ChildLine investigations can be a profoundly distressing experience for any parent, especially for wrongly accused parents. The mere idea of being scrutinized for your parenting skills evokes fear, uncertainty, and severe anxiety about your child's future. Although some reports of suspected child abuse are eventually substantiated, false reports are common. Although abuse allegations are intended to safeguard children, they can sometimes arise from misunderstandings, misrepresentations, or even malicious intent from families, neighbors, or friends harboring a vendetta against your family.
Child abuse allegations are a grave and severe matter. A false investigation can not only damage your reputation and personal life, but it can also take a substantial mental toll on your entire family, causing potential harm to your child's well-being. If you are currently being investigated for Child Abuse in Franklin 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.
Franklin County, Pennsylvania
Franklin County is situated in South Central Pennsylvania, set against the backdrop of the Cumberland Valley. The county is part of the Chambersburg-Waynesboro Metropolitan Area and comprises many suburban developments with ample educational opportunities. According to the 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, of the 458 child abuse allegations received in the county, only 53 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 Franklin County Children and Youth Service ("FCCYS,"), the "local public child welfare agency responsible for assuring the safety and well-being of dependent and abused children from birth to 18 years of age." FCCYS can only investigate instances of suspected child abuse in their county. According to its website, FCCYS addresses the following issues:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Imminent Risk of abuse
- Runaway behavior
- Incorrigible behavior
- Parent-child conflicts.
Aside from investigating claims of alleged abuse, FCCYS may also be able to provide the following services:
- Safety/risk assessments
- Parent and life skill training
- Family service planning
Although FCCYS further states that its objective is to ensure that children can safely remain in their own homes, there may be instances where mere misunderstandings, mistakes, and lack of training/expertise cause an FCCYS investigator to open ChildLine investigations for unfounded child abuse improperly.
The ChildLine System
Franklin County's FCCYS utilizes Pennsylvania's ChildLine System, the state's initiative to protect children from abuse and neglect. The system operates a 24-hour hotline for reporting child abuse and neglect, maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services ("DHS.”) The ChildLine system is not only a hotline for reporting suspected child abuse, but it is also an organized system for tracking abuse reports and ensuring that appropriate action is taken. This may sometimes mean referring the abuse allegations to the applicable state or federal agency, such as the police department or the state's child welfare department.
The ChildLine Registry
The ChildLine system mandates the maintenance of a confidential statewide central registry of child abuse perpetrators, known as the ChildLine Registry. The ChildLine registry is a confidential database that contains the names and information of individuals who have been substantiated as perpetrators of child abuse or neglect. Being added to the ChildLine Registry can drastically affect your life, particularly regarding employment restrictions.
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 report of alleged child abuse from a permissive or mandated reporter. Although all reports are confidential, they may be made by a stranger or someone you know who calls the ChildLine hotline or submits a report online through the Child Welfare Information Solution Portal ("CWIS"). Pursuant to the code, 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 not accessible to the public.
Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters
A mandated reporter is an individual mandated under Pennsylvania state law to report any suspicion of suspected child abuse in the state. Although some states deem all adults required to report suspected child abuse, mandated reporters in Pennsylvania are often government employees and/or individuals who have close contact with minors because they either work or volunteer with minors frequently. Examples of mandated reporters include teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, counselors, and volunteers. On the other hand, permissive reporters are all other persons who are encouraged, but not required, to report suspected child abuse to the state. Some common examples of permissive reporters include neighbors, colleagues, friends, family, etc.
The Investigation Phase
Once ChildLine receives a confidential report of suspected child abuse from a mandated or permissive reporter, they have 24 hours to determine whether to pursue an official investigation. ChildLine investigators may need more information to make this decision during this timeframe. It's not uncommon for them to contact family members, neighbors, teachers, etc., and speak to them about whether they have any concerns that corroborate the allegations.
If an investigator determines that they should proceed throughout the investigatory phase, they will either conduct an announced (scheduled) or unannounced (surprise) visit to the child's home. During this visit, investigators will look for clues as to whether the child is safe. Investigators may examine the home's cleanliness, whether the child can access healthy food, clean laundry, etc.
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.
These interviews may be conducted over the phone or in person at a family's home, police station, school, hospital, park, etc. Some individuals that investigators frequently speak to include the child, if age appropriate, parents, family members, witnesses, neighbors, teachers, etc.
ChildLine investigators may feel the child is lovely in the home and decide to close the case. The investigators can also offer intervention services meant to help the family rather than punish the parents. Some of these services include counseling, food stamps, etc.
What Are My Rights Throughout a ChildLine Investigation?
Facing a ChildLine investigation alone may feel like David versus Goliath. Although investigators must follow specific procedures under the law and treat parents equitably throughout the process, they can fall short of these standards or even act with intentional disregard for a parent's rights. All too frequently, investigators know that parents feel cornered and will comply with anything to have the case closed- often taking advantage of you and your family in the process. However, parents have rights under federal and state law throughout the investigation. 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.
Confirmed Abuse Reports
If the FCCYS investigator determines that you have likely committed child abuse, your name can be immediately placed on the ChildLine Registry. Unfortunately, you may not be immediately notified that your name was added to this Registry, but you may need to inquire with FCCYS about this. After you have received notice, you should work to appeal the department's finding and remove your name from the Registry. Although it may feel tempting to fight for this appeal alone, fighting the state's bureaucracy alone is nearly impossible, especially considering that they have the entire state's resources behind them. Without an attorney on your side, there is also no guarantee that FCCYS will treat you with fairness and equity under the law.
ChildLine appeals must usually be filed within 90 days of the department's decision. This timeline is strictly adhered to. You must ensure that your paperwork requesting the appeal is thorough and accurate. At this juncture, you can ask the state's Office of Children, Youth, and Families ("OCYF") to conduct an administrative review of your case, or you can seek a review hearing in front of the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal. 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.
These appeal hearings can feel incredibly overwhelming for a layperson. Although they are administrative in nature and not considered a civil or criminal trial, they almost operate like one. At the hearing, both sides will present arguments of law and evidence already contained within your file. The state must prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that you are guilty of the allegations alleged in the ChildLine report. The clear and convincing standard requires that a party (in this case, the state) demonstrate that the evidence 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 Get My Name Removed From the ChildLine Registry?
If your name has been added to the ChildLine Registry, you most likely want to request that your name be removed from the system. 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 will not be the easiest to prove. Fortunately, our Criminal Defense Team has filed numerous of these requests and understands what pieces of evidence the state is looking for to process an expungement without delay.
Contact Our ChildLine Team Today
Contact our compassionate and diligent Criminal Defense Team if you are currently being investigated by the Franklin County Children and Youth Social Services or facing another ChildLine issue, such as removing your name from the Registry or appealing a Child Abuse Charge. Our team has years of experience helping clients and families throughout Pennsylvania's child abuse reporting system and will harness our experience to deliver the best possible results for your family. Don't face these allegations alone – individuals are not equipped to fight the state's bureaucracy alone. We will work to protect your rights during this difficult and emotional time for your family.