Forest County ChildLine Appeal Attorneys

It's one of the most frightening and stressful things that can happen to a parent – you receive an official notice that someone has reported you to Pennsylvania's ChildLine system for suspected child abuse and that you're now under investigation by the Forest County Children and Youth Services office. No matter who made the report – a friend, a former partner, one of your child's teachers, or a doctor – the focus is now on you and the accusations made against you. You may feel powerless, scared, and worried about losing your child. This is the time to call the LLF Law Firm. Our experienced Family Law Team will help you understand what's happening and will protect your rights throughout this difficult process. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can be reached at 888.535.3686, or by using our contact form to set up a confidential consultation.

Few Reports of Suspected Child Abuse are Substantiated

It's important to realize that the majority of reports of suspected child abuse in Pennsylvania do not result in a finding that child abuse has actually occurred. In fact, in 2021, fewer than 8% of the 7235 reports of suspected child abuse in Pennsylvania were “substantiated” by child protective services agencies. There are a number of possible reasons for this.

One is that Pennsylvania has a law that requires certain professionals to report suspected child abuse when they encounter situations that give them “reasonable cause to believe” that a child has been abused. If these professionals fail to make a report when they should have, they can face criminal charges. This provides an incentive for these so-called “mandated reporters” to err on the side of caution and report possible child abuse even where none has occurred.

Another reason for the relatively low rate of substantiated child abuse is that Pennsylvania's ChildLine abuse reporting system allows anyone to make an anonymous child abuse report. This means that someone who may have a grudge against you, such as a former partner, an ex-friend, a family member you're no longer speaking to, or anybody else, can submit a report that can start the kind of investigation that can make your life very stressful and difficult for weeks or months before it's resolved.

For example, at the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team, we've seen situations where one spouse involved in divorce proceedings will make a false report of child abuse against the other spouse solely to gain an advantage in the divorce. When this happens to one of our clients, our experienced Family Law attorneys know how to help the client protect their rights and deal with what, in the vast majority of cases, is a completely unnecessary – but still stressful – Children and Youth Services investigation.

The sad fact is that even when people are cleared after an investigation based on a false or mistaken report of child abuse, they may feel as though they're constantly under suspicion. That's why it helps to know that you have an ally, such as an experienced Family Law attorney, who you know will be there to help you assert your rights in the event another ChildLine report is ever filed against you.

Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Forest County

As noted above, ChildLine reports about children living in Forest County are directed to Forest County Children and Youth Services (FCCYS). The office is responsible for investigating ChildLine reports and taking action in cases where the investigation supports a finding that abuse has taken place. In 2021, fortunately, there were only two confirmed cases of child abuse in Forest County, though, of course, ideally, the number would be zero.

If you're under investigation by FCCYS for suspected child abuse or learn that you've been placed on the ChildLine registry following an abuse investigation, contact one of the experienced attorneys at the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team. We're here to help you as we've helped many others across Pennsylvania who find themselves the target of a child abuse investigation or who have been placed on the ChildLine registry when the circumstances didn't support it.

What the ChildLine System Is

ChildLine is Pennsylvania's online system that allows anyone to submit reports of suspected child abuse, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The report is then directed to the appropriate child services agency in the county in which the child who is the subject of the report lives. In the case of Forest County, ChildLine reports are directed to the Forest County Children and Youth Services office.

The ChildLine system also keeps a list of every person who has been found to have committed child abuse. While this isn't a public registry, the ChildLine registry can be accessed by employers who want to check the status of existing or potential employees. At times, unfortunately, people are placed on the ChildLine registry before they have a chance to appeal the agency's decision to do so. The best way to guard against something like this happening is to contact one of the LLF Law Firm's experienced family law attorneys as soon as you receive a notice that you're under investigation for suspected child abuse or that your name has been placed on the ChildLine registry.

The ChildLine system isn't without controversy. A report from legal clinics at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple Law Schools argues, among other things, that the ChildLine system is unfair in a number of respects and needs to be reevaluated and revised. In any case, you will be better off if you're working with experienced Family Law attorneys from the LLF Law Firm who can help you assert your rights when you're facing a ChildLine investigation.

Who Can Make a ChildLine Report

As noted above, there are some professionals who are required by law to report suspected child abuse to the ChildLine system. These include teachers, law enforcement officers, health care workers, day care workers, and clergy. Pennsylvania law protects mandated reporters from civil liability if they make a ChildLine abuse report that is later not substantiated. Only in cases where a false report is maliciously filed can a mandated reporter face civil liability for making the report.

Permissive ChildLine reporters are anyone who isn't a mandated reporter. The law in Pennsylvania encourages anyone who has “reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse” to report the suspected abuse to the ChildLine system. Permissive reporters can either file ChildLine reports online or over the phone and can file anonymous reports.

What Happens After a ChildLine Report is Made

While the ChildLine system is statewide, once a report is received, it's forwarded directly to the county in which the child who is the subject of the report lives. In the case of a child living in Forest County, ChildLine will forward the report to the Forest County Children and Youth Services office.

The FCCYS office will first examine the report to make sure it's about something that the office has the authority to investigate. Not all ChildLine reports are about child abuse; sometimes, it's about a difficult family situation that can better be addressed by another service agency.

It's when the FCCYS decides that a ChildLine report warrants an investigation that things can get very difficult for the person who has been accused of abuse. ChildLine investigations will feel very invasive. The investigator is likely to visit your home and will ask to interview you there. Your children and anyone else living with you might be interviewed as well. Friends and acquaintances, including co-workers, may be contacted by the investigator. If the investigator has additional questions, you may be asked to sit for more than one interview session. This entire process can stretch out for weeks or months before FCCYS decides whether you're to be placed on the ChildLine registry and whether any other action is to be taken against you.

What You Can Do if You Are Being Investigated by a ChildLine Investigator

Fortunately, you're not without rights during this difficult investigation process. In particular, you have the right to be represented by an attorney, even though the FCCYS investigator may not mention this to you. Having an attorney present for interviews and other interactions with FCCYS can help make sure that the investigation process is conducted fairly. If an investigator asks you an unclear question or one you don't understand, your attorney can help make sure that any problems with the question are resolved before you answer it. And if you happen to give an unclear answer to a question – which is easy to do in such a stressful situation – your attorney can help you clarify it. Nobody benefits from unclear questions or answers.

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team has years of experience helping parents all across Pennsylvania with ChildLine investigations. Our experienced family law attorneys understand what your rights are and will help protect you from misleading questions or unfair interview tactics. In some cases, we can actually help the investigator by providing information that can help them resolve the matter in your favor more quickly, which frees the investigator to focus on other ChildLine complaints.

If you're concerned that working with a lawyer may suggest that you have something to hide – don't be. You have a legal right to representation, and in the difficult and stressful case where a ChildLine abuse report against you is being investigated, you owe it to yourself and your family to make sure the investigation is a fair one.

What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides an Abuse Report Against You Is Confirmed

In cases where the FCCYS investigator makes a determination that child abuse has taken place, your name will be placed on the ChildLine registry. This can happen almost immediately after the determination is made, even before you are notified that it's happened. Employers who access the registry will be able to see that you've been documented as having committed child abuse. All of this can happen before an appeal is filed and resolved – which is why it's in your best interests to appeal a ChildLine registry listing as soon as possible.

How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding

Once you've been notified that your name is on the ChildLine registry, you have 90 days to appeal the decision. In the meantime, your name will stay on the registry, so it makes sense to appeal it as quickly as possible.

There are two potential routes for an appeal. One is to request that Pennsylvania's Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) conduct what's called an administrative review of the abuse finding. You can also skip this step and petition for a hearing before the OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA). This will likely take place at the BHA regional office in Pittsburgh. If the BHA rules against you, its decision can then be appealed to the Secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services.

A BHA appeal is not a formal court hearing, though it may feel very much like one. You will be able to present evidence supporting your argument that the ChildLine registry determination should be reversed. The OCYF must then provide “clear and convincing evidence” that you committed illegal, abusive acts that justify you being included in the ChildLine registry. If the OCYF can't meet this burden, the decision to include your name on the ChildLine registry will be reversed, and your name will be removed.

If, however, the BHA rules against you, you have only 15 days to ask the Secretary of the Department of Human Services to reverse that decision. It's not unusual for a reversal to happen – in 2021, the Department of Human Services overturned 34 out of the 86 ChildLine registry appeals brought before it, an almost 40% reversal rate.

Appealing a ChildLine registry listing isn't easy. Fortunately, the experienced attorneys at the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team know what it takes to present as strong and effective appeal as possible. We will work with you to make sure as much evidence as possible in support of your situation is brought before any appeal body and that your case is presented in a forceful and compelling way.

Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry

If your name has been on the ChildLine registry for some time, you may still be able to get it removed under certain circumstances. First, if there is new evidence that wasn't considered by the initial investigator that supports an argument that the abuse finding was inaccurate; and second, where you can show that you don't present a risk of child abuse and there is no public purpose to be served by keeping your name on the registry. Expungement requests are filed with the Secretary of the DHS. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help you prepare and file these cases that meet the requirements.

How the LLF Law Firm Can Help

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team understands how difficult and stressful it can be to learn you're under investigation for suspected child abuse. We have helped parents all across Pennsylvania protect their rights during the investigation process and, where necessary, with appeals and expungement requests. Our experienced attorneys know the law and the procedures that apply in ChildLine investigations and are ready to help you protect yourself, your children, and your reputation.

No matter what stage you're at in the ChildLine investigation process, call us at 888.535.3686 or use our contact form to set up a confidential consultation. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team is here for you – to listen and to help.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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