Child abuse is a harsh accusation to make. Not only does it force the accused individual to undergo a lengthy investigation and appeals process, but it also greatly affects their life. That being said, many claims of child abuse are made out of misunderstandings, spite, or even boredom. Moreover, many of these claims are made during high-stress situations to try and better the outcome of some kind of dispute – like child custody cases or divorce proceedings. In 2021, 38,013 reports of child abuse were made in the state of Pennsylvania. However, only 13% of them could be validated.
Child abuse claims are usually made anonymously through the state's ChildLine system, which makes it easy to report false or misleading claims. Additionally, when a false child abuse report is made to ChildLine there is no way to hold these anonymous complainants accountable for the consequences their claims have caused the accused individual.
It is very important you reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney the moment you are notified of a ChildLine report against you. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help protect you from any unnecessary penalties you might experience. Call 888-535-3686 today for help.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Monroe County
In Monroe County, claims of child abuse are overseen by the Monroe County Office of Children and Youth (MCOCY). When an individual is suspected of child abuse is reported to the Pennsylvania ChildLine System, the report is then delivered to MCOCY. MCOCY will then begin investigating the complaint to determine if the accused individual did, in fact, commit child abuse. The system is intended to review cases and ensure the ones being adjudicated are valid. For example, in 2021, there were 460 cases of child abuse reported, but with the help of MCOCY, only 121 were substantiated (339 could not be authenticated and were dropped).
If you are notified that a report of child abuse has been made to ChildLine about you, the best thing you can do is reach out to an attorney. Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team know how confusing these proceedings can be and will work diligently to ensure you have a strong defense in place.
What Is the ChildLine System
In Pennsylvania, ChildLine is a child protective services program that accepts verbal and written claims of child abuse, as well as any other child well-being fears. ChildLine is available around the clock. The moment a claim is made, they will send it to the appropriate investigating agency, which, in Monroe County, is the Monroe County Office of Children and Youth (MCOCY).
However, ChildLine does not just act as an intermediary between complainants and the departments in charge of investigating and adjudicating issues of child abuse. They also maintain an online registry of individuals the state agencies have found responsible for child abuse.
The ChildLine registry is accessible by employers doing background checks, as well as different state agencies and law enforcement. The issue is that the registry was created to list the names of individuals involved in confirmed cases of child abuse, but many times caseworkers place individuals simply accused of child abuse on the registry prior to the claim being investigated. As you can imagine, this can seriously impact the individual's reputation and livelihood. It is extremely important that if you are notified of a ChildLine inquiry, you begin to do routine checks of the registry to ensure your name has not been added prior to the complaint being confirmed. If it has, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. Contact our offices immediately.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made
When the Pennsylvania ChildLine collects an accusation of child abuse that happened in Monroe County, they will forward the claim to MCOCY for further review. MCOCY will promptly begin investigating the claim, first internally, and then, if there is enough preliminary evidence that suggests child abuse, they will reach out to the parties involved to interview them more officially.
There are times when the initial internal investigation produces evidence that the complaint was made falsely. When this happens, MCOCY is supposed to dismiss it prior to launching the official investigation. If they do not, Attorney Joseph D. Lento will be able to contact them and push for them to do so. They will also be able to use this interaction, and any subsequent interactions, as leverage for a civil case if the matter is not dropped and you experience some sort of harm from it.
Every aspect of a ChildLine registry claim is overwhelming for most people. The fact that you have to defend yourself against something heinous, coupled with the intense interviews, queries into your work and home life, and the effect these things can have on your personal and professional life, is sometimes too much. When individuals accused of child abuse reach their threshold, it can be very difficult to present a solid defense. This is where having a skilled criminal attorney is key. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will relieve some of this overwhelm by being your point person with the ChildLine investigator and prevent additional negative consequences from happening.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Investigated by a ChildLine Investigator
If you are being investigated by a ChildLine investigator, it is important to remember that all individuals in the United States have specific due process rights that state and federal agencies must provide. For instance, the most common due process rights include being able to confront your accuser, having access to counsel when defending yourself, and being given appropriate notice. If the agency does not offer these due process rights to you or infringes on them in some way, the appealing body could overturn them or dismiss the issue altogether. To prevent this from happening, most agencies make sure to follow the rules, but there are times when they make mistakes, and you should not have to bear the burden of that mistake.
As we explained above, one of your due process rights is to have access to counsel when attempting a defense. Sometimes the ChildLine investigator will make you feel like you can talk to them without your attorney present. They will work hard to make you feel at ease to get you to confess – or say something damaging. You must remember that this is a strategy, nothing more. You cannot trust them, and you should always have your attorney present when you meet with them. Your attorney will ensure the questions the investigator is asking are clear and proper and that the answers you are providing answer them appropriately.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is skilled at providing counsel during every step of the ChildLine registry process. They have spent years helping individuals accused of child abuse in Monroe County, as well as throughout Pennsylvania. They will also be able to contact MCOCY to discuss your case and negotiate on your behalf outside of the investigative interviews, giving you a better chance of having this resolved quickly.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides to Confirm an Abuse Report Against You
Following the interviews, the ChildLine investigator will determine whether to validate the child abuse report or dismiss it. If they decide that the report is unsubstantiated, they will remove the accused's name immediately from the registry. This is why it is so important to hire an experienced attorney who will not only keep you informed of the situation but will also strive to get your name removed from the registry while the appeal process is underway.
Being listed on the ChildLine registry can severely damage your reputation and have far-reaching consequences for your life. Therefore, it is crucial to appeal to the MCOCY immediately if you want to mitigate any of these negative consequences.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
Appealing a ChildLine abuse finding is an incredibly important step to prevent being sanctioned for false accusations. Typically, you have 90 days from the date you receive notice of the Office of Children, Youth, and Families' hearing decision to appeal it. Ninety days may sound like a long time at first, but it tends to fly by quickly – meaning you should get started on your appeal immediately.
To pursue an appeal, you can either request that MCOCY conducts an administrative review of the original finding, or you can have their Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) hold a formal hearing. BHA appeals are not court proceedings, which also means that some of the rules are relaxed. Particularly, the rules of evidence are lenient, which can open either party up to being asked about certain types of evidence that would not be permissible in a regular courtroom.
If you opt for the BHA appeal hearing, you must be prepared to defend yourself, present evidence and witness testimony, as well as cross-examine the other sides. Similar to a criminal case, where the prosecution has the burden of proving that the acts alleged were actually committed based on the evidence presented, ChildLine appeals require that the state prove, with clear and convincing evidence, that the accused individual did commit the incidents claimed in the ChildLine report. If they are unable to prove this, the overseeing appeals body will reverse the state's initial decision and remove the accused individual's name from the registry.
Also, if the BHA does not approve your appeal and states that the findings should be upheld, you have every right to request another appeal from the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Human Services. The Secretary will review the appeal and decide if the BHA's decision should be maintained or reversed. This is one of the more significant benefits that come with bypassing the administrative review and jumping right into a BHA appeal.
Moreover, there are a lot of cases that have been overturned by the Secretary of the Department of Human Services in the past few years. For instance, in 2021, 34 out of 86 appeals were reversed. This is considerably higher than the average throughout the country.
Most importantly, to be successful in your appeal, you must work with a knowledgeable and skilled attorney – especially if you are burned out and drained by the investigation. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will make sure you are fully prepared to appeal the MCOCYS decision. They have worked with several residents throughout Monroe County and elsewhere around the country.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
Though it can be a challenging process, removing your name from the ChildLine registry is not impossible, even if it has been listed for quite a while. The Secretary of the Department of Human Services has the authority to expunge an entry from the registry if new evidence comes to light that proves that a child abuse claim was false. Alternatively, if you can show that you do not pose a risk of committing child abuse, and thus there is no public purpose for maintaining your name on the registry, the Secretary will be more motivated to approve your request for removal. If you are unsure about how to expunge your ChildLine registry entry and would like assistance, Attorney Lento can help.
How Lento Law Firm Can Help
Being accused of child abuse is a serious accusation that can significantly impact your life, both professionally and personally. Regrettably, several ChildLine abuse complaints are made maliciously, causing innocent people to suffer the consequences of a false accusation. The moment you receive notification of a ChildLine complaint made against you in Monroe County, the Monroe County Office of Children & Youth will immediately begin to investigate it, forcing you to undergo stressful interviews, difficult hearings, and, potentially, worrying appeals.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understand how scary these proceedings and accusations can be, which is why they will work tirelessly to ensure you receive the best possible outcome for your case. They have years of experience helping individuals accused of child abuse in Pennsylvania, which they can leverage to create a solid defense on your behalf. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online. Our attorneys can help.