Few things in life can cause as much anxiety as being accused of wrongdoing--especially of something like child abuse. The State of Pennsylvania takes a firm stance against this behavior and goes beyond the pale to expose and prevent it. Unfortunately, this often results in innocent individuals being unfairly tainted with suspicion. Allegations of child abuse may originate from family members, friends, medical practitioners, religious leaders, or even neighbors--and when it happens, the intense investigation that follows can result in sleepless nights, significant stress, lasting psychological harm, and nearly irreparable damage to your reputation--frequently persisting even after the investigation has ended. Your name's automatic inclusion in the Pennsylvania ChildLine registry may adversely affect your employment prospects and other opportunities for many years to come.
While it is indeed essential to protect children from real instances of abuse, the hard reality is that false abuse allegations are frequently used as a tactic during divorce proceedings, custody disputes, or other disagreements. This can be a nightmare that is all too real for many people. In Pennsylvania, for example, an astounding 38,013 suspected child abuse reports were filed in 2021. Of these, only 13.2% were substantiated by the local child welfare agency--and even many of these cases may have been based on a wrong interpretation of the facts.
In Pennsylvania, one major issue is that anonymous child abuse reports are frequently submitted anonymously through the state's ChildLine reporting system. This anonymity complicates holding individuals responsible for filing malicious reports, which still require investigation like any other report.
If you find yourself in this regrettable circumstance, the psychological toll can be exceptionally high. Even if you are cleared of the false accusation, the residual effects of relentless scrutiny and the dread of another unfounded allegation and subsequent investigation can linger, causing substantial distress and anxiety.
Navigating Child Abuse Allegations in Luzerne County
Luzerne County Children and Youth Services (CYS) is responsible, among other things, for investigating suspected child abuse in Luzerne County. This agency investigates reports made through the Pennsylvania ChildLine system and other avenues. In 2021, 1184 suspected child abuse reports were filed in Luzerne County, with only 154 of those reports substantiated after investigation.
If you live in Luzerne County and receive notice of an impending child abuse investigation or are listed on the ChildLine registry due to an investigation, engaging the services of a skilled attorney right away can potentially avert a lifetime of stigma attached to you. The Lento Law Firm Team has vast experience representing clients facing child abuse investigations and unwarranted listings on the ChildLine registry. To arrange a consultation, please call (888) 535-3686 today.
ChildLine is a critical service in Pennsylvania dedicated to safeguarding the state's children's safety and welfare. It is a round-the-clock, toll-free hotline that offers information, counseling, and referral services to families and children. ChildLine's primary role is to receive reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. Anyone who suspects a child may be in danger can contact ChildLine, whether they are a worried member of the public or a mandated reporter such as a teacher or healthcare provider.
A report to ChildLine initiates an investigation to verify the abuse allegations' veracity. Within 24 hours of receiving a report, ChildLine refers the case to the local Children and Youth Services (CYS) agency for the county where the alleged abuse occurred. For Luzerne County, ChildLine reports are forwarded to CYS as outlined above.
Additionally, ChildLine maintains a registry of individuals who are named in these child abuse reports. Employers can access this registry when conducting background checks on existing or prospective employees. Unfortunately, most accused individuals find themselves listed on the ChildLine registry before they have the chance to challenge the decision. If you receive notice that you have been reported to ChildLine for suspected child abuse or that an investigation is imminent, promptly hiring an experienced attorney affords you the best chance of emerging from this situation unscathed.
Who Can Submit a Report to ChildLine?
Mandated reporters are professionals who are bound by law to report any suspicion of child abuse. This category includes roles such as:
- Medical practitioners
- Law enforcement personnel
- Religious leaders
- Daycare center staff
These individuals face potential legal consequences if they neglect to report suspected cases of child abuse or suppress information that could suggest abuse. Pennsylvania law presumes that mandated reports are made in good faith and provides immunity from civil liability unless it can be established that a false report was intentionally submitted. Although mandated reporters are required to identify themselves to ChildLine when filing a report, their identities remain confidential and protected and are disclosed only to law enforcement and the district attorney when necessary.
On the other hand, permissive reporters are individuals not legally obligated to report suspected abuse. However, they are urged to notify ChildLine or local child welfare or law enforcement agencies if they reasonably suspect a child is being abused. Permissive reporters can submit their reports via phone, and they have the option to remain anonymous.
The Process Following a ChildLine Report
When a report of suspected child abuse is made in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, it is directed from the ChildLine reporting line to Luzerne County Children and Youth Services (CYS). The agency evaluates the report, and if the alleged conduct is deemed to constitute child abuse, an immediate investigation is initiated.
If you are implicated in a suspected child abuse case, you can expect immediate and abrupt disruption to your life. A CYS investigator will likely visit your home and conduct extensive interviews with you, your children, and other family members. Further interviews may be held with friends and family, adding to the stressful situation. Additionally, your name will automatically be added to the ChildLine registry as a suspected abuser, and it can only be removed if the investigator concludes that the allegations are baseless.
Upon completion of the investigation, CYS will issue one of three determinations regarding the child abuse accusation:
- Unfounded: No credible evidence supports the child abuse allegation.
- Indicated: Some evidence was found, but definitive proof is lacking.
- Founded: Substantial evidence supporting the child abuse allegations.
Your Rights During a ChildLine Investigation
As the subject of an investigation, you possess certain rights, including the right to legal counsel. Investigators often don't advise you of your rights or even try to get you to forfeit them--for example, investigators often appear friendly while asking potentially confusing or deceptive questions. Thus, having experienced legal representation is crucial to prevent inadvertent self-incrimination. Your lawyer can ensure the process is fair, clarify the investigator's questions, and confirm you understand each question before answering. While cooperation with the CYS investigator is vital, always exercise when responding to their queries and providing information. A good attorney can help maintain the delicate balance between cooperation and preserving your rights. We strongly recommend that you refrain from answering an investigator's questions without an attorney present.
The Lento Law Firm Team has a wealth of experience assisting individuals under investigation by CYS agencies throughout Pennsylvania, including Luzerne County. They will keep open communication with the investigator and keep you updated on the process. They can also share additional information with the investigator that may help resolve the case if missed during the investigation.
Long-Term Implications for You if the Investigation Substantiates the Claim
If a CYS investigator finds that you possibly committed child abuse (i.e., a determination of "Indicated" or "Founded"), your name might stay on the ChildLine registry indefinitely. If the determination was "Unfounded," but social services were required during the investigation, your name will still be listed on the registry alongside a notation of "UNFOUNDED." Either way, being listed on the ChildLine registry can unjustly bar you from jobs involving children, participating in child-related community activities, or becoming a foster parent. For this reason, if you receive notice that your allegations were substantiated, you should immediately appeal the decision. Various appeal options are available.
How to Appeal a Negative Child Abuse Determination
The window to challenge a ChildLine registry determination is typically 90 days, failing which your name remains on the registry indefinitely. Time is definitely of the essence here. Initially, you can opt for two appeal routes: request an administrative reassessment of the finding by the Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF), or skip this step and directly request a hearing before the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (BHA). The decision of the BHA can be further appealed to the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
For residents of Luzerne County, BHA appeals are generally held in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia State Office Building. During the BHA hearing, you can present evidence that contradicts the ChildLine registry finding. The state is required to provide "clear and convincing" evidence to the hearing officer that you were involved in the alleged misconduct. Failure to do so will result in the overturning of the initial determination, leading to the removal of your name from the ChildLine registry.
If the result of the BHA hearing isn't in your favor, you then have 15 days given to request a review of the appeal by the Secretary of the Department of Human Services. Don't discount this final step as a last-ditch effort because it is often effective. In 2021, out of 86 appeals reviewed and decided by the DHS Secretary, 34 were overturned.
Given these stringent timelines and high stakes, it's not advisable to navigate the appeals process alone. Your best chance of a desirable outcome is to hire an attorney with experience in such appeals. The Lento Law Firm Team has been assisting individuals with Pennsylvania ChildLine registry appeals for many years. They can promptly formulate an appeal that's both timely and persuasive.
Clearing Your Name From the ChildLine Registry
If your name has been on the ChildLine registry for some time, you still may have some options to have it removed by petitioning the Secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS). The Secretary can expunge the record under two conditions:
- If new evidence surfaces proving the initial abuse report was false, or
- If it's demonstrated that you don't pose a threat of child abuse and there's no public interest in maintaining your name on the ChildLine registry.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Assist You
You should contact the Lento Law Firm right away if:
- You've been notified of a ChildLine report filed against you;
- You're currently under investigation by the Luzerne County CYS; or
- If you've already been notified by the DHS that the allegations were substantiated.
With their extensive experience dealing with Pennsylvania's ChildLine reporting system, the Lento Law Firm Team is prepared to protect your rights during this highly stressful time. They understand how the system works and how it can be wrongly manipulated by individuals aiming to gain an advantage in custody or divorce battles or by those seeking revenge against you for any reason. Most of all, they know how to counter such tactics.
Facing a grave allegation like child abuse requires a lawyer who is experienced and can ensure your rights are maintained and respected. The Lento Law Firm Team is here to help. To schedule a confidential consultation, contact us today at (888) 535-3686 or use our online contact form.