Child abuse accusations are serious. Due to the stigma surrounding child abuse, merely being accused of a crime of this nature is enough to tarnish an individual's reputation and limit their opportunities.
If you're accused of child abuse in Lancaster County, PA, ChildLine handles the investigations. This is an incredibly stressful time for any accused person, especially if the accusations are false or exaggerated. Oftentimes, the allegations are enough to ruin relationships and even affect job opportunities – even if the report turns out to be untrue.
The Lento Law Firm understands how concerning it is to be "ChildLined." If you need help with ChildLine investigations, don't hesitate to get help. Call attorney Joseph Lento and his Criminal Defense Team immediately at 888.535.3686 or talk to us online to schedule a meeting.
What Is Child Abuse?
Child abuse is any action (or failure to act) that causes a child physical or emotional harm. In other words, a person does something harmful or fails to prevent harm from occurring (PA Code Title 23 Section 6303(b)(1)).
Child abuse can be physical, such as kicking, shoving, or punching a child. However, it can also be emotional, such as neglecting the child and causing them emotional injury.
Leaving a child with a known serious sex offender, or subjecting the child to sexual exploitation or abuse, are other forms of child abuse.
These are only some examples of acts or omissions which may be considered child abuse. An attorney should be consulted immediately if you're facing allegations to discuss why the accusations have been made.
Who Can Report Suspected Child Abuse?
Child safety should matter to everyone, so anyone can report suspected child abuse or neglect. There are two categories of "reporters" in PA and Lancaster County: mandated reporters and individuals.
Mandated or "mandatory" reporters have a legal duty to report child abuse or neglect. Reporters include teachers, doctors, and those in direct contact with children through their employment. A mandatory reporter can't make their report anonymously, but you won't be told who they are if you're investigated based on their allegations.
Any adult who is not a mandated reporter can call ChildLine to make allegations. These individuals can remain anonymous if they wish. While anonymity can be helpful in some circumstances, it can be detrimental because it allows anyone to make harmful, false, and malicious allegations that must be investigated.
What is the ChildLine Registry?
ChildLine is an agency hosted by the Department of Public Welfare. It offers protection for neglected and abused minors. The agency receives reports through the operation of a toll-free 24-hour hotline. The public is encouraged to call this number when they witness the mistreatment of a child.
When a report is called in, ChildLine specialists gauge whether a report is plausible by analyzing several factors. For example, the specialists will consider:
- The relationship between the witness and the accused.
- Cultural differences which may affect how adults raise children.
- The exact allegations made by the witness.
Not all allegations are investigated. However, if ChildLine determines that allegations have at least some merit, the local Children's Agency launches an investigation. In Lancaster County, this is the Lancaster County Children and Youth Social Service Agency.
If there's enough evidence to support the allegations, the alleged perpetrator is placed on the ChildLine Registry. If the allegations are unfounded, the agency may retain the alleged perpetrator's details, but they won't be listed on the Registry.
You must be notified if you're placed on the Registry. However, you won't be told until after you're listed. You should immediately challenge unfair, untrue, and malicious allegations to mitigate any long-term consequences.
The moment that a person makes a child abuse accusation, various things happen.
- The Children's Agency for Lancaster County evaluates the accusations.
- Once the report has been received and confirmed by the agency, they have 24 hours to undertake preliminary investigations. At-risk children may be immediately removed from the home.
- A caseworker will perform a home visit, interview the child's parents or guardians, and talk to the child. They may also perform other checks, such as viewing medical records or talking to the child's teachers.
- Once the investigations are complete, the caseworker submits their findings to ChildLine.
- The caseworker performs a final assessment, or safety check, to identify ways to improve the child's home environment.
Outcome of ChildLine Investigations
ChildLine investigations should be completed within 30 days unless there's reasonable cause shown for the delay. They should not take longer than 60 days.
Once investigations are complete, the agency makes one of three determinations.
- Unfounded: There's no evidence that a child is in danger or that abuse occurred. The allegations are dismissed.
- Indicated: Although there's some evidence of neglect or abuse, it's unconfirmed. It's only the caseworker's opinion that there's evidence to support the allegations.
- Founded: A judicial hearing or decision has confirmed that child abuse took place based on the evidence presented.
Founded reports are the most serious because they're typically associated with formal legal proceedings. Such a decision against you is, in many ways, comparable to a criminal conviction. However, any child abuse investigation must be taken seriously.
Sometimes, reports show as "pending." This simply means that the investigations are incomplete. The report should update within 30 days (or 60 days if there's a delay). However, the report may not be completed until related criminal proceedings for e.g., domestic violence or child abuse, have concluded, as they could impact the case.
What to Do if There Are ChildLine Investigations Against You
Although this is a hugely stressful time, it's important that you remain calm. Cooperate with the investigators but don't feel compelled to answer questions. You have various legal rights, and you are not obliged to give answers at this stage.
ChildLine has the power to perform thorough investigations as part of the process. Their powers include the right to interview a child without your permission and obtain their medical records. This level of authority makes sense because it protects children who are truly at risk from harm. However, when the allegations against you are false or exaggerated, these powers can seem disproportionate. Joseph Lento and his Criminal Defense Team can ensure you are treated fairly. We will help you understand what's happening, and we will make you feel properly supported.
Consequences of a ChildLine Registry Listing
ChildLine Registry listings can have serious repercussions. Although a criminal penalty is not always imposed, there are other outcomes that are just as severe.
For one thing, persons listed on the ChildLine Registry are expected to stay out of the vicinity of children in private, professional, and social settings. This restriction has many consequences.
- Your job opportunities will be limited as you will be unable to work with children in any capacity.
- ChildLine Registry listings restrict you from volunteering at your child's school, so you'll lose out on precious family time.
- You will be unable to volunteer or help with children's activities throughout the community.
In divorce proceedings, child abuse issues can also prevent you from seeking custody of your children or getting the visitation rights you deserve. Given how severe such consequences are, you should challenge ChildLine referrals rigorously.
Appealing ChildLine Decisions in Lancaster County
The moment you are notified of ChildLine accusations against you, it's crucial you act. You only have a short period of time to challenge – and overcome – the allegations.
The first step in the appeals process is requesting a hearing.
- You have 90 days to appeal a finding of child abuse or a decision to list your name in the ChildLine Registry. Section 6341 of the PA Code Title 23 sets out the appeals process in more detail.
- If you don't make an appeal request on time, it may still be granted on good cause shown. However, this is not a guarantee, and you may lose your right to appeal. In practicality, untimely appeal requests are rarely approved.
At the hearing, the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) revisits your case. They will determine if the findings are fair and either grant or refuse your appeal.
Where ChildLine Appeals Take Place
Lancaster County ChildLine cases will generally be heard at either the Central or Southeastern Regional Office of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA):
Central Regional Office:
Southeastern Regional Office:
Philadelphia State Office Building
Commonwealth of PA
Department of Human Services
ChildLine Appeal Hearing Process
The appeals process can seem daunting, especially if you've never dealt with child abuse accusations. Joseph Lento and the Criminal Defense Team can help you through the process, but in the meantime, here's an overview of what to expect.
- A hearing officer evaluates your case based on the evidence available.
- The hearing officer will consider the case with the purpose of granting or refusing the appeal in mind.
- It's on the agency to prove that you committed the acts detailed in their original report. And they must show that a Registry listing is justified.
Standard of Proof
It's not enough for ChildLine staff to present their final report at the appeals hearing. They must show that you did, in fact, commit the acts as alleged.
- The burden of proof at this stage is "clear and convincing" evidence. This is lower than the criminal burden of proof – beyond a reasonable doubt – but it's still a high bar to meet.
- If ChildLine proves the case, the findings against you will stand. If the agency fails to prove its case on appeal, the report is expunged (removed).
The problem is that even successful appeals have consequences. Just because an appeal is successful does not mean you haven't already lost relationships or suffered significant emotional distress. However, the sooner you challenge these accusations, the less severe these consequences may be.
What to Do if Your Appeal Fails
In Lancaster County, there are options if your appeal is unsuccessful. You may decide to accept the outcome, or you can file a new appeal with the Secretary of the DHS. You must file this request within 15 days, or it will not be considered.
Initial appeals – and second appeals – are complicated. Rather than worrying over the procedures involved, it's best that you retain an attorney immediately to ensure you have the fairest chance at the hearing.
ChildLine Decisions and Expungement in Lancaster County
Your name may not always stay on the ChildLine Registry indefinitely. There are times when names may be expunged from the Registry, although the circumstances are limited. In all cases, the 90-day deadline for filing an expungement request applies.
Your best chance of having your name expunged from the Registry is if the report against you is "indicated" rather than "substantiated" or "founded." However, this is not a guarantee, and you must always seek help in any case from an experienced appeals attorney.
Retain a Lancaster County ChildLine Appeal Attorney
If you're concerned about ChildLine referrals or you're worried that the verdict is unjust, you need immediate legal advice. Every defendant in these cases has legal rights, and they must have a fair opportunity to exercise them.
At the Lento Law Firm, we care about protecting our clients and helping them through tough times. Attorney Joseph Lento and his Criminal Defense Team have helped numerous individuals successfully appeal ChildLine's findings. We know what's involved in ChildLine appeals, and we will ensure that due process is followed. We can represent you at any child abuse hearing, and we will advocate tirelessly on your behalf.
ChildLine accusations can have serious, sometimes life-altering consequences. And if the allegations are false or exaggerated, these consequences can be even more severe. Contact us at 888.535.3686 or reach out online to schedule a meeting.