Having a child abuse report made against you is a serious allegation. Being reported for suspected child abuse involves investigations, interrogations, and potentially life-ruining consequences. If you have been reported for suspected child abuse, you may be confused that such an allegation would be made against you and unsure how to proceed.
Like all other counties in Pennsylvania, Indiana County takes every report of child abuse seriously. All children deserve safety and protection from abuse, and Indiana County must ensure its children are safe. Even when a child abuse report turns out to be fake, Indiana County still must investigate every case thoroughly. Unfortunately, that means that innocent people can and often do face allegations of child abuse.
Unfounded reports of child abuse are more common than you might think. Many suspected child abuse reports happen due to an argument or dispute between adults, such as a divorce, separation, or custody proceeding. Often, a spouse, partner, or their friends or family will report a suspected incident of child abuse to sway a court proceeding against the person they are reporting.
Falsely reporting that someone has abused a child is a disgusting tactic that can cause harm to everyone involved, particularly the wrongly accused. If you face allegations of suspected child abuse, you must take action immediately to defend yourself. While friends, family, and the community may be passing judgment, the Lento Law Firm is here to fight for you and help restore your good reputation.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Indiana County
In Indiana County, Pennsylvania, reports of suspected child abuse are referred to the Indiana County Child and Youth Office. In Pennsylvania, these reports of abuse are divided into one of nine categories:
- Sexual abuse
- Physical abuse/bodily injury
- Reasonable likelihood of bodily injury
- Serious physical neglect
- Engaging in per se acts
- Likelihood of sexual abuse/exploitation
- Serious mental injury
- Severe form of trafficking in persons or sex trafficking
- Munchausen syndrome by proxy/medical abuse
In 2022, the Indiana County Child and Youth Office received a total of 263 suspected cases of child abuse. Only 33 of these reports were ultimately substantiated.
What Is the ChildLine System?
ChildLine is the suspected child abuse reporting system in Pennsylvania. The ChildLine system comprises a phone hotline and a website for online reporting. Both the website and hotline are available to accept reports of suspected child abuse 24/7. The purpose of ChildLine is to “accept child abuse referrals and general child wellbeing concerns and transmit the information quickly to the appropriate investigating agency.”
Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?
No restrictions exist on who can make a suspected child abuse report through ChildLine in Pennsylvania. Generally, reporters of suspected child abuse fall into two categories: permissive reporters and mandatory reporters.
In Pennsylvania, mandatory reporters are those who are required by law to report suspected child abuse. When you think of mandatory reporters, you probably think of teachers, doctors, law enforcement, and clergymen (priests, rabbis, ministers, etc.). Still, the list of mandatory reporters is much longer and includes people you wouldn't expect. Mandatory reporting extends to any “individuals, paid or unpaid, who, based on the individual's role as an integral part of regularly scheduled program, activity, or service, are responsible for the child's welfare or has direct contact with children” and employees of any public library who have direct contact with children in the course of their employment. Essentially, anyone who comes into contact with a child as part of their job or anyone supervising an employee who comes in contact with a child, regardless of how well they know the child.
Permissive reporters are not required by law to report suspected child abuse; these people are making their report voluntarily for any number of reasons, legitimate or illegitimate. A permissive reporter can be literally anyone, whether you know them or not. That can include a neighbor, family member, friend, ex-partner, and more.
When making a suspected child abuse report to ChildLine, a permissive reporter is not required to provide any identifying information; this means reports can be completely anonymous. Mandatory reporters are required to provide their names and contact information. Calls are not recorded, and ChildLine does not have caller ID in its system. All calls to ChildLine are confidential under Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law. This is particularly concerning because if a report is filed against you anonymously, you will be unable to know who has launched this attack against you, causing additional stress in an already tense situation.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report is Made?
After the Indiana County Child and Youth Office receives a ChildLine report against you, it will begin reviewing the report and analyzing its detailed facts. The first step will be determining whether the facts presented include an act considered child abuse under Pennsylvania laws. Many types of child abuse include physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Many acts can constitute child abuse. The complete list of these acts can be found in the Pennsylvania Statutes at Pa. Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6303(b.1). Under Pennsylvania law, child abuse is “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” committing any of the acts listed in that statute.
If the Indiana County Child and Youth Office determines the report's facts include potential child abuse, it will begin an investigation. The Child and Youth Office worker assigned to the case will have between 30 and 60 days to complete their investigation. The timeline for completing the investigation will depend on a variety of factors and the level of complexity of the case.
The investigation will include a visit to the child's home where the child's family if they are not already aware of the situation, will be informed of the report's specifics. During this visit, the investigator will begin gathering information and conducting a safety and risk assessment to ensure the child is safe in their current home environment. If necessary, a safety plan may be developed for the child. The family will also be informed of applicable Indiana County Child and Youth services available to the child and their family.
If the report suspects you of child abuse, you should also expect a visit from the Indiana County Child and Youth Office investigator. As you would expect, this visit can be incredibly uncomfortable for you and anyone else present in your household. The investigator will ask a series of invasive questions about your life, your relationship with the child named in the report, and even topics that seem completely unrelated to the suspected child abuse allegation. Other people in your life may also be interviewed and asked questions about you and the alleged incident(s). In some cases, you will be asked to participate in follow-up interviews.
What You Can Do if a ChildLine Investigator Is Investigating You
The process you have read about so far sounds stressful, intrusive, and downright upsetting. It may feel like the government and others in your community are out to get you. You must remember that you have rights, most importantly, the right to an attorney. This is a right you should exercise the moment you hear that a ChildLine report has been made against you. Retaining counsel with extensive ChildLine reporting defense experience, such as the Lento Law Firm, is particularly important.
Retaining the Lento Law Firm ASAP means you can limit the one-on-one contact with Indiana County's Child and Youth Office and minimize the chances of saying anything that may be misconstrued and used against you. When you are without experienced counsel, investigators can try to take advantage of you. They may act like they are on your side or ask you confusing questions in an attempt to make you say the wrong thing.
When you have the Lento Law Firm present, they can ensure your rights are upheld, and your interviews are conducted fairly and by the law. They will ensure you understand all questions fully and are prepared with a truthful answer while presenting your case in the best light. Additionally, they can foster open and non-hostile communication with investigators, allowing you to best share your side of the story. When you have the Lento Law Firm with you, we will make the investigation process as painless as possible, considering the circumstances.
What Happens if the Investigator Finds You May Have Committed Child Abuse?
Your name can be placed on the ChildLine registry even without a definitive determination that you have committed child abuse. All it takes is the Indiana County Child and Youth Office to decide that you may have committed child abuse – this is a very low bar and is incredibly unfair to those falsely accused. Getting your name off the ChildLine registry should be your top priority.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
Immediately appeal a ChildLine abuse finding against you because you will face a long list of negative consequences if you are on the ChildLine registry. Being on the ChildLine registry will significantly impact your personal and professional life.
Being on the ChildLine registry automatically makes you ineligible for various jobs in which you could come in contact with children. Potential employers can access the registry and refuse to hire you just because they do not want an alleged child abuser on their staff.
In your personal life, if you have a child or children in your life who you have a relationship with, you would be prohibited from attending important events. You would likely be prevented from attending school plays, soccer games, and graduations. You do not want to miss these milestones.
You need to appeal the claim against you as soon as possible because you will only have 90 days from the mailing date listed on the ChildLine registry determination to appeal. There are two ways to move forward with an appeal. The first is to ask the Indiana County Child and Youth Office for an administrative review of your case. Alternatively, you can proceed with a formal appeal where the Pennsylvania Bureau of Hearings and Appeal will open a formal case, assign you an Administrative Law Judge, and schedule a hearing.
There is absolutely no circumstance where you should be appealing without the assistance of the Lento Law Firm. This is particularly true in administrative law cases such as ChildLine appeals. Administrative hearings have different rules and procedures than criminal law cases, with different deadlines and rules for admitting evidence.
In the event your appeal hearing is unsuccessful, all is not lost. You still have the opportunity to request your appeal be reconsidered; this request is made to the Secretary of the Department of Human Services. This request must be made within 15 days of your hearing determination. You might feel discouraged at this point, but many people in your situation have been successful in this reconsideration request. In 2021, 34 of the 86 appeals cases were overturned.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
Expunging your ChildLine registry listing is possible. This can occur when newly discovered evidence indicates the initial abuse report was inaccurate. The second is when you can establish you do not present a risk to children, and there is no longer a public benefit of having your name on the registry. Your ChildLine defense attorney at the Lento Law Firm can help you determine your eligibility for expungement.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help
The Lento Law Firm's ChildLine appeal attorneys have been successful in numerous ChildLine cases throughout Indiana County. People facing child abuse allegations are rarely given the benefit of the doubt and treated fairly, which is why you need someone vigorously advocating for you and your reputation. The Lento Law Firm always upholds your rights and fights to keep your name off the ChildLine registry. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 or contact us online for a confidential consultation.