If you are facing a ChildLine investigation for suspected child abuse in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, you are going through an incredibly challenging and shocking experience. Not only are your capabilities as a parent being questioned, but your family unit is also being exposed and threatened. While ChildLine investigations are a pivotal tool Pennsylvania uses to protect vulnerable children, many of these investigations are ultimately unfounded. Though the purposes behind each investigation in Lebanon County are undeniably crucial to society, it's equally essential to acknowledge that not every referral stems from sincere concerns for a child's safety, and not every county investigator or supervisor is acting competently or fairly. Sometimes, a referral could result from a misunderstanding, misinformation, or even a vendetta against a child's parents. Nosey neighbors, scorned lovers, or jealous friends and family members may make baseless ChildLine referrals to break apart your family unsuccessfully. Navigating through this scenario is a delegated and challenging situation that necessitates understanding the child welfare system, criminal justice system, and other powers.
If you are currently being investigated for Child Abuse in Lebanon County or attempting to file a ChildLine Appeal, contact the LLF Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team for help by calling (888) 535-3686 or using our online contact form.
Lebanon County, Pennsylvania
Lebanon County is in the southwestern portion of Pennsylvania. Parts of the County comprise the larger Lebanon Metropolitan Statistical Area and the larger Harrisburg-York-Lebanon Combined Statistical Area. Some well-known cities, boroughs, and townships in the area include:
- Mount Gretna
- West Lebanon
- Pleasant Hill
- Timber Hills
According to a 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, of the 374 reports of suspected child abuse, only 48 were substantiated. Most of the substantiated reports involved sexual abuse, physical abuse, and severe neglect.
Suspected child abuse reports are made to Lebanon County's Department of Children and Youth Services ("CYS"), the county agency responsible for investigating all child abuse neglect referrals within the county as required under Pennsylvania child abuse protection laws. All child abuse, neglect, or abandonment reports in the county can be reported to CYS by calling or visiting their referral hotline.
What Is the ChildLine System
Established under Pennsylvania state law, ChildLine is a resource for receiving reports of suspected child abuse and neglect within Pennsylvania. ChildLine arises from the state's commitment to safeguarding children in Pennsylvania and the result of the state's reporting procedures for suspected child abuse codified within Chapter 63 ("Chapter 63") of the state's Child Protective Services Laws.
Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters
Chapter 63 mandates reporting of suspected child abuse by certain Pennsylvania professionals and permits reporting by the remaining members of the public.
A mandated reporter is an individual mandated under Pennsylvania law to report any suspicion of suspected child abuse in the state. Mandated reporters are often government employees and/or individuals who have close contact with minors because of their volunteer status. Examples of mandated reporters include teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, counselors, and volunteers. On the other hand, permissive reporters are encouraged, but not required, to report suspected child abuse to the state. Some common examples of permissive reporters include neighbors, colleagues, friends, family, etc.
The steps of a ChildLine report are discussed below.
The Reporting Stage
First, a call or referral is placed by a mandated or permissive reporter with a ChildLine worker who takes notes on the details of the suspected abuse or neglect. Once a report is received, the ChildLine worker screens the information to determine if it qualifies as child abuse under Chapter 63. Some of the major acts that qualify as child abuse under the chapter 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.
If the ChildLine worker determines that the report raises any of the above issues or other child abuse claims, they forward it to a ChildLine Investigator for further processing.
The Investigation Phase
Upon classification that the report raised allegations of severe child abuse, CYS in Lebanon County must begin an investigation within 24 hours of receiving the report. Under this section, CYS workers will have to adhere to the following (non-exhaustive) investigation requirements outlined in Title 23 of the state's codes:
- Workers must provide services necessary to protect the child during the investigation phase and, if necessary, beyond.
- Workers must notify the perpetrator of the existence of the allegations of their rights.
- Interview all persons mentioned in the child abuse allegations, including the alleged perpetrator.
Throughout the investigation, CYS workers must also ensure that Parents are treated fairly and equitably under the law and that they do not feel coerced into admitting to baseless allegations. Investigators must also ensure that parents have the right to see and speak to their children throughout the investigatory process, absent an order to the contrary. Investigators must also inform parents about the nature of the investigation, expected timelines, how long the process will take, etc.
Finally, and although this doesn't consistently happen, investigators must ensure that parents are treated respectfully without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, gender, sex, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, economic status, etc.
The Determination Phase
After the investigation, a determination is made regarding whether the report is "founded," "indicated," or "unfounded, as defined in Chapter 63. A founded report indicates that a judicial adjudication has determined abuse, meaning that a hearing officer has determined that the allegations in the report are true and that further intervention is needed to ensure the safety and well-being of the minor. Reports can also be "indicated," meaning that although there was substantial evidence of abuse, it has not been adjudicated as true or "unfounded," meaning that CYS and/or a hearing officer have determined that there is a lack of sufficient evidence to find that the abuse allegations are true.
If the allegations of child abuse against you are deemed "founded" or confirmed, your name will be placed on the ChildLine Registry.
What Is the ChildLine Registry?
The ChildLine registry is a database overseen by the Department of Human Services that operates as an Abuse Registry for past child abusers. Having your name on the registry can have drastic complications and affect your ability to work or volunteer with minors, adopt, or even take in minor family members if they need a new home. If your name is added to the registry, you may not be informed about this but embarrassingly find out through a routine background check. If you did receive notice that your name was placed on the registry, you should immediately request to appeal the finding and remove your name from the registry. Although you may feel like you can make this request alone and be treated fairly by the State of Pennsylvania, this isn't always the case. Without an attorney on your side filing the appeal for you, there is no guarantee that you will be treated fairly and equitably under the law.
Steps To Getting Your Name Removed From the ChildLine Registry
Individuals listed on the registry due to an "indicated" or "founded" report of child abuse have the legal right to seek an expunction of their name and record from the registry. The expungement requirements are contained within Section 6341 of the state's code and include the following steps.
- File a Request: The individual seeking an expungement must file a written request with the Department of Human Services ("DHS") within 90 days after being informed that their status on the ChildLine registry was "indicated" or "founded." If you are unsure of whether your name appears on the registry, contact our Criminal Defense Team for assistance.
- Administrative Review: After receiving a request for expungement, DHS conducts an administrative review to determine whether the report is unfounded under Chapter 63. If DHS determines the allegations are unfounded, they will remove the name from the registry.
- Administrative Hearing: If DHS does not determine that the allegations were unfounded from a review of the records, they will conduct an administrative hearing on the matter. Although an administrative review is not a civil or criminal trial, they are very serious in nature and consist of formal policies and procedures. Both sides present evidence and testimony on their behalf before an administrative law judge, an impartial decision maker who issues a decision. If you are currently preparing for an administrative hearing and don't have an attorney, you should reconsider this decision. DHS will have an entire state's resources behind them and skilled counsel who handles these hearings daily. Like most government agencies, DHS does not want their decisions overturned as this can affect their success rate for funding and the public's perception of the competency.
- Decision: The administrative law judge issues a written decision after the hearing. If the judge determines that the report is unfounded, the name will be removed from the ChildLine Registry. If the appellant disagrees with the hearing outcome, they have the right to appeal the decision to the Commonwealth Couty of Pennsylvania. Depending on this outcome, there may be potential for further judicial review through the state Appellate and Supreme Courts.
Throughout this process, it is crucial for individuals seeking expunction to have knowledgeable legal representation. Our Criminal Defense Team can navigate the statutory requirements, effectively present evidence and arguments, and advocate for your rights and interests in seeking to have you removed from the ChildLine Registry.
Can I Appeal a ChildLine Decision?
Like requesting that your name be removed from the ChildLine Registry, you have the right to appeal to the state's decision of confirmed child abuse. This request must be submitted to DHS's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. The appeal is presented at an administrative appeal hearing before an administrative law judge, who reviews evidence, testimony, and legal arguments within the case's records. At this hearing, the county agency must establish by "clear and convincing evidence" that the allegations are "indicated" or "founded." Clear and convincing evidence means the evidence is so clear, direct, and convincing that the hearing officer can decide without hesitation. If you disagree with the hearing officer's decision, you can appeal the matter to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania or other higher courts if need be.
Legal representation is crucial for individuals appealing a child abuse determination throughout this process. Our knowledgeable Criminal Defense Team can help you navigate the complexities of Pennsylvania's child welfare statutes, present evidence effectively, and advocate for your rights and interests as a parent.
Contact a ChildLine Attorney in Lebanon County
Your child's well-being and parental rights deserve the experienced defense that our local Criminal Defense Team can provide. If you are navigating a ChildLine referral or appeal request in Lebanon County, it is paramount that you work with a team well-versed in dealing with ChildLine Investigators locally. Armed with in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of Lebanon County's child welfare system, our team can guide you every step, emphasizing our commitment to your children and family unit. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation by calling (888) 535-3686 or using our online contact form.