- Court Intervention
- Educational Programs
- Foster Care (Substitute Placement)
- Home and School Visits
- Independent Living Training
- Intake Services
- Investigation of child abuse or neglect complaints
- Office interviews
- Placement Services
- Referrals to other agencies (law enforcement, immigration services, etc.)
- Reunification Plans
- Supportive Services
Although FCCYS workers receive in-depth training on responding to child abuse allegations, there may be instances where mere misunderstandings, mistakes, and lack of training/expertise cause an FCCYS investigator to open unfounded ChildLine investigations. These allegations must be taken seriously and challenged even if they are ultimately deemed untrue. It is not uncommon for children to be wrongfully removed from their parents, a process that can affect your child for the rest of their life.
The ChildLine System
FCCYS utilizes Pennsylvania's ChildLine System, an initiative developed by the state to receive, investigate, and evaluate instances of reported child abuse and neglect. Managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services ("DHS,") the system operates a hotline available 24/7 for reporting instances of suspected abuse. The Childline System also meticulously tracks abuse reports and ensures the execution of appropriate measures. When appropriate, ChildLine may refer the matter to applicable state or federal authorities, such as law enforcement.
The ChildLine Registry
The ChildLine registry is a mandatory statewide century registry for individuals substantiated as child abuse perpetrators. Having your name on the registry can significantly affect your life, particularly leading to constraints in future employment for individuals who work closely with children or in another government-related field.
Pennsylvania State Code Title 23, Chapter 63, entitled "Child Protective Services," outlines the policies and procedures that must be followed throughout a ChildLine report, investigation, and referral. ChildLine investigations are first triggered when a ChildLine worker receives a notice of alleged child abuse from a permissive or mandated reporter. Reports to FCCYS can be made by calling 724-430-1283 or 800-932-0313. Mandated reporters can also create reports utilizing the state's Child Welfare Portal.
Although all reports are confidential, they may be made by a stranger or someone you know.
Under Chapter 63, the contents of a ChildLine report must include the following:
- The names and addresses of the child, parents, and persons responsible for the alleged abuse, as well as their relationship to the child.
- A description of the child's family, whether they have siblings, who they live with, etc.
- The location of the suspected abuse.
- A description of the alleged abuse, as well as any evidence that substantiates the claims.
- The actions of the person making the report (did they speak to the child, call the cops, report it to someone else, etc..)
- The name, telephone number, and e-mail address of the person making the report are not accessible to the public.
Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters
Under Pennsylvania state law, specific individuals are designed as "mandated reporters" of child abuse, meaning they are legally required to report any suspected child abuse and neglect. Mandated reporters most often include individuals who work with minors, in a government capacity, or in family-services-related fields like health care professionals. You may also be a mandated reporter if you volunteer with children and families, such as ministers, camp counselors, etc. Some examples of mandated reporters may include:
- Social Workers
- Police Officers
- Church employees
Mandated reports who fail to report instances of child abuse can face felony convictions in the third degree or higher, depending on the circumstances and severity of child abuse.
On the other hand, permissive reporters are encouraged but not required to report instances of suspected child abuse. Examples of permissive reporters may include neighbors, colleagues, friends, family members, etc.
The Investigation Phase
Once a report of suspected child abuse or neglect is made to FCCYS, they must determine whether further investigation is warranted or if the allegations are not considered child abuse within Chapter 63. Some of the major acts that qualify as child abuse under the chapter include intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly doing any of the following:
- Bodily harm through an act or failure to act.
- Fabricating, feigning, or intentionally exaggerating a medical symptom, resulting in a potentially harmful medical evaluation.
- Mental injury through an act or failure to act.
- Sexual abuse through an act or failure to act or causing sexual exploitation through an act or failure to perform.
- Creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury through an act or failure to act.
- Serious physical neglect.
- Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing, or cutting.
- Unreasonable retraining or confinement.
- Forceful shaking of a child under one year or slapping a child of such period.
- Placing a child in an unsafe environment or location where crime is likely to occur.
- Leaving a child unsupervised with a sexual predator.
If a ChildLine worker determines possible abuse or neglect, FCCYS must initiate an investigation within 24 hours. During studies, investigators often seek additional information about the alleged conduct by engaging with family members, speaking with parents, or others who may have information on the child's well-being, such as teachers and neighbors.
The Investigator may also contact other agencies, such as the police department, or visit the child's home. During this visit, the Investigator will look for possible signs of abuse, paying particular attention to the home's cleanliness and accessibility to necessities such as nutritious food, clean clothing and whether the child has access to dangerous substances like prescription medication.
Under Section 3490.55 of the Pennsylvania State Code, investigators must also conduct interviews with any persons who know or are suspected of knowing about the alleged child abuse incident.
If ChildLine investigators feel the child is safe, they may deem the allegations unsubstantiated and close the case. The investigators can also offer intervention services to help the family rather than punish the parents. Some of these services include counseling, food stamps, etc.
What Rights Do Parents Have Throughout a ChildLine Investigation?
Being the subject of a ChildLine investigation can feel incredibly intimidating. Although investigators are mandated to follow precise legal protocols and maintain fairness, there are times when they might fall short of these requirements, intentionally or unintentionally disregarding a parent's rights. Investigators may also use their position of power to coerce parents into admitting guilt, understanding that parents are strongly willing to "comply" to protect their children. Although these instances occur, Parents have rights throughout the investigation process that can protect them from biased or unfair treatment. Some of these rights include:
- The right to be notified about child abuse allegations and the nature of the allegations.
- The right to continue to see and speak to your children throughout the investigatory period- absent a contradictory order.
- The right to be informed about the nature of the investigation, how long it will take, how it will be conducted, etc.
- The results of the social worker's investigation
- What next steps are being considered, such as whether or not they are considering removing your child from your care?
- The right to be treated respectfully without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, gender, sex, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, economic status, etc.
What Happens if FCCYS Confirms Allegations?
Should the ChildLine investigator determine substantial evidence of child abuse, your name will be immediately added to the ChildLine Registry. At this point, you should immediately initiate a request to remove your name. You should also file a subsequent appeal against the department's filings. Although you may feel tempted to make these requests on your own, navigating through the state's bureaucracy can be challenging, especially given the amount of resources FCCYS has. It's imperative to note that without the support of an attorney, fair and equitable treatment by FCCYS is not guaranteed.
ChildLine appeals must usually be filed within 90 days of the department's decision. The procedural requirements for filing a request can be stringent, leaving no room for mistakes. Appeals can either be processed through the state's Office of Children, Youth, and Families ("OCYF") to conduct an administrative review of your case or review hearing in front of the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal ("BHA.”) If you receive an unfavorable finding from the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal, you can file one last appeal attempt in front of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
Appeal hearings can feel incredibly overwhelming for someone without a legal background. These hearings are run like a small trial, allowing both sides to present arguments of law. The state must prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that the parent or perpetrator is guilty of the allegations. The clear and convincing standard requires the state to demonstrate that the evidence against you is so clear, direct, and convincing that the hearing officer can decide without hesitation. If the state fails to do so, your name will be removed from the ChildLine Registry.
How Can I Have My Name Removed From the ChildLine Registry?
Typically, there are two ways to get your name deleted. First, the Secretary of DHS may remove your name if there is newly discovered evidence demonstrating that the reports of child abuse were inaccurate. The Secretary may also remove your name if you can establish that you do not present a risk to children. Both requests require a great deal of work and depend on the accused's ability to give evidence in their favor. Fortunately, our Criminal Defense Team has filed numerous requests and can help you file an expungement request without delay.
Work With a ChildLine Attorney in Fayette County
If you are in the midst of a ChildLine Investigation or appeal in Fayette County, our Criminal Defense Team can help. We have years of experience assisting clients through Pennsylvania's child abuse reporting system and are prepared to defend your rights. Your family is too important to face these allegations alone; let us support you through this challenging period.