If ChildLine Investigators in Juniata County are questioning your child's safety, you are likely embarrassed, outraged, and scared about your family's future. Although some investigations do reveal confirmed instances of child abuse or neglect, a large majority of investigations in the county do not. While many investigations stem from a genuine place of legitimate concern for a child's well-being, others may originate from personal vendettas or even cultural misunderstandings.
While it may be easy to let your mind wander, you should remain calm, ensure your children you love and are committed to keeping them safe, and take the necessary steps to inform yourself about your legal rights. Our qualified LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you navigate the complexities involved in the investigation, adjudication, and disposition phases of a ChildLine investigation. Let us help by alleviating some of your stress so you can focus on maintaining your family's well-being and stability.
Juniata County, Pennsylvania
Juniata County is a smaller, rural county in southcentral Pennsylvania known for its pleasant lifestyle and agricultural history. Some of the cities, boroughs, townships, and towns located in the county include:
- East Waterford
- Honey Grove
- Mc Alisterville
- Oakland Mills
- Port Royal
According to the 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, of the 90 child abuse allegations in Juniata County, only 23 were substantiated. Most of the substantiated reports involved instances of sexual abuse, followed by physical abuse, and lastly, physical neglect.
Juniata County Children and Youth Services
Allegations of suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment in the county are reported to the Juniata County Children and Youth Services ("JCCYS"), the county agency responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect reports. While JCCYS can remove children from parents in instances of severe abuse or neglect, its goal should always be to provide the family with rehabilitative services so the children can either remain in or return to their parent's care.
Family Group Conferencing
JCCYS offers "Family Group Conferencing" to families with active DCP&P involvement as part of its effort to provide rehabilitative services to families. Family Group Conferences are organized by JCCYS workers. They are designed to encourage family members, friends, or any other support system members to come together and discuss concerns and share information regarding their children's welfare. These conferences are designed to formulate an action plan to provide safety, protection, and stability for the children in a way that encourages family members to work together without complete reliance on their service providers. Although many families may opt to participate in the conferences, they can also be court-ordered.
Pennsylvania's ChildLine System
Like other counties in the state, JCCYS utilizes the state-mandated structured program ChildLine to record, track, and investigate instances of suspected child abuse. ChildLine is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services ("DHS") and serves as a 24-hour hotline where members of the community can safely report potential cases of child abuse.
After receiving a referral, ChildLine representatives conduct initial investigations. Depending on the nature and severity of the allegations, ChildLine may also coordinate with other relevant entities or state divisions, such as law enforcement agencies or county mental health services.
The ChildLine Registry
In conjunction with the ChildLine System, Juniata County also utilizes the ChildLine Registry, a state-required system for maintaining records and identification information for individuals who have been identified as probable or confirmed perpetrators of child abuse. Having your name on this Registry can carry significant consequences, particularly concerning one's professional and personal life. Not only can the Registry result in limitations on employment opportunities and volunteer activities, but your personal life can be affected in ongoing child custody battles or adoption requests.
Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters
Some individuals, known as "mandated reporters," are required under Pennsylvania state law to report instances of suspected child abuse. Most mandated reporters fall into three categories: those who work or volunteer with children, such as educators; government employees, such as social workers; and those who work in family-oriented services, such as counselors, coaches, church employees, or medical professionals. Although mandated reporters receive training in how to recognize signs and symptoms of child abuse easily, they must remain personally diligent. Reports who fail to report suspected abuse or neglect can face felony convictions in the third degree or higher.
In contrast to mandatory reporters, permissive reporters, while not legally required under state law, are encouraged to report suspicions of child abuse. Permissive reporters include all other Pennsylvania citizens who are not recognized as mandated reporters. Unlike mandatory reporters, permissive reporters do not face legal repercussions for failing to report. Permissive reporters are just as valuable in protecting Juniata children as mandated reporters because their willingness to step forward can be instrumental in demonstrating communal responsibility.
ChildLine Is Investigating Me, Now What?
If a ChildLine investigation has been launched against you, you are likely wondering what will happen next. When a ChildLine report is made, it triggers a series of procedures and investigative actions designed to prioritize your child's safety. Although the process is designed to protect children, it's not uncommon for parents to feel as though they have no legal rights of their own. ChildLine investigations typically take place in the following steps:
The Reporting Phase
ChildLine investigations are first triggered when a ChildLine worker receives a report through the ChildLine hotline. At this stage, ChildLine workers seek to grasp a full picture of the child's home life and typically inquire about a child's family structure and home life and any information the caller may have about the perpetrator. If a mandated reporter is making the report, the reporter must share their contact information with the worker if the worker has further questions about the incident in the future. Permissive reporters may also call but are not required to leave their contact information.
The Investigation Phase
Once a report of suspected child abuse or neglect is made to JCCYS, ChildLine Investigators have 24 hours to launch an investigation into the allegations. Throughout this investigation, Investigators seek evidence, or lack of evidence, that helps them determine whether a child is being abused or neglected within the context of Chapter 63- the state's thorough child protective services statutes. Some of the major acts that qualify as child abuse under Chapter 63 include intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly doing any of the following:
- Bodily harm through an act or failure to act.
- Fabricating, feigning, or intentionally exaggerating a medical symptom, resulting in a potentially harmful medical evaluation.
- Mental injury through an act or failure to act.
- Sexual abuse through an act or failure to act or causing sexual exploitation through an act or failure to perform.
- Creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury through an act or failure to act.
- Serious physical neglect.
- Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing, or cutting.
- Unreasonable retraining or confinement.
- Forceful shaking of a child under one year or slapping a child of such period.
- Placing a child in an unsafe environment or location where crime is likely to occur.
- Leaving a child unsupervised with a sexual predator.
Although the contents of each ChildLine investigation will vary, §3490.55 of the State's Code requires Investigators to conduct interviews with any persons who know or are suspected of learning about the alleged child abuse incident, such as family members, parents, neighbors, teachers, etc. Investigators may also consult with professionals, such as doctors, medical providers, etc., about the child's well-being.
Investigators may also visit the family home to assess the child's living conditions. Some evidence of potential abuse or neglect in a home signaling possible abuse or neglect include:
- Exposed wires or broken glass
- Unsecured medications or firearms
- Lack of or broken smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors
- Unsanitary conditions, lack of clean laundry, spoiled food, etc.
- Evidence of domestic violence
- Lack of food or other basic necessities.
- Aggressive animals
- Unprotected outlets or lack of child safety gates
The Investigation Phase is Over, Now What?
Although it may feel like an eternity, Pennsylvania law requires ChildLine Investigations to be completed within a 30-day timeframe. At the close of the investigation, Investigators may close the case if the allegations are not substantiated by sufficient evidence. If the family requires some supportive assistance rather than court intervention, an Investigator can also offer intervention services such as counseling, childcare assistance, parenting classes, domestic violence services, and federal financial assistance. Finally, if evidence suggests court intervention is needed, an Investigator can refer the family for DCP&P intervention.
What Happens if JCCYS Confirms Allegations Against Me?
If JCCYS substantiates abuse allegations against you, your name will immediately be added to the ChildLine Registry. You can petition to have your name removed from the Registry and/or pursue an appeal. While you may be tempted to handle these procedures independently, it's essential to be aware that navigating the state's bureaucracy can be complex and demanding.
Our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can guide you through this process by helping you understand the nuances of child welfare law, prepare the necessary documentation, and represent your interests effectively throughout the appeals process. Working with a member of our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can significantly enhance your likelihood of receiving fair and just treatment from JCCYS and the state.
ChildLine appeal submissions should usually be filed within 90 days after receiving orders of the confirmed allegations. Appeals can be pursued by filing an administrative appeal with the state's Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) or via a hearing before the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (BHA).
For someone not well-versed in legal proceedings, navigating these appeal hearings can be a challenging and intimidating experience. These hearings resemble a miniature trial, consisting of various procedural elements, including opening and closing arguments, the admission and examination of evidence, the delivery of testimony, and the practice of cross-examination.
During the hearing, the burden of proof rests with the state, which is required to demonstrate guilt regarding the child abuse allegations through "clear and convincing evidence." This standard mandates the state to present evidence that is so clear, direct, and weighty that it enables the hearing officer to decide without reservations or hesitation.
The complexity and importance of the appeals process underscores the importance of having competent legal representation. Our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you navigate the process effectively, ensuring that your parental rights are properly articulated and defended.
How Can I Have My Name Removed From the ChildLine Registry?
Generally, there are two primary avenues for having one's name removed from the ChildLine Registry. First, you can petition the Department of Human Services (DHS) to remove your name from the Registry if new evidence emerges proving that the abuse allegations against you were, in fact, false. If this route is not possible, you can also file a petition with DHS showing that you no longer pose any risk to children. This route requires supportive evidence demonstrating that your circumstances and behavior have changed. Completion of programs such as substance abuse counseling, anger management, or parenting classes can also help support your petition.
Fortunately, our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has filed numerous requests and can help you file an expungement request immediately.
ChildLine Investigation Defense in Juniata County
If you are currently involved in a ChildLine investigation or appeal process in Juniata County, our experienced and compassionate LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you navigate state administrative agencies and bureaucratic challenges involved in a ChildLine investigation and appeal.
Our Team can offer you the guidance and representation you need to navigate these proceedings, ensuring that your voice is heard and your family is advocated for. Contact us today by calling (888) 535-3686 or reach out to us by using our online contact form.