Child abuse accusations are some of the harshest accusations that can be made against an individual. Many times, these accusations are made as strategies for custody cases, divorce proceedings, or child support requests. Either way, accusations of child abuse and the resulting investigations into personal and professional areas of your life – have the same result: sleepless nights, exhaustion, stress, and emotional scars.
The worst part is that false accusations are made far too often and take away resources from real abuse cases where children desperately need to be protected from their abusers. For example, the number of child abuse cases that were reported in Pennsylvania in 2021 was more than 38,000. But the officials were only ever able to substantiate 5,036 – just barely 13.2% of complaints. If those defendants had not had adequate representation, that number could have been much higher.
In Pennsylvania, child abuse reports are typically made anonymously to the state's “ChildLine” reporting system. Because individuals can make reports anonymously, it takes considerable manpower to determine if the claim is valid. Moreover, there is no way to hold a reporter accountable when the investigators determine that the claim was falsely made on purpose.
Not only are false child abuse complaints embarrassing, but accused individuals tend to suffer from extreme mental anguish that can last even after the charges are dropped or their case is expunged. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team knows what you are up against when you are accused of child abuse in Lackawanna County. They will work overtime to make sure you are not being subjected to unfair and unjust proceedings and sanctions. Call 888-535-3686 today for help.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Lackawanna County
Each county in Pennsylvania has its own agency that manages child abuse claims made to ChildLine. In Lackawanna County, these claims are referred to the Lackawanna County Office of Youth and Family Services (LCOYFS).
Once LCOYFS receives a claim of child abuse from ChildLine, they will investigate the complaint to figure out whether it is valid – because sometimes they aren't. For instance, in 2021, there were 668 complaints of child abuse made in Lackawanna County. Of those 668, only 82 could be corroborated. That's 12% of cases. This means almost 90% of cases cannot be substantiated and are thrown out.
If you are notified by LCOYFS that a child abuse complaint has been made to ChildLine about you and that you are going to be investigated, the only thing to do is to call an attorney. The Lento Law Firm Team have spent their careers helping individuals who are going through the same thing. He knows how often individuals are falsely accused, having their lives unnecessarily upended, and will work diligently to mitigate these consequences.
What Is the ChildLine System
Pennsylvania's ChildLine is a reporting system that allows individuals to make written or verbal reports of child abuse and well-being concerns. The ChildLine system is online 24/7 and does not require the names or information of the reporting individual. The moment the information reaches ChildLine, the investigative process begins. In Lackawanna County, the Lackawanna County Office of Youth and Family Services oversees investigating child abuse reports made to ChildLine about children in their county.
In addition to their reporting duties, the ChildLine system in PA also maintains an online registry of individuals found responsible for committing child abuse. Employers, current and prospective, as well as law enforcement officials, can review the ChildLine registry.
Unfortunately, the system is supposed to only load the names of individuals who have been found responsible for child abuse, but they do this right after the initial investigation, prior to the final appeal hearing determination. This allows accused individuals to be punished prior to being found actually responsible for the behavior. When your name is memorialized on this registry, it can seriously impact your quality of life, relationships, mental health, and employment.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made
When a report of alleged child abuse that happened in Lackawanna County is made to the Pennsylvania ChildLine, the report is forwarded to LCOYFS. LCOYFS will start its investigation immediately. The beginning of the investigation is an internal one where the investigators review the report and figure out what the alleged conduct is and whether it falls under “child abuse.” If it does, the LCOYFS initiates the formal investigation.
A formal investigation will include reaching out to anyone named in the initial report and setting up meetings to interview them. Any kind of investigation, interview, or line of questioning can be extremely overwhelming, especially because reports can be made anonymously. This means they can be made out of spite, boredom, anger, or retaliation and still cause the defendant to suffer the indignity of an investigation and appeals process.
If you are accused of child abuse, you will be interviewed by LCOYFS. While the initial interview may take place in your home, LCOYFS investigators have been known to visit an accused person's workplace, friends, and family to get more information. Having an experienced attorney from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is the only way to ensure these interviews are two-sided and that the investigator is working in an unbiased fashion.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Investigated by a Child Line Investigator
All US citizens have due process rights that federal agencies, law enforcement, and court systems must follow. If they fail to provide these rights, they can be punished. That being said, there are times when these agencies forget to provide due process rights or cut corners and fail to give defendants the ability to protect themselves from unfair or unjust accusations.
Some of your due process rights include being able to confront your accuser, being able to defend yourself from accusations, and being able to work with an attorney. One of the most common investigative tactics is to make the defendant feel at ease so that they are more comfortable. When you are comfortable and trusting, you tend to disclose more information than necessary. This is why it is so important to have your attorney present at your interviews. Your attorney will ensure the investigator is not infringing on your rights and that you are fully prepared to answer their questions.
The Lento Law Firm Team has helped defendants accused of child abuse in Lackawanna County and all over Pennsylvania. They will negotiate on your behalf with the investigator and the LCOYFS. Many times, these supplementary negotiations have resolved the matter before it is presented to a judge or jury.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides to Confirm an Abuse Report Against You
Once the initial interviews have ended, the ChildLine investigator will use what they learned to determine if the report of child abuse is valid or if it should be thrown out. In situations where they decide the child abuse report has credence, they will put the accused person's name on the registry.
Working with a skilled defense attorney is crucial in these cases. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team knows the kinds of consequences you will face if you are placed on the registry and will work tirelessly to prevent that from happening. The moment the decision is made by the investigator, it can be appealed. Your attorney will help you determine which appeal is best and what the next steps for your defense look like.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
It is incredibly important to take advantage of an appeal if you have the chance. To have a ChildLine abuse finding appealed, you must make it within 90 days after receiving the finding. While 90 days sounds like a long time, it goes by very quickly, so it is important to be aware of deadlines and work fast.
The first way to appeal the finding is to request that the Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) organize an administrative review of LCOYFS's finding. Another way would be to skip the administrative review and instead demand a formal appeal by OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA).
It is important to remember that BHA appeals are not court proceedings. If you choose that route, you will not be presenting an appeal to a courtroom, which means the rules of evidence will be relaxed. When the rules of evidence are relaxed, it allows the other side to present evidence that wouldn't normally be admissible in the courtroom.
At the BHA appeal hearing, you will be allowed to present the evidence you believe proves that the ChildLine registry finding should be reversed. The state, in a BHA appeal, has the burden of proving, with clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant committed the supposed conduct that is alleged in the ChildLine report. If the state can't do that on appeal, the finding will be overturned, and your name will be removed from the registry.
Now, if the BHA decides that the registry finding should be maintained, you can then petition for a second appeal from the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Human Services. The Secretary will examine the appeal and decide whether the BHA's decision should be upheld or reversed. Obviously, choosing to bypass the OCYF's administrative review for the initial BHA appeal hearing offers a significant benefit to appealing defendants and should be strongly considered. Your attorney will help you decide which path is better for your particular case.
It also should be noted that there have been a lot of cases overturned by the Secretary of the Department of Human Services in the past. But to be truly successful in your appeal, you need the advice and guidance of a knowledgeable attorney. This is especially true if you are feeling burned out and exhausted by the initial investigation process.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will take some of that burden from you, ensuring you are prepared to defend yourself appropriately. In addition to helping individuals accused of child abuse in Lackawanna County, they have also helped countless residents throughout Pennsylvania.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
Getting a ChildLine registry entry expunged can be challenging, but it is still possible, even if you have been on the registry for a while. To have your entry removed and the information expunged from the registry, the Secretary of the Department of Human Services must have newly discovered evidence that proves the abuse claim was inaccurate. Alternatively, you can show the Secretary that you no longer present a risk of committing child abuse. If you are no longer at risk of this conduct, then there is no reason to have you on the registry.
How Lento Law Firm Can Help
Being accused of child abuse is a serious offense that can come with serious, lifelong consequences. Sadly, many child abuse complaints that are made to the Pennsylvania ChildLine are malicious, without evidence, or simply made out of boredom, forcing good people to suffer through harsh and uncomfortable proceedings.
If you or someone you know has been accused of child abuse through ChildLine or is looking to appeal an unfortunate decision, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. They understand how the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania works and what you are up against. They will gather evidence and witness testimony to build a solid defense on your behalf. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online. Our competent attorneys can guarantee the best possible outcome for your case.