A former Allentown mayoral hopeful found herself accused of child endangerment and failure to report child abuse. A conviction could have meant a slew of life-changing consequences.
While Allentown Councilwoman Cecilia “Ce-Ce” Gerlach no longer faces the child endangerment charge, other charges are still pending. Her story stands as yet another reminder that mandatory reporters have a great responsibility and little room for error.
In Response to a Homeless Outreach Case, Cecilia Gerlach Made a Questionable Decision
Ce-Ce Gerlach likely meant no harm to the child at the center of this case. She was working voluntarily as a homeless outreach caseworker, after all. When a 16-year-old runaway reached out to her seeking shelter, though, she chose to bring the boy to a homeless encampment.
This turned out to be the wrong decision.
While at the camp, the boy reportedly witnessed multiple disturbing scenes—including multiple fights and at least one exchange of drugs for sex. We cannot know whether Gerlach knew that these scenes would unfold, but we can only assume that she did not.
Her decision to bring the boy to “Tent City” may have triggered the initial child endangerment charge. It was her failure to report her contact with the teen boy to ChildLine, though, which violated her duties as a mandatory reporter.
Mandatory Reporters Have a Great Burden and Little Margin for Error
When the boy first contacted Gerlach, authorities claim the councilwoman should have reported the boy's claims of abuse to ChildLine in a timely manner. Because she failed to do so, Gerlach was initially charged with failing to report or refer the information in violation of the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.
Gerlach should have called ChildLine, plain and simple. Even if she had not brought the teen to a dangerous homeless encampment, Gerlach would likely have faced consequences for the ChildLine violation.
Gerlach has already faced consequences for her failure to report. She has been suspended from Valley Youth House, through which she served in a homeless outreach role. Her role on the Allentown City Council is also in doubt. Though Gerlach has stated her desire to continue serving in the role, it may no longer be her decision.
If You're a Mandatory Reporter Facing Allegations of Improper Behavior, Get Legal Help as Soon as Possible
Most mandatory reporters show far more sense, and caution, than Ce-Ce Gerlach did when she brought a vulnerable teenager to a homeless encampment. However, even the most sensible mandatory reporter can find themselves in ambiguous situations.
The question of whether or not to report allegations of child abuse is never easy. When you report possible abuse, you're throwing the accused's life into turmoil.
Mandatory reporters make difficult, life-changing decisions on a daily basis. When they make a mistake, they are often vilified. In most cases, these mandatory reporters deserve far more compassion and empathy than they receive.
If you're facing criminal charges, loss of your job, or other challenges as a mandatory reporter, call The Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss how we can help. You can also contact us online.