Having a child abuse report against you will likely be shocking and upsetting. The allegation is extremely serious and can have potentially life-long negative consequences. When a suspected child abuse report has been filed against you, you face investigations, interrogations, and potentially a series of administrative processes. This suspected child abuse report filed against you has likely come as an unwelcome and terrifying surprise. Never having been in this situation before, you are probably unsure how to address this allegation, but you have no time to waste defending yourself.
Reasonably, Lawrence County takes every single report of suspected child abuse incredibly seriously. Everyone believes that children should never be subject to abuse or neglect, and it is important to aid all children of Lawrence County from suffering abuse. Because often there isn't a way to determine if an abuse allegation is fake, Lawrence County will investigate each case. While this is a legitimate response to a suspected child abuse claim, it doesn't mean that there can't be unintended victims, such as you, who have been wrongly accused.
Unfortunately, unfounded reports of child abuse are not uncommon; it probably happens more often than you would expect. Why does this happen? Well, often, reports of child abuse result from conflict between adults and don't have anything to do with the child at all. For example, many child abuse reports are filed so one party can gain an advantage in divorce, separation, or custody court proceedings. These reports are typically filed by a disgruntled ex-partner or their family friends. This attempt to sway the court is morally wrong and incredibly inappropriate.
If someone has made a false child abuse claim against you, you cannot afford to have this impact on your life for one minute longer than necessary. You must begin defending yourself when you hear a report is being filed or filed against you. The Lento Law Firm has years of experience defending people like you facing suspected child abuse claims, and we are here to help you fight for your reputation and clear your name.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Lawrence County
The Lawrence County Child and Youth Services is the Agency investigating suspected child abuse reports in the county. In 2022, Lawrence County spent over $1.2 million on child abuse investigations and general protection services assessments. That same year, Lawrence County received 262 reports of suspected child abuse, of which only 31 were substantiated. Child abuse cases reported in Pennsylvania are divided into one or more of these 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
What Is the ChildLine System
The ChildLine system is the child abuse reporting system in Pennsylvania. Anyone reporting suspected child abuse will likely report through the ChildLine system, which has a website and phone hotline operating 24/7 to accept reports. ChildLine " accepts child abuse referrals and general child wellbeing concerns and transmits the information quickly to the appropriate investigating Agency." ChildLine does not have caller ID, and calls to the hotline are not recorded. Under Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law, all ChildLine calls are confidential.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?
In Pennsylvania, no one is excluded from being able to make a ChildLine report. Those who make ChildLine reports fall into two categories: mandatory reporters and permissive reporters.
Pennsylvania law determines who is a mandatory reporter; these are the people required by law to report any suspected child abuse. Common mandatory reporters are teachers, doctors, law enforcement, and clergymen (rabbis, priests, ministers, etc.). In reality, the list of mandatory reporters under the law is much longer. Pennsylvania law states that a mandatory reporter can be an individual, paid or unpaid, who, based on the individual's role as an integral part of a regularly scheduled program, activity, or service, is responsible for the child's welfare or has direct contact with children." The law even extends to employees of Lawrence County public libraries who have direct contact with children in the course of their employment. Basically, anyone who can come in contact with a child as part of their job, or even the supervisor of someone who comes in contact with children as part of their job, is a mandatory reporter, even if they do not know the child. Mandatory reporters are required to provide their name and contact information when making a ChildLine report. These reporters may be contacted for additional information and can follow up on reports they have filed through the ChildLine system.
The second type of reporter is a permissive reporter. These reporters are not required by law to report, and all reports of suspected child abuse they make to ChildLine are voluntary. Unlike mandatory reporters, permissive reporters can stay completely anonymous. Therefore, there is less accountability when they make illegitimate claims against you. A permissive reporter can be anyone regardless of how well they know you or the child.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made?
When Lawrence County Child and Youth Services receives a ChildLine report against you, it will review the initial report to ensure that the facts presented include an act considered child abuse under Pennsylvania law. The law covers a variety of actions that fall under categories such as physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Numerous acts are considered child abuse under the law, too many to discuss in detail. The full list of child abuse acts can be found in the Pennsylvania Statutes at Pa. Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6303(b.1). Committing any of those acts "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly" is child abuse.
If the report includes any of the acts detailed in the statute above, Lawrence County Child and Youth Services will open an investigation against you. The Agency will assign an investigator to your case; they will have between 30 and 60 days to complete their investigation. The investigation will include a visit to the child's home, where the child's family will be made aware of the report and the allegations within. The investigator will assess the environment to determine if the child is safe. The family will also be informed of any relevant services offered through Child and Youth Services.
You will also be subject to interviews by the investigator, as will members of your household, family, and friends. This is a very uncomfortable and upsetting process, but you can have your attorney present to help you through this process. The Lento Law Firm can advise you on best practices for answering the investigator's questions.
What to Do if a ChildLine Investigator Is Investigating You
It is an awful feeling knowing ChildLine is investigating you. You may feel incredibly lonely and like everyone is out to get you, government and community alike. The important thing to remember during this time is that you have rights, including the right to an attorney. Under no circumstance should you face a ChildLine investigation without the guidance of counsel experienced in ChildLine cases, the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm.
Immediately retaining the Lento Law Firm allows you to limit any solo interactions with Lawrence County Child and Youth Services. The Agency may try to trick you into saying things you don't mean or acting like your friend to convince you they are on your side, but they are never on your side. The only person who can guarantee that he or she is on your side is your attorney and the team at the Lento Law Firm. Having your attorney present means that your rights are upheld and subject only to fair methods and questions during your interview. Even more, your attorney can encourage open lines of communication with the investigating Agency. This means they can more effectively share your side of the story and get faster communication than if you were working directly with the Agency alone.
What Happens if the Investigator Finds You May Have Committed Child Abuse?
Even without a definitive determination that you have committed child abuse, the Lawrence County Child and Youth Services can place your name on the ChildLine registry. To put your name on the registry, all that needs to be decided is that you may have committed the suspected child abuse in the ChildLine report. There is a very low bar for getting your name on the ChildLine registry, so it is important to have counsel to help you act fast to remove it.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to appeal a child abuse finding against you and get your name promptly removed from the ChildLine registry. As you can imagine, there is no shortage of negative impacts you will face if a child abuse case against you is substantiated.
Once you have been placed on the ChildLine registry, you cannot participate in important events in your family life. For example, if you have a child or there is a child in your family, you will not be permitted to attend events where there are children. You will be missing soccer games, school events, and graduations. There can be a lot of emotional damage for you, the child, and your family if you cannot be a part of these milestones.
Additionally, being on the ChildLine registry automatically disqualifies you from several jobs; essentially, any job in which you could come in contact with children. Potential employers have the right and ability to access the ChildLine registry as part of the hiring process, even though the registry is not open to the public.
Appealing your ChildLine abuse finding and registry listing is crucial to future employment and personal success. You only have 90 days after the mailing date listed on the ChildLine registry determination sent to you to appeal the finding. There are two ways you can appeal the determination. One is to ask Lawrence County Child and Youth Services for an administrative review of your case. The second option is to file an appeal with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Hearings and Appeal. Once your appeal is filed, you will be assigned an Administrative Law Judge, and a hearing date will be set.
You should never represent yourself in the appeal process. You need the assistance of a ChildLine appeal attorney like those at the Lento Law Firm, during this complicated legal proceeding. Administrative cases are very different from criminal cases. The rules of evidence and the procedures differ from those you may be familiar with; for example, hearsay is allowed in an administrative case when it is not in a criminal case.
Even if your appeal is unsuccessful, you can request that your appeal be reconsidered by the Secretary of the Department of Human Services within 15 days of the appeal decision. This is a great option and should not be left on the table. Requests for reconsideration have a decent success rate; in 2021, 34 of the 86 appeal cases that requested reconsideration were granted.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
You can expunge your ChildLine registry listing one of two ways: (1) when newly discovered evidence indicates that the initial abuse report was inaccurate, and (2) if you can establish you do not present a risk to children and, therefore, are no longer a public benefit of having you listed on the registry. Your attorney can help you determine eligibility and walk you through the process.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help
ChildLine appeal attorneys at the Lento Law Firm has successfully fought for those wrongly accused of child abuse throughout Lawrence County. When you are accused of child abuse, you are rarely treated innocently, but we are here for you, with no judgment, just unwavering support and advocating for your rights. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 or contact us online for a confidential consultation.