Mercer County ChildLine Appeal Attorneys

If your ability to care for your children is being questioned by Mercer County's ChildLine investigators, you are probably very unsettled and concerned about your family's future. Although some ChildLine investigations in the county, unfortunately, uncover verified abuse, this is most often not the case. In fact, a significant number of child abuse accusations in Mercer County turn out to be unfounded. In some instances, the allegations are reported out of genuine concern for a child's safety. In other regrettable scenarios, accusations may stem from vendettas or cultural biases. While every suspected child abuse case should be seriously examined, it's also important to acknowledge that unwarranted investigations can bring undue stress to your family.

If you are currently being investigated for child abuse in Mercer County and would like to appeal a ChildLine decision, contact the LLF Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team for help by calling (888) 535-3686 or using our online contact form. Our Criminal Defense Team can help safeguard your family's rights and privacy.

Mercer County, Pennsylvania

Mercer County is located in the western part of Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh. The county has a strong agricultural presence, with farming significantly contributing to the economy. Some of the cities, boroughs, townships, and towns located in the county include:

  • Hermitage
  • Sharon
  • Grove City
  • Greenville
  • Farrell
  • Sharpsville
  • Mercer
  • Reynolds Heights
  • Lake Latonka
  • Stoneboro
  • West Middlesex
  • Sandy Lake
  • Wheatland
  • Jamestown
  • Clark
  • Fredonia
  • Jackson Center
  • New Lebanon
  • Sheakleyville

According to the 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, of the 417 child abuse allegations in Mercer County, only 82 were substantiated. Most of the substantiated reports involved instances of sexual abuse, followed by physical abuse, and lastly, physical neglect.

Mercer County Children, Youth, and Family

Allegations of suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment in the county are reported to the Mercer County Children and Youth Services ("MCCYS"), the county agency responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect reports. In instances of severe abuse or neglect, MCCYS may also remove children from dangerous home environments. However, its goal should always be to provide rehabilitative services. Some of the types of rehabilitative services MCCYS provides to families facing DCP&P investigations include:

  • Parenting classes
  • Counseling
  • Therapy
  • Self-help
  • Support groups
  • Drug and alcohol rehabilitation
  • Job training
  • Assistance in homemaking and home budgeting
  • Transportation

Although MCCYS workers receive in-depth training on responding to child abuse allegations, there may be instances where mistakes, lack of training/expertise, or even biases cause Investigators to open unfounded ChildLine investigations.

Mercer County's Children's Advocacy Center

The Mercer County Children's Advocacy Center was established jointly by MCCYS as well as the county's District Attorney's Office, Police Department, and Behavioral Health Commission. The Center assists MCCYS and other agencies who investigate child abuse by providing a child-friendly environment for children who have been abused to be forensically interviewed and medically examined. The Center also offers a multidisciplinary approach to each child and incorporates other age-appropriate counseling, therapy, and support group services. If your child is currently at the center of child abuse or neglect allegations, the Center may have already examined them.

Pennsylvania's ChildLine System

MCCYS uses Pennsylvania's ChildLine system, a structured state initiative designed to process and investigate alleged child abuse and neglect reports. ChildLine is managed by the state's Department of Human Services ("DHS.”) The system operates a 24-hour hotline that receives and interviews persons reporting alleged child abuse. After receiving a report, ChildLine may refer the matter to any relevant agencies, such as law enforcement or mental health agencies.

The ChildLine Registry

The ChildLine Registry is a state-mandated record-keeping system that documents individuals identified as likely or verified child abusers. Having your name on the Registry carries significant consequences, such as employment and volunteer restrictions or even denial of future requests to foster or adopt family members. If you are also involved in an ongoing child custody or visitation battle, the court could be influenced to restrict your custody and visitation rights.

ChildLine Reports

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 notice of alleged child abuse from a permissive or mandated reporter. Although reports are confidential, they may be made by someone who knows the child particularly well, like a family member or teacher, or someone who observes the child from a distance, like neighbors or medical staff. Under Chapter 63, the contents of a ChildLine report must include 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 be accessible to the public.

Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters

Some individuals, known as "mandated reporters," are required under Pennsylvania state law to report instances of suspected child abuse. Most mandated reporters fall into three categories: those who work or volunteer with children, government employees, and those who work in family-oriented services. Some additional examples of mandated reporters include:

  • Doctors
  • Dentists
  • Teachers
  • Social workers
  • School employees
  • Nurses
  • Police Officers
  • Firemen
  • Church employees
  • Mental health professionals.

Mandated reports who fail to report instances of child abuse can face felony convictions in the third degree or higher, depending on the circumstances and severity of child abuse.

On the other hand, permissive reporters are advised but not legally obligated under state law to report suspected child abuse. Some examples of permissive reporters may include neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, relatives, etc.

What Exactly Happens During a ChildLine Investigation?

If a ChildLine investigation has been launched against you, you are likely wondering what will happen next. When a ChildLine report is made, it triggers a series of procedures and investigative actions designed to prioritize your child's safety. To meet the specific requirements of the investigatory process, ChildLine investigations typically take place in the following steps:

The Reporting Phase

ChildLine investigations are first triggered when a ChildLine worker receives a report through the ChildLine hotline. If a mandated reporter is making the report, the reporter must share their contact information with the worker if the worker has further questions in the future about the incident.

The Investigation Phase

Once a report of suspected child abuse or neglect is made to MCCYS, they must determine whether further investigation is warranted or if the allegations are not considered child abuse within 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 ChildLine staff suspects potential abuse or neglect under Chapter 63, MCCYS has 24 hours to launch an investigation. During this time, Investigators may use various methods to gather further data. Under Section 3490.55 of the Pennsylvania State Code, Investigators must also conduct interviews with any persons who know or are suspected of learning about the alleged child abuse incidents, such as family members, parents, neighbors, teachers, etc.

Depending on the allegations involved and the severity of the alleged abuse, Investigators may also consult with professionals, such as doctors, medical providers, etc., about the child's well-being. If physical abuse or sexual abuse allegations are involved, MCCYS may even seek orders that allow them to have the child medically or forensically examined. Investigators may also visit the family home to assess the child's living conditions. During this visit, Investigators prioritize looking for signs of abuse or neglect. Some potential symptoms that abuse or neglect is occurring in the home include:

  • Exposed wires or broken glass
  • Unsecured medications or firearms
  • Lack of or broken smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors
  • Unsanitary conditions, lack of clean laundry, spoiled food, etc.
  • Evidence of domestic violence
  • Lack of food or other basic necessities.
  • Aggressive animals
  • Unprotected outlets or lack of child safety gates

Other signs of abuse may be behavioral, such as changes in school performance, overly complaint and aggressive behaviors, or more emotional, such as reported feelings of low self-esteem, depression, and unusual fears.

If ChildLine Investigators feel the child is safe, they may deem the allegations unsubstantiated and close the case. The investigators can also offer intervention services to help the family rather than punish the parents. Some of these services include counseling, childcare assistance, parenting classes, domestic violence services, and federal financial assistance.

What Rights Do Parents Have Throughout a ChildLine Investigation?

Throughout an investigation, ChildLine Investigators must conduct their investigations in accordance with legal procedures and standards. Despite these standards, Investigators may inadvertently or intentionally overlook parental rights, especially when biases are present. However, parents in Mercer County have certain rights throughout a ChildLine Investigation, some of which include:

  • The right to be notified about child abuse allegations and the nature of the allegations.
  • The right to receive information about court proceedings, orders, and actions by MCCYS.
  • The right to be represented by an attorney.
  • The right to complain.
  • The right to continue to see and speak to your children throughout the investigatory period- absent a contradictory order.
  • The right to be informed about the nature of the investigation, how long it will take, how it will be conducted, etc.
  • The results of the social worker's investigation
  • What next steps are being considered, such as whether they are considering removing your child from your care?
  • The right to be treated respectfully without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, gender, sex, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, economic status, etc.
  • The right to be consulted about and make decisions about your child's religion, educational plans, medical treatment, and travel.

What Happens if MCCYS Confirms Allegations?

If MCCYS succeeds in confirming the abuse allegations against you, your name will immediately be added to the ChildLine Registry. As soon as you receive notice that your name has been added to the Registry, you should request that your name be removed from the Registry and begin working on an appeal. Although you may be tempted to navigate these requests independently, navigating the state's administrative structures can be intricate and extremely time-consuming. Working with a member of our Criminal Defense Team can significantly enhance your likelihood of receiving fair and just treatment from MCCYS and the state.

ChildLine Appeals

ChildLine appeals should typically be filed within 90 days after accusations against you are confirmed. The filing procedures involved in this process can be rigorous and necessitate meticulous attention to detail and protocol. Appeals can either be processed through the state's Office of Children, Youth, and Families ("OCYF") through an administrative appeal or as a hearing before the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal ("BHA")

For a layperson, navigating appeal hearings can be incredibly daunting. These hearings are very similar to a small trial and consist of several procedural components such as opening and closing arguments, admission of evidence, testimony, and cross-examination. During the hearing, the state must prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that you are guilty of the child abuse allegations against you. The "clear and convincing evidence" standard requires the state to do so by such clear, direct, and compelling evidence that a hearing officer can decide without hesitation.

How Can I Have My Name Removed From the ChildLine Registry?

Typically, there are two ways to remove your name from the Registry. First, DHS may remove your name if there is newly discovered evidence demonstrating that the reports of child abuse are false. Secondly, DHS may also remove your name if you can establish that you do not currently present a risk to children. Fortunately, our Criminal Defense Team has filed numerous requests and can help you file an expungement request immediately.

Work With a ChildLine Attorney in Mercer County

If you are navigating a ChildLine investigation or appeal in Mercer County, you need help understanding the procedures, laws, and strategies involved. Our Criminal Defense Team has experience challenging ChildLine accusations in Mercer County. We know how to fight the state's administrative agencies and bureaucratic roadblocks and are well-positioned to advocate for your family. Don't face this incredibly challenging time alone; contact our Criminal Defense Team by calling (888) 535-3686 or using our online contact form.

Contact Us Today!

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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