Child abuse is a monstrous crime that should be punished, but only if the defendant is truly guilty. However, when individuals are accused of child abuse in Pennsylvania through the ChildLine reporting system, it will affect their livelihood whether they are exonerated or not. As such, it is incredibly important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Not only will they be able to prepare you for the investigator's interviews, but they will also make sure you are prepared for possible next steps – like an appeal or expungement.
The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has helped dozens of individuals accused of child abuse through the ChildLine system. They know the battle you are about to wage. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.
In Pennsylvania, child abuse reports can be made through their ChildLine reporting system. However, because the system allows anonymous reporting, many of these reports are made out of spite, boredom, or to influence child custody cases or divorce proceedings. In fact, in 2021, there were over 38,000 reports of child abuse, but only about 13% could be corroborated.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Greene County
The Greene County Children and Youth Services (GCCYS) office supervises the investigation into ChildLine reports that are made about children or individuals living within their borders. In 2021 alone, there were 196 reports of child abuse made to the state, but only 30 of them could be corroborated. This means that nearly 85% of the reports made were done without any evidence to support their claims.
What Is the ChildLine System
Pennsylvania established the ChildLine program to create a process where anyone could report cases of child abuse or other child well-being concerns. Once ChildLine receives the report, it is transferred to the county investigating agency. In Greene County, this is GCCYS.
Unfortunately, child abuse allegations can be made anonymously. The hope was that an anonymous status would allow people to be more consistent and truthful in their reporting. What happened instead is that many child abuse reports are made out of spite, anger, boredom, or even to try and get a child custody award amended.
Moreover, the ChildLine program also oversees a registry of names of people who have been found guilty of child abuse in Pennsylvania. Government agencies have access to this registry, as does anyone conducting a background check on you. So, if you are placed on the ChildLine registry after the investigation, anyone can see it.
While the ChildLine program is not supposed to add someone's name to the registry prior to the investigation being finished, they often do it after the investigation but prior to the appeal decision. As you can imagine, being on the ChildLine registry can be disastrous and should be avoided at all costs. Working with LLF Law firm is the best way to mitigate those negative consequences and prove your innocence.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made
After a report of child abuse is made to ChildLine, the system will transfer it to GCCYS. GCCYS will review the report and determine if a preliminary investigation is warranted. If, after the preliminary investigation, they believe the issue should be pursued further, they will appoint an investigator.
The investigator will meet with the accused individual for an interview. They will likely also begin interviewing the accused individual's friends, family, children, the victim, and sometimes, even their employer or employees.
Being investigated like this is extremely stressful. Not only does it make you feel a bit paranoid, it can significantly affect your mental health. When you are stressed, it is even harder to defend yourself in a calm manner during the interview. Any kind of frustration or distrust you show will be used against you by the investigator. Having an attorney in the room at the time of the interviews will ensure you are prepared to answer the investigator's questions.
If, even after these interviews, the investigator believes the accusations are true, they will place your name on the ChildLine registry.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Investigated by a Child Line Investigator
GCCYS is a government agency and, as such, must provide accused individuals with the same level of due process rights as their law enforcement counterparts. “Due process rights” tends to be a sort of buzzphrase, but all it means is that these are rights that are meant to protect you from being harassed by the government. Two common due process rights are having the right to competent counsel and the right to a fair trial. If either of these rights or any other due process rights, are violated by GCCYS (or any other government agency), the decision can be reversed.
LLF Law Firm will review the facts of your case, the allegations against you, and attend your interviews to ensure the investigator upholds your due process rights. Often, investigators will use tactics to gain the trust of the accused individual, encouraging them to say more than necessary. One such tactic is pretending to become friends with the defendant or find some common ground with them. You are much more likely to open up to the investigator if you feel like you can trust them.
It is important to ignore this feeling as it could lead to negative outcomes for yourself and your case.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides to Confirm an Abuse Report Against You
After the interviews, the investigator will review the information they have gathered and report their findings to GCCYS. If they believe the child abuse accusation is correct, they will enter the accused individual's name into the ChildLine registry.
Having your name on the ChildLine registry can be disastrous. Depending on what you do for work, you could be fired from your position, forced to move residencies, and even prohibited from seeing your family and friends. As such, being placed on the registry can feel extremely isolating, which can significantly impact your mental and physical health.
To ensure you are not exposed to these negative consequences, LLF Law Firm will review the ChildLine report and ensure you are prepared for the investigator's interviews. Their Criminal Defense Team will also ensure they have evidence and witness testimony to counter the accusations early on.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
ChildLine investigations are upsetting. The investigators dig into the private parts of your life and expose them to the people in it, including your employers, employees, friends, and family. When it's finally over if you are placed on the registry, you are so exhausted and emotionally bereft it can be difficult to gather the strength to appeal the decision. But that's where LLF Law Firm comes in.
LLF Law Firm knows first-hand how frustrating and draining the ChildLine investigation and appeals process is. By working together, LLF Law Firm can help shoulder that weight, helping you defend yourself and making the entire process easier for you.
To appeal a ChildLine finding of abuse in Greene County, you can go one of two ways. Either way, you will first file your appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF). Usually, you will have about 90 days to file your appeal, and while this might seem like a lot of time, it is important to start your appeal immediately to avoid any deadline issues.
The first option is to have OCYF conduct an administrative review of GCCYS's findings. If you choose this option, there is no chance for a secondary appeal if it is unsuccessful. As such, most defendants will choose the second option, which is to request that OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) conduct a formal hearing.
If you choose the BHA appeal hearing, you will have the chance to present your defense, as well as any relevant evidence and witness testimony that reinforces it. Afterward, the BHA will assess your argument and conclude whether the ChildLine registry entry should be reversed.
It is important to note that BHA appeal hearings are not regular courtroom proceedings. Despite that, the state does have the burden of proving that you committed child abuse by clear and convincing evidence. If they cannot, the investigator's decision will be overturned, and the ChildLine registry entry will be deleted.
The “clear and convincing evidence” benchmark states that the evidence presented must show that it is more likely than not that the individual did the act they are being accused of. If you can poke holes in this theory, it has not met the clear and convincing benchmark.
In instances where the BHA decides to uphold the investigator's decision, your name will stay on the ChildLine registry. However, you have the option to appeal this decision to the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Human Services. The Secretary will evaluate the BHA's ruling and determine if it should be reversed.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
Once you have successfully appealed your ChildLine registry entry, it will be removed. However, there are certain cases where a record of the entry can still be pulled up. Thus, after the appeal, it is imperative you petition for the entry to be expunged – which would wipe out any record of it.
As we have explained above, entries into the ChildLine registry can have long-lasting and far-reaching effects on your personal and professional lives. Because of this, you must do everything you can to get your entry expunged from the database so that you can truly move on from this experience.
For instance, if you decide not to pursue an expungement and the record of your entry still exists, even if it was deleted on appeal, you could be barred from being within a certain distance of school zones. With such a small population and four school districts, it will be hard to avoid them. You could be forced to move or change jobs, especially if you work with children.
To get your ChildLine entry expunged, you must petition the Secretary of the Department of Human Services in Pennsylvania. The Secretary will assess the petition and determine if you have presented new evidence that proves the original abuse claim was made erroneously. If they believe you have, they will agree to expunge your registry entry.
Some individuals will not be able to find new evidence that shows the abuse claim was incorrect, so instead, the state asks that they present evidence that they are no longer at risk of committing child abuse. If there is no longer a risk, there is no reason to keep them on the registry. The Secretary will review this claim and determine if the entry should be expunged.
Expungements are a bit more complicated than appeals or even the initial investigation interviews. As such, they should be taken seriously. Working with an experienced attorney is the only way to ensure the Secretary fully reviews your petition and makes a decision based on fact.
How LLF Law Firm Can Help
Being accused of child abuse is a horrifying experience, especially when it might be done out of malicious intent. Unfortunately, most false child abuse accusations are made without concern for the individual being accused. Instead, the reporter is doing it to get something for themselves – whether that's an amended child support award, spousal support, child custody order, or just the enjoyment of wreaking havoc on your life. Whatever the reason is, you are left to deal with the ramifications.
The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has worked with individuals all over Pennsylvania who have been accused of child abuse through a ChildLine report. They understand how important each step of the process is and will work diligently to ensure you put your best defense forward every time. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.