Any kind of criminal accusation can be a harrowing experience, but nothing is worse than being accused of child abuse. In Pennsylvania, accusations of child abuse are usually made through the ChildLine reporting system. However, not all accusations are created equal, and often, these reports are made with ulterior motives. For example, in 2021, the number of reported child abuse cases in Pennsylvania was just over 38,000, but only about 13% of those could ever be substantiated.
Many claims of child abuse are made to protect another individual's personal interests, such as those looking to have child support awards modified, child custody agreements turned in their favor, or influence their own divorce proceedings. Add to this the fact that ChildLine reports are often made anonymously, and innocent individuals are forced to suffer through the stress and anxiety, sleepless nights, and reputational harms such false accusations can incur.
To prevent such harsh consequences, it is incredibly important to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney the moment you know a child abuse claim has been reported against you. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands the pressures you are facing and will work tirelessly to ensure you are not subjected to undue trauma. Call 888-535-3686 today for help.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Lebanon County
The Lebanon County Children and Youth Services (LCCYS) office manages any ChildLine reports that are made about children or individuals residing in Lebanon County, PA. After ChildLine receives the report, they will forward it to the LCCYS office, which will investigate it. In 2021, Lebanon County received 444 reported cases of child abuse, though only 52 of them could be substantiated. This is a clear indication that many accusations are made without evidence and without concern for the falsely accused individual's well-being.
The moment you are notified of an accusation made against you, you must reach out to a competent attorney for help. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team knows how uncomfortable and stressful this process is and will help shoulder the burden, making sure you are fully prepared to defend yourself successfully.
What Is the ChildLine System
Pennsylvania created the ChildLine program to collect both verbal and written child well-being concerns, including child abuse accusations. Once the system obtains a report of child abuse, it forwards it to the appropriate PA county's investigating agency. In Lebanon County, the overseeing agency is the Lebanon County Children and Youth Services.
In addition to collecting accusations of child abuse, ChildLine also manages a registry of individuals who were found guilty of child abuse in the state. Anyone conducting a background check has access to this registry, including future and prospective employers and federal, state, and local government agencies.
ChildLine is not supposed to add names to the registry until the person is found guilty of child abuse. However, guilt is determined after an investigation and before an appeal (where you can defend yourself by presenting evidence and witness testimony) can be pursued. Thus, accused individuals are punished prior to properly defending themselves, which can seriously impact their mental well-being and livelihood. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will do everything in its power to help mitigate such negative consequences.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made
Once the Pennsylvania ChildLine system receives a child abuse allegation for a child residing in Lebanon County, they will forward the report to the LCCYS office. LCCYS will then initiate an investigation to see if the allegation is true. If they find that the alleged conduct is credible, they will appoint an investigator to interview the accused individual and gather more information.
These formal investigations can be exhausting, particularly if you think the initial report was made out of spite, malice, or boredom. Often, accused individuals think they can handle these situations alone. When they begin the interview process and see how persistent the investigators are – investigating the accused individual both at home and at work, their friends and family, and even their employer and coworkers – they end up getting understandably angry, stressed, and defensive. When this happens, the accused individual ends up being less than successful in their defense.
However, shutting down or becoming defensive can negatively impact your defense and potentially make the investigator believe the accusations to be true without having the corresponding evidence to back them up. If the investigator believes the accusations made against you, they will place your name on the ChildLine registry, and the only way to have it removed is to appeal it.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Investigated by a Child Line Investigator
In the United States, we are supposed to have certain due process rights. This phrase gets thrown around a lot, but essentially, due process rights are the rights that are meant to protect all U.S. citizens from governmental persecution. In legal proceedings, the most common due process rights include the right to a jury trial if you are charged with a crime, the right to a fair trial, protection against self-incrimination, and the right to counsel.
When a government agency (whether a federal, state, or local agency) either fails to provide a defendant with these rights or infringes on them in some other way, their decision on the defendant's guilt should be overturned. Working with a skilled criminal attorney will ensure government agents, like the ChildLine investigator, are not violating your rights. For example, a usual tactic for investigators is to try and befriend the accused individual and put them at ease. When defendants feel like they can trust the investigator, they can be easily persuaded to agree to events and circumstances that may not be true. This is why it is so important to have your attorney present during these interviews. The Lento Law Firm will ensure you are not only fully prepared to answer the investigator's questions, but he will also prevent you from falling pretty to any of these sneaky strategies.
The Lento Law Firm has helped Lebanon County and Pennsylvania citizens who have been accused of child abuse. Their Criminal Defense Team will advocate for you every step of the way.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides to Confirm an Abuse Report Against You
After the investigator completes their initial interviews, they will review what they have learned and either endorse the child abuse allegation or have it dismissed. Allegations that are endorsed prompt the investigator to place the accused individual's name on the ChildLine registry.
Having your name entered into the ChildLine registry can have disastrous consequences. Depending on where you live in Lebanon County, you could be forced to move, change jobs, or be prevented from seeing your family, friends, and children. Child abuse determinations can be incredibly isolating, which can also have a serious impact on your self-esteem and mental health. Hiring an experienced criminal attorney is the only way to ensure that you are fully prepared to answer the investigator's questions to prevent your name from being placed on the registry in the first place. And even if this initial defense is unsuccessful, your attorney will prepare you to appeal the decision immediately.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
The Lento Law Firm understands how harrowing the investigation process can be, but if you are placed on the registry once the investigation is complete, an appeal is one of your only chances to have that decision overturned. Therefore, it is incredibly important to pursue one the moment you are notified of the results of the investigation.
There are multiple ways to appeal a ChildLine finding of abuse in Pennsylvania. You generally have about 90 days maximum to make your appeal, and while that might sound like a long time, it is important to start your appeal immediately to ensure that time does not go by too quickly.
To start your appeal, you will need to decide on whether you want the
Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF) to conduct an administrative review of the LCCYS's findings, or if you would like the OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) to perform a formal hearing. There are definite benefits to both options, and your attorney will review your case and help you decide which one is better for you.
In most cases, your attorney will suggest the BHA appeal hearing. During this hearing, you will have a chance to argue your case and present relevant evidence and witness testimony in an effort to get the ChildLine registry entry overturned. While BHA appeal hearings are not regular courtroom proceedings, the state still has the burden of proving, with clear and convincing evidence, that you committed child abuse in the way that the ChildLine report alleges. If the state cannot prove this to the degree necessary, the hearing panel will reverse the ChildLine entry and promptly remove your name from the registry.
If the BHA elects to maintain the ChildLine registry finding and fails to approve your appeal, you can further appeal their decision to the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Human Services. The Secretary will evaluate the BHA's finding and determine whether it should be overturned or upheld. It is important to note that this option for a secondary appeal is not available in an OCYF administrative review.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
Getting anything expunged takes time and effort, but it isn't impossible – this goes for ChildLine registry entries as well. Any entry into the ChildLine registry can greatly affect your personal and professional life and should not be taken with a grain of salt.
For instance, Lebanon County residents who are placed on the registry – even by mistake – can be prevented from living and working within a certain distance of school zones. With six school districts that take up a good portion of the county, it can be difficult for these individuals to live and work within the county. Thus, they will be forced to move, change jobs, and potentially have to upend their entire careers.
Additionally, ChildLine entries come up on background checks, meaning your current or potential employer will see them. This can make getting a new job – even in a new county – difficult.
To get your ChildLine entry expunged, you must petition the Secretary of the Department of Human Services. After reviewing your petition, the Secretary will agree to expunge your registry entry if you can show evidence that proves the original abuse claim was made in error. If you cannot do this, you will have to prove that you are no longer at risk of committing child abuse, and therefore, there is no reason to keep you on the registry.
How Lento Law Firm Can Help
We can all agree that child abuse is a monstrous offense that demands stringent repercussions. However, these repercussions should only be experienced by defendants who are found guilty of committing child abuse. Unfortunately, many child abuse allegations that are reported to the Pennsylvania ChildLine are made out of anger, malice, or even boredom. Innocent people are often forced to endure the overwhelming investigation and defense process.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team recognizes how stressful these accusations are for Lebanon County residents and work diligently to guarantee you the best possible outcome for your case. They have worked on countless child abuse accusation cases and know what you are up against. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online. Our competent and experienced criminal defense attorneys can help.