Facing a ChildLine inquiry in Lycoming County can be deeply unsettling for parents. The mere idea of your children potentially being taken away is distressing, if not terrifying, for most parents. While most ChildLine investigations reveal genuine cases of child maltreatment, others may arise from misconceptions, misjudgments, or personal grudges.
If you are fighting a ChildLine abuse allegation in Lycoming County or considering a ChildLine Appeal, consider contacting LLF Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team. Contact us today for a free consultation by calling 888-535-3686 or online through our confidential contact form. Our team is waiting to guide you through this difficult time.
Lycoming County, Pennsylvania
Lycoming County, located in the north-central part of the State, is one of the smaller counties in Pennsylvania. The county is comprised of 52 incorporated municipalities, some of which include:
- Jersey Shore
- Picture Rocks
- South Williamsport
- Anthony Township
- Armstrong Township
- Bastress Township
According to the 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services ("DHS,") of the 389 child abuse allegations in Lycoming County, only 85 were substantiated. Most of the substantiated reports involved instances of sexual abuse, followed by physical abuse, and lastly, physical neglect.
Allegations of suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment in the county are reported to the Lycoming County Children and Youth Service ("LCCYS") child abuse and neglect reports. LCCYS offers services in the following types of scenarios:
- Instances where minors have been injured, exploited, or sexually abused by parents, guardians, or caregivers.
- Instances where minors are neglected due to inadequate care or supervision.
- In instances where parents may need help with familial problems or problems facing their children.
- Instances where parents, guardians, or caregivers cannot care for their children, such as imprisonment, death, illnesses, etc.
Although LCCYS's goal is always to keep families intact, there are instances where LYYCS may need to remove minors and place them in foster care (sometimes referred to as "substitute care" to ensure their safety. In most cases, LCCYS will offer parents reunification services designed to address their needed growth and/or change areas. If parents fail to utilize these reunification services, LYYCS may place the child up for adoption or guardianship. When appropriate, LCCYS also provides the following services to children and their families:
- Emergency assessment services
- Services for juveniles on probation or placed in a delinquent center.
- Foster care services
- Family visitation services
- Educational programs
- 24/7 Crisis intervention
- Community outreach services include parenting courses, budgeting classes, behavior management, child management, housing, employment support, child development classes, counseling, etc.
- Home and School Visits
- Family Group Decision Making, a program that helps families identify and address their unique problems to implement plans to address those concerns.
- School-based outreach
- Behavior modification for youths.
While LCCYS professionals undergo comprehensive training to address child abuse allegations, there can be occasions where simple misconceptions, oversights, or gaps in expertise lead them to initiate ChildLine investigations based on unsubstantiated claims of child abuse.
The ChildLine System in Pennsylvania
LCCYS utilizes the ChildLine System of Pennsylvania, a state-designed and mandated system that receives, investigates, and refers allegations of suspected child abuse claims. Overseen by DHS, this system provides a round-the-clock hotline that members of the public may call if they suspect potential child abuse in their community. ChildLine also diligently monitors abuse notifications and implements suitable actions, such as directing the claims to the relevant State or federal agencies for further action.
The ChildLine Registry
Pennsylvania's ChildLine directory is a compulsory statewide database that records the names of individuals who have had child abuse allegations substantiated against them. Having your name on the registry can have consequential ramifications, affecting your ability to gain employment, have certain relatives live with you, or return to work in government roles.
Pennsylvania State Code Title 23, Chapter 63, entitled "Child Protective Services," outlines the policies and procedures that must be followed throughout a ChildLine report, investigation, and referral. ChildLine investigations are first triggered when a ChildLine worker receives a report of alleged child abuse from a permissive or mandated reporter. Reports to LCCYS can be made by calling the toll-free line at 1-800-525-7938. Mandated reporters (discussed below) can also make reports utilizing the State's Child Welfare Portal.
To ensure fairness, accuracy, and consistency across all ChildLine reports, the Code mandates that all reports of suspected child abuse within the system contain the following:
- The names and addresses of the child, parents, and persons responsible for the alleged abuse, as well as their relationship to the child.
- A description of the child's family, whether they have siblings, who they live with, etc.
- The location of the suspected abuse.
- A description of the alleged abuse, as well as any evidence that substantiates the claims.
- The actions of the person making the report (did they speak to the child, call the cops, report it to someone else, etc.)
- The name, telephone number, and e-mail address of the person making the report not accessible to the public.
Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters
Under Pennsylvania state law, some people, known as mandated reporters, are legally required to report instances of suspected child abuse. Fortunately, if you are a mandated reporter, you will know they receive training from their employers to help them recognize signs of possible abuse. Mandated reporters are often professionals in fields that routinely work with minors or family dynamics, such as educators, social workers, and therapists. Mandated reporters can also encompass those who regularly volunteer with minors, such as camp counselors or church volunteers. Failure to report suspected child abuse as a mandated reporter can lead to serious legal consequences, ranging from a misdemeanor to a second-degree felony.
Some examples of mandated reporters may include:
- Police Officers
- Emergency Medical Providers
- Foster Care Parents
On the other hand, permissive reporters are encouraged but not required to report instances of suspected child abuse. Examples of permissive reporters may include neighbors, colleagues, friends, family members, etc. The name and contact information for permissive reporters will not be released and will only be kept confidential by law enforcement or the District Attorney's office.
The Investigation Phase
After receiving a report of suspected child abuse, LCCYS formally investigates the alleged claims. Throughout the process, LCCYS will consider whether the allegations constitute child abuse within the context of Chapter 63. If a ChildLine investigator determines that possible abuse or neglect is involved, they must commence further investigation within a 24-hour timeframe. Each investigation may vary from case to case, depending on the allegations involved. It is common for investigators to speak to your family, friends, and neighbors during investigations. Investigators may also want to contact other individuals who know your child well, such as their educators or teachers.
Investigators may also choose to contact other relevant agencies, such as the local police department or health department. Investigators may also visit your home in person to unveil any additional signs of abuse or neglect. Throughout this visit, Investigators may focus on things such as the home's cleanliness and safety, the availability of clean laundry, healthy food, or other necessities.
If ChildLine investigators determine that there is no cause for concern, they may close the case. Investigators may also recommend removing a child from the home or offering the family a proactive approach through intervention services. These services provide parents with supportive assistance such as food stamps, parenting classes, substance abuse counseling, etc.
What Rights Do Parents Have Throughout a ChildLine Investigation?
Going through a ChildLine investigation can be extremely stressful and intimidating not only for parents but for children as well. Although ChildLine investigators are expected to adhere to strict legal procedures that uphold fairness throughout the investigation process, Investigators may depart from these requirements. Investigators may also knowingly or knowingly leverage their authority to pressure parents into scenarios or confessions that parents would otherwise not agree with. However, it's important to remember that parents have certain rights throughout the investigation. These rights ensure that parents are treated fairly and justly, regardless of income status, race, ethnicity, religious practices, etc. Some examples of these rights include things such as:
- The right to be notified about child abuse allegations and the nature of the accusations against you.
- The right to maintain regular contact with your children throughout the investigative period, absent a contrary court order.
- The right to be fully informed about the specifics of the investigation, including its scope and anticipated duration.
- The right to be informed about any potential next steps LCCYS plans to take, such as removing your children, requesting monitored visitation, etc.
- The right to be treated with respect, free from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, or economic circumstances.
LCCYS Confirmed Allegations Against Me, Now What?
If the allegations against you are substantiated, LCCYS will immediately enter your name into the ChildLine Registry. At this point, you may want to request to remove your name from the registry and/or appeal the allegations against you. Removing your name can be difficult, especially while navigating the State's complex bureaucratic system.
What Steps Are Involved in ChildLine Appeals?
If you want to appeal the allegations against you, you can appeal a finding that the allegations against you are substantiated. ChildLine appeals must typically be submitted within 90 days of the order substantiating the allegations. The legal procedures and policies surrounding appeals are unforgiving, and filings must strictly adhere to the State's timeline and format filing requirements. Appeals can take one of the following routes: an administrative review of your case can be conducted by the State's Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) or a review hearing before the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (BHA). In the event of an unfavorable outcome at the BHA level, a final opportunity for appeal may be available through DHS.
Participating in appeal hearings can be daunting, especially for those without a legal background. These hearings follow a structure akin to a mini-trial, allowing both sides to present legal arguments. The state must establish "clear and convincing evidence" that the allegations against you are true. The State's failure to meet this threshold will result in the removal of your name from the ChildLine Registry.
How Can I Get My Name Removed From the ChildLine Registry?
Generally, two avenues exist for removing your name from the ChildLine Registry. Firstly, the Secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS) may remove your name if newly discovered evidence emerges indicating that the child abuse reports against you were inaccurately made. DHS may also remove your name if you can prove that you longer pose a risk to children. Both routes require a substantial amount of effort, time, and resources.
Fortunately, our Criminal Defense Team has extensive experience handling these requests and can speed up filing an expungement request on your behalf. We are here to assist you in taking the necessary steps to clear your name.
Work With a ChildLine Attorney in Lycoming County
Our Criminal Defense Team is well-equipped to provide you with your needed assistance. With years of experience navigating Pennsylvania's ChildLine system, we are fully prepared to safeguard your rights and provide a defense specific to your needs and circumstances.