Accusations of child abuse are some of the most serious out there. While there is no doubt that protecting children is of the utmost importance, these accusations can have a serious impact on those accused. Unfounded claims can come from angry partners, friends, neighbors, and more, and they can all cause huge amounts of stress and turmoil. Pennsylvania's ChildLine service allows anyone to make reports of suspected child abuse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While ultimately, this system is designed to make sure that abuse does not go unnoticed, it accepts anonymous reports from anyone, making it possible to make false claims which wreak havoc on a person's life without the worry of being charged for false reports or defamation.
Children need and deserve to be protected from real abusers, but when claims become a way to ‘get back' at someone in divorces or other legal proceedings, it takes away valuable time and resources from substantiated claims as well as putting undue mental stress on the accused. These claims must be investigated just like any other, which can delay justice for children who are facing real danger.
Impact of Allegations
A recent study from Columbia University shows that those falsely accused of abuse face enduring trauma, even if they were not convicted. If you have been accused of child abuse, you are going through a tough time, and need the support of a team with experience in protecting your rights. The Lento Law Firm is here to defend you and ensure you are granted due process throughout legal proceedings. With his support, you can experience more peace of mind.
People who have been wrongfully accused often feel uneasy, paranoid, or like they are waiting for another allegation—even after claims have been cleared. You deserve to feel that your rights are protected and that you are safe from hurtful allegations. Without the support of an Attorney to clear your name, these accusations can result in a loss of visitation or custody rights for the parent. Not only this but these claims have also been shown to cause trauma to children in custody battles. For the sake of you, your family, and your children, take action today.
How Does ChildLine Work?
The ChildLine service was introduced in Pennsylvania in 2015 following a major increase in phone reports of child abuse. The heavy volume of reports meant that there was not enough staff or funding to handle it, so processing time for reports was significantly higher. After an increase in staff and funding later in 2015, processing time and abandoned call rates went down, but reports continued to increase. The system accepts verbal and electronic referrals to suspected abusers all day, every day. It maintains a database that is publicly available of all indicated or founded reports of child abuse. This means that individuals can be put on the list without being convicted—your name goes on the list prior to any investigation.
This is a blatant disregard for due process. Allegations of child abuse are serious and can cause major harm to one's reputation and mental health. Even if the allegations are found to be false, your name is still on the list by default! ChildLine is designed with a focus on protecting children, which is why names are added quickly and without investigation. This means you'll want to remove your name just as quickly—there is a short period in which you can appeal the decision. The Lento Law Firm can move smoothly through the appeals process to have your name removed from the registry as quickly as possible. They will protect your rights and ensure due process from here on out.
Due to the easy access and anonymous nature of the ChildLine system, there is a large discrepancy in reported and convicted child abuse allegations. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services 2020 report, York County had 1,643 reports of child abuse for the year, with only 183 being considered ‘substantiated'. A substantiated claim means that the allegations had evidence to support it. When rated compared to other PA counties, York had a 1.9 rate of substantiated reports, compared to an average of 1.5 for other urban counties, meaning there are more unfounded claims in York compared to the rest of the state. Even in the most serious of cases—fatalities or near fatalities—only 2 of 188 reports in 2020 were found to be substantiated.
Anyone can report a claim of child abuse. While a majority of claims are submitted by mandated reporters, ChildLine makes it easy for anyone to make a report. Non-mandated reporters are called permissive reporters. This includes anyone who is encouraged but not legally required to report suspicions of child abuse—babysitters, partners, exes, etc. Mandated reporters are required by law to report any suspicions of a child in danger. This includes people like teachers, doctors, public library employees, or anyone else who works with children. If they fail to report concerns, they could lose licensing or their job. They need only reasonable suspicion to report a concern—this is regardless of whether or not they know who is responsible or not. What qualifies as reasonable cause is up only to the mandated reporter, which contributes to the high volume of unsubstantiated claims.
While mandated reporters have the option of calling or submitting an electronic report, permissive reporters must make a call. Reporters are protected by good faith, and all mandated reporters are assumed to be reporting under good faith. The ability to report over the phone and anonymously means that it is easier to avoid the consequences of making false claims—if someone reports you for abuse knowing that it is false, they attempt get away with damage to your reputation and abuse the system for their own self-gain, like revenge or a foot up in divorce or custody proceedings.
How Does the System Work?
To make a report, a person will contact the ChildLine call center, and a trained specialist encourages them to share as many details as possible about the child, suspected abuse, and suspected abuser. In addition, they require details and contact information from mandated reporters, but permissive reporters can make anonymous reports. Child abuse allegations are handled by the Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) in York County. After the report is made, the office will do a screening to determine whether it merits investigation. This is done based on risk factors—a caseworker will evaluate the primary caregiver, including any history of substance abuse, the environment in which the abuse took place, and the characteristics of other family members.
If the risk factors merit investigation, the case goes to an intake unit, generally overseen by a social worker. If the caseworker determines that the child is in immediate danger, they are removed from the family. If there is no immediate threat, the investigation proceeds. A more detailed risk assessment is conducted of the reported abuser, family, and environment. From here, depending on the case, the family may be assigned ongoing services, or the child may be placed with a foster family or for adoption. However, it doesn't have to end this way. If you've been accused of child abuse and fear losing your child, call the Lento Law Firm today. Their Criminal Defense Team is here to support you during investigation and appeals and clear your name and reputation.
To appeal a ChildLine report, you need the help of a qualified legal team. If you've received a notice letter from the Department of Human Services, you should contact the Criminal Defense Team immediately. You have the right to appeal to have your name expunged from the abuse registry, as well as to appeal a finding of child abuse. Typically, you have 90 days to make an appeal, and it's important to act fast so you don't miss the chance to clear your name.
You have two options. First, you can ask the OCYF to conduct an administrative review. The second option is to go straight to asking for a hearing in front of the OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (BHA). Beyond the BHA's decision it is possible to further appeal at the level of the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
While it may feel like it, it's important to remember that an administrative hearing is not a court proceeding. At the BHA hearing you will present evidence on your own behalf to argue to overturn the ChildLine registry finding. If the state fails to produce clear and convincing evidence that the allegations made are true, the initial determination is reversed, and your name will be expunged from the registry. If the BHA does not rule in your favor, you have 15 days to request review from the Secretary of DHS.
The appeals process is not something you want to deal with on your own. If you've received notice from DHS, the best way to protect your due process and work through the appeals smoothly is to hire the Lento Law Firm. The team have many years of experience working with ChildLine registry allegations and they will ensure that your rights are protected. They understand how these decisions are reviewed and processed and can use this to help you to prepare the most compelling argument possible.
Even if it has been a long time since your name has been added to the ChildLine registry, it may still be possible to have the entry expunged. This is determined by the DHS in two situations: new evidence shows the initial report was false, or it's been established that you are not a risk to the safety of children and there is no public purpose in keeping your name on the registry. Expunging your name from the registry can be a new chance at your reputation and self-confidence. If you or someone you know is facing allegations of child abuse, act fast to overturn this decision and protect yourself even against anonymous reports.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help
If you've been notified that a ChildLine report has been filed against you and that you are under investigation by the York County Children and Youth Social Services, or if you've already been investigated and you've been notified that your name will now be listed on the ChildLine registry, contact the Lento Law Firm. The Lento Law Firm Team has years and years of experience with Pennsylvania's child abuse reporting system, and they can help you protect your rights during this extremely painful and stressful time. They understand how the system works and how it can often be used and abused by people seeking to gain an advantage in other legal proceedings like custody agreements or by people who want to “get back” at someone.
When you're facing serious allegations such as those involving child abuse, you need the help of an attorney who has been there before and can make sure your rights are protected and respected. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686, or through the online contact form, to set up a confidential consultation. The Lento Law Firm Team is there to listen and to help.