If you are being investigated for child abuse allegations in Montour County, you already understand what an emotionally harrowing experience these investigations can be for any family—having your children taken away strikes at the very heart of parental fears and can make you feel anxious, shameful, and hopeless. While it's true that many child abuse investigations in the county identify cause for concern, a large majority of them are rooted in misunderstandings or misguided accusations- adding a layer of emotional turmoil and injustice for affected parents who want to move on from the ordeal.
If you are fighting a ChildLine abuse allegation in Montour County or considering a ChildLine Appeal, consider contacting Lento 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.
Montour County, Pennsylvania
Montour County, located in the Northeastern part of the state, is one of the smaller counties in Pennsylvania. Due to the county's beautiful mountainous regions, it is also known as "The Gateway to the Endless Mountains" by locals. The county is comprised of 18 townships and 5 Boroughs, which include:
- Anthony Township
- Cooper Township
- Derry Township
- Liberty Township
- Limestone Township
- Mahoning Township
- Mayberry Township
- Valley Township
- West Hemlock Township
According to the 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services ("DHS,") of the 64 child abuse allegations in Montour County, only six were substantiated. Most of the substantiated reports involved instances of sexual abuse, followed by physical abuse, and lastly, physical neglect.
Montour County Children and Youth Services
Allegations of suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment in the county are investigated by the Montour County Children and Youth Services ("MCCYS"), located in Danville, Pennsylvania.
While MCCYS's primary objective should always be to preserve the family unit whenever possible, there are instances where maintaining this unit might become temporarily or permanently unfeasible due to unsafe conditions in the home. In cases where MCCYS is compelled to remove a child from their parent's care, the agency typically extends reunification services to the parents. Reunification services are specifically designed to assist parents in addressing the issues that led to the initial allegations of abuse. For instance, if a child was removed due to drug allegations, MCCYS may offer sobriety programs. Although "voluntary," parents who do not actively participate in or fail to demonstrate significant improvement from reunification services may be denied the opportunity to reunify with their children. At this juncture, MCCYS may be required to explore long-term alternatives for the child's care, such as adoption or guardianship arrangements.
Services Offered by MCCYS
To achieve these objectives, MCCYS also offers a wide range of services, some of which include:
- Family Group Decision Making: This process involves families creating child service plans to ensure children's safety and protection, respecting their cultural and lifestyle needs.
- Family Center/Resource Work Staff: This team develops parenting programs, offers education in parenting and budgeting, and provides transportation services for families needing assistance to access medical and other essential services.
- Child Protective Services: This department investigates reports of abuse and neglect, makes referrals to appropriate services, and handles placement casework. They also develop Family Service Plans and manage the transfer of cases for ongoing services.
- Intake: MCCYS workers accept and investigate child abuse neglect or abandonment referrals and coordinate with community resources and services.
- General Protective Services: A unit of MCCYS that assists families in addressing conditions harmful to children, providing suggestions for parenting skills improvement, and investigating reports of child mistreatment.
- Foster Care/Adoption: In instances where children cannot safely remain with their parents throughout the investigation, adjudication, or disposition of an abuse case, MCCYS places children in out-of-home placements. MCCYS also ensures a child's placement complies with state regulations and facilitates adoption processes, including terminating parental rights when necessary.
- Independent Living: Aimed at youth in care or aftercare programs, this service helps them gain independence through assistance in driving, housing, employment, and education and ensures the full utilization of funding from relevant grant programs.
- Resource Home Coordination: MCCYS also approves and conducts home studies for resource families, providing them with training, ensuring compliance with regulations, and offering ongoing support. Resource homes include both foster and kinship homes.
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MCCYS's goal for any family should always be to maintain the family unit, although unsafe circumstances at the home may make this temporarily or permanently impossible. If WCCY does remove a child from their parent's care, they will most often offer parents reunification services, services that are tailored to help parents address the underlying circumstances that first led to the abuse allegations. If parents fail to engage with these services and make demonstrable progress, MCCYS may have to consider long-term arrangements for the child, such as adoption or guardianship.
The ChildLine System in Pennsylvania
MCCYS utilizes the ChildLine System of Pennsylvania, a state-mandated system that receives, investigates, and refers allegations of suspected child abuse within the framework of the state's operating system. Administered by the Department of Human Services (DHS), ChildLine operates as a 24-hour hotline available for the public to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. ChildLine workers have 24 hours to begin a preliminary investigation upon receiving a report. If appropriate, ChildLine workers may also direct these allegations to the pertinent state and federal agencies, such as law enforcement, DHS, or the relevant county child protection service agency (MCCYS).
The ChildLine Registry
Some allegations reported to ChildLine can lead to placement on the state's ChildLine Registry. This mandatory, statewide database catalogs the names of individuals associated with substantiated claims of child abuse. Having your name on the Registry can have serious consequences. After conducting background checks, prospective employers may choose not to hire individuals whose names appear on the Registry. In contrast, individuals applying for government positions may not be considered for the position at all. Family law courts can also alter child custody or visitation orders, while dependency courts can refuse individuals on the Registry the opportunity to foster or adopt children in the future.
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. To ensure fairness, accuracy, and consistency across all ChildLine Reports, the Code states ChildLine workers must gather the following information during hotline calls:
- 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 inaccessible to the public.
Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters
Those who call into ChildLine to make a ChildLine Report are classified as either a Mandated Reporter or a Permissive Reporter. Mandated Reporters are legally obligated under state law to report any suspicions of child abuse. Mandated Reporters receive formal training on identifying signs and symptoms of child abuse and typically fall into one of three categories: 1) government employees; 2) those who work in family-centered or child-centered roles; and 3) those who volunteer in family-centered or child-centered roles. Mandated reporters who fail in their reporting duties can face serious consequences, ranging from a misdemeanor to a second-degree felony.
Some examples of mandated reporters may include:
- Medical professionals
- Police officers
- Foster care parents
- Camp volunteers
- Church staff.
Any other adult who is not a Mandated Reporter in Pennsylvania is considered a Permissive Reporter. Permissive Reporters are encouraged, although not legally mandated, to report suspected child abuse and neglect. While Mandated Reporters play a crucial role in keeping families safe because of their professional proximity to children, Permissive Reporters play just as critical of a role in the community. Although Permissive Reporters do not face legal consequences for failure to report suspected abuse, they can be subject to fines and penalties if their reports are not made in good faith or for unjustified reasons such as biases or vendettas.
ChildLine Is Investigating My Family, Now What?
While each family's circumstances differ, some commonalities can help you predict what to expect throughout a ChildLine Investigation.
After receiving a notification of suspected child abuse, MCCYS initiates an investigation into the reported allegations. During this process, MCCYS carefully assesses whether the claims align with the definitions of child abuse as outlined in Chapter 63 by utilizing a variety of investigative tools such as visiting a family's home, reviewing law enforcement reports, or speaking to those who may know the child or family such as teachers, coaches, educators, or neighbors. While visiting the family's home, an Investigator will be on the look for possible signs of abuse or neglect, such as unsanitary environments, lack of food, dangerous conduct, and evidence of illicit substances or domestic violence.
Investigators can then close the case, recommend removing a child from their parent's care, or suggest proactive intervention services to the family, such as federal assistance programs, parenting groups, or counseling.
MCCYS Confirmed Allegations Against Me, Now What?
If MCCYS substantiates the allegations against you, your name will promptly be entered into the ChildLine Registry. At this point, you should immediately request the removal of their name from the Registry and consider filing an appeal. ChildLine can remove your name if you are able to demonstrate that you either no longer pose a risk of harm or harm to children or if you are able to prove that new evidence indicates that the allegations against you that led to the referral were indeed false. Meeting both of these thresholds can be difficult but can be achieved through emphasis on helpful evidence.
If you want to challenge the allegations, you can file a formal ChildLine Appeal rather than just having your name on the Registry. ChildLine appeals must typically be filed within 90 days of receiving the order substantiating the allegations. Appeal timelines and procedures must be strictly followed, leaving little to no room for mistakes or delays.
To pursue an appeal, you can either request an administrative review of your case by the state's Office of Children, Youth, and Families ("OCYF") or request a hearing before the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals ("BHA"). Should the outcome through the BHA be unfavorable, there may be a final review request through a formal hearing before the Department of Human Services (DHS).
Participating in appeal hearings can be daunting, especially for those without a legal background. These hearings are very formal in nature and may feel like a small trial. Throughout the hearing, both sides will be expected to present legal arguments, evidence, witnesses, and testimony. For the State to maintain the allegations against you, they must prove by "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.
Fortunately, our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has extensive experience handling these requests and can help you navigate the next steps in your ChildLine investigation and appeal.
Work With a ChildLine Attorney in Montour County
Our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is well-equipped to help you develop a robust defense that protects your parental rights with your family's well-being in mind. With years of experience navigating Pennsylvania's ChildLine System, we understand how to stand up to the state's bureaucratic roadblocks. Contact us today for a confidential consultation by calling (888) 535-3686 or utilizing our online contact form.