If you've been accused of child abuse or neglect in Pennsylvania, you're undoubtedly experiencing a lot of emotions. Maybe you feel scared or guilty, or maybe you're angry because the accusations against you are mistaken or false. There's no right or wrong way to feel about accusations of child abuse, but there is a right and wrong way to handle the situation.
First, if you believe the accusations against you were made in error, or were falsely made, you shouldn't approach the person who accused you. Doing so might trigger additional complaints of domestic violence in addition to the child abuse claims. Similarly, if you think the state is acting in error through ChildLine, you shouldn't refuse to cooperate. You should instead follow the appropriate channels of the complaint process with the help of a skilled PA criminal defense attorney.
A Brief Overview of ChildLine
ChildLine is a statewide program mandated by PA law. It's designed to facilitate the receipt of child abuse or neglect suspicions so the PA department of human services can investigate further to determine whether a child is truly in danger or not. A person who suspects child abuse or neglect can call a hotline any hour of the day, or they can file a complaint online if they are a mandated reporter.
A mandated reporter is someone who has an obligation to report suspicions of abuse or neglect of a child in the state of PA. These mandated reporters are generally in a position of proximity to children, like teachers and doctors. If mandated reporters fail to report child abuse suspicions, they could be charged with a crime.
Because ChildLine allows anyone to report suspected child abuse, you can bet that mistakes happen. When it comes to violence or neglect in childcare cases, there's no arguing a “better safe than sorry” policy certainly has merits, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be protections in place for those accused of child abuse. Further, in domestic disputes, one parent can harbor grudges against another, and abuse may be reported where it doesn't exist.
How a ChildLine Investigation Can Impact Your Life
If you're investigated for child abuse after someone has reported you to ChildLine, you need to know that there could be severe interruptions to your day-to-day life. The investigator assigned to your case may conduct interviews with you and the child and may want to look around your home to examine whether conditions are safe for a child. A caseworker who finds evidence of a threat to a child can obtain a court order to have the child removed from the home. After a child is removed from the home, the case must be brought before a judge within 72 hours, and at that time, the judge will issue a final order regarding whether the child can return to the home or has to be placed into protective services.
At the end of the day, a ChildLine complaint can lead to disruptions in your life at best and loss of custody at worse. While you do need to cooperate with this process, you should also remain aware of your rights and when those rights are violated.
When You Should File a Complaint Against ChildLine
Complaints against ChildLine in PA could occur if the ChildLine specialists inappropriately handle accusations made against you. ChildLine specialists are in charge of the following:
- Reviewing ChildLine accusations
- Providing general protective services assessments
- Finalizing general protective services outcomes
If the ChildLine Specialists aren't able to perform their job effectively, for whatever reason, the harm done to the accused could be irreparable if not caught and corrected.
If you suspect your rights as a parent or guardian are in jeopardy because of the way PA child protective services is mishandling a case against you, you need to file a complaint right away. There are any number of reasons you could be a victim of mishandling of a ChildLine investigation, including bias or discrimination.
Understanding your rights is the first step in knowing when or if to file a complaint with ChildLine in Pennsylvania. You have the right to raise your child, and your child cannot be taken from you unless a judge approves the decision. You also have the right to know court dates affecting your custody of your child. These cases occur in family court, and you have the right to an attorney. If you can't afford an attorney, one can be provided for you if you meet certain income criteria.
Time is of the essence in lodging a complaint against ChildLine for the way you or your family is being treated. Child abuse and neglect cases move swiftly, and if you don't act fast in protecting your rights, you could lose custody of your child and face criminal penalties in the blink of an eye.
Can You File a Complaint Against ChildLine?
It can be difficult to figure out how to lodge a complaint against ChildLine. After all, if you simply google “complaint against ChildLine,” the search results that come up are intended to help you file a complaint WITH the state instead of AGAINST the state.
You could contact ChildLine and lodge a complaint with DHS in scenarios where your rights are being violated by the state or by your case worker. The most effective strategy for overcoming ChildLine investigations is hiring an attorney to fight the case and appeal the result if necessary.
When to Speak to a PA Criminal Defense Attorney
You should contact a criminal defense attorney in PA as soon as you're notified of a ChildLine investigation against you. The state takes child abuse claims seriously, and sometimes the caseworkers are too overloaded to meaningfully help you when you feel you've been mistreated. Other times, you might find you're a victim of discrimination or egregious oversite and don't think talking to your caseworker will help. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped countless families through claims of child abuse, and he knows what a stressful time this can be for you and your loved ones. To learn how the Lento Law Firm can help you today, call 888-535-3686 today, or contact us online.