Being accused of child abuse is one of the most traumatic and stressful events that can happen to someone. Reports can come from virtually anyone, be it a parent, former spouse or romantic partner, a friend or neighbor, a teacher, a doctor, or another person. No matter the person who reports the alleged abuse, facing allegations can ruin your reputation and have long-reaching effects on your life and future. You may find you suffer intense stress and consternation that keeps you up at night and adversely impacts your daily routine.
While no one would argue children need protection from legitimate abuse, the truth is that many people in Pennsylvania are falsely accused of child abuse. Such scenarios are common in contentious child custody and divorce battles, where one parent is trying to “get back” or get a “leg up” on the other. Regardless of the motive, false accusations of child abuse happen more often than you may think. In fact, there were 7235 reports of suspected child abuse filed in Pennsylvania in 2021 throughout the state, many of which were reported by so-called “permissive reporters” – who are regular people who have no state requirement to report suspected child abuse. Of those reports, only 7.4% were substantiated by a local child protective services agency.
One issue with the system is that anyone can file a report anonymously, and it can be very challenging to hold someone accountable if they make a malicious and bogus report. However, the accused person now has a long, tough road to answer the allegations and defend themselves.
The mental toll false accusations of child abuse can take on the accused is not to be underestimated. Even if the report proves fruitless and the accused person is cleared, the ordeal can negatively impact all areas of their life, and they may always feel paranoid and anxious that another unwarranted claim will come against them, making them start the whole process over again.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Northampton County
The Northampton County Children, Youth, and Families Division (NCCYF) of the Department of Human Services investigates and manages reports of suspected child abuse. The NCCYF investigates reports of suspected child abuse it receives through Pennsylvania's ChildLine reporting system. The state receives hundreds of reports of alleged child abuse each year. In 2012, for instance, there were 980 reports of suspected child abuse in Northampton County, with 145 substantiated reports.
If you live in Northampton County and receive a notice that the NCCYF is investigating you for suspected child abuse or you've been placed on the ChildLine registry because of a child abuse investigation, you should contact an attorney with experience helping those who find themselves in this kind of situation. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team have years of experience representing clients who are being investigated for suspected child abuse or placed on the ChildLine registry for no good reason.
What Is the ChildLine System?
The ChildLine system in Pennsylvania is a statewide child abuse reporting system. ChildLine is available 24/7 to anyone who feels they need to report suspected child abuse, and they can report it online or by telephone. Reports made through ChildLine will be forwarded to the appropriate agency responsible for investigating the matter, and reports of child abuse in Northampton County will be forwarded to the NCCYF.
Along with receiving reports of abuse, ChildLine also maintains a list of people whom authorities determine are responsible for substantiated reports of child abuse. This information is open to the public, and virtually anyone can search, including prospective or current employers conducting background checks on job applicants or employees. Many times, people are placed on the registry without first having the opportunity to defend themselves or appeal the decision.
Thus, it is vitally important to take the matter seriously if you learn you have been placed on the ChildLine registry and reach out to an experienced child abuse defense attorney immediately.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Report
Although anyone can file a report through ChildLine, Pennsylvania law establishes two types of reporters:
Mandated reporters refer to individuals who work in certain professions and are required by law to report suspected child abuse. The people can include teachers, healthcare workers, daycare workers, law enforcement officers, and the clergy. Mandated reporters must report suspected child abuse or face criminal consequences themselves. As such, the state often assumes that reports made by these types of individuals are usually made in good faith and not from an ulterior motive, such as revenge or defamation. ChildLine typically keeps the information of mandated reporters confidential, and mandated reporters usually receive protection from civil liability in reporting the alleged abuse unless it's discovered they falsely reported the matter maliciously.
Permissive reporters are those who have no legal requirement to report abuse, and they can be just about anyone. Pennsylvania law encourages people to report abuse if they have “reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse.” Permissive reporters can make anonymous reports either online or by phone.
What Happens After Someone Reports Suspected Child Abuse to ChildLine?
When someone submits a report to the Pennsylvania ChildLine reporting system about suspected child abuse in Northampton County, the matter will be forwarded to NCCYF for review. If the investigator believes the behavior in the report constitutes child abuse, they will further investigate the issue. This is when things can get challenging and stressful for the person being accused.
The ensuing investigation can feel very invasive to the accused. This is especially true if someone filed the report maliciously, and the accused had no idea or could have reasonably suspected someone would report them for child abuse. If someone reports you for suspected child abuse through ChildLine, investigators will interview you thoroughly at your home, along with anyone else living with you. This can include other children, your spouse or partner, and others. The investigator may also interview your other family members and friends and in certain situations, your co-workers or employer. The investigator may also schedule follow-up interviews, and the whole process can take considerable time before NCCYF decides whether to add your name to the ChildLine registry.
What You Can Do if You Are Being Investigated by a ChildLine Investigator
No matter who made the report, you have the right to have an attorney represent you throughout the process while you are under investigation. Investigators can (and often do) ask unclear or misleading questions, or they may try to convince you they are on your side so you will let your guard down. Therefore, it's important to have an experienced attorney by your side during the interview. An attorney can make sure the questions are clear and appropriate and that you understand the question before answering. They can also advise you on the best way to answer the question so as to not further implicate yourself.
The investigator is not on your side, so you need someone with you who is looking out for your best interests.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience assisting those under investigation by Child Protective Services or any other similar agency in Pennsylvania. He and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team have helped many people in Northampton County with their serious and complex child abuse issues, and they are ready to be steadfast advocates for you during these difficult times. They can stay in close contact with the investigator and may be able to present exonerating evidence the investigator missed to resolve the situation in your favor.
At all times, you should cooperate with any investigation conducted by NCCYF or a similar agency, but you also need to be careful about what you say. You should answer questions honestly and provide any requested information, but an attorney can help balance your cooperation with protecting your rights and interests.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides an Abuse Report Against You is Confirmed
If an NCCYF investigator determines you committed child abuse, they can add your name to the ChildLine registry almost immediately. Therefore, you may not even know your name is on the list when you receive notice from NCCYF of the accusations. This can place you in a very difficult position because having your name on the list effectively marks you as someone who has a substantiated claim of child abuse against them.
If you receive notice your name has been added to the ChildLine registry, you must appeal the decision right away. You have several options available when it comes to appealing your ChildLine registry.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
If you are placed on the Pennsylvania ChildLine registry, you have 90 days to appeal the decision. Those 90 days go by fast, and you need to act quickly the moment you learn of the decision against you.
You basically have two options available to appeal the decision:
- You can ask the Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) to conduct an administrative review of the finding against you.
- You can ask for a hearing OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (BHA).
If you need to appeal the BHA's decision, you can have your attorney file an appeal with the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
For Northampton County, your BHA appeal will most likely be heard in the Philadelphia State Office Building or perhaps the Reading State Office Building. You should understand that the hearing isn't a court proceeding, although it may feel that way. It's an administrative hearing, but that in no way diminishes its importance.
At the BHA hearing, you will have the opportunity to present evidence that should exonerate you and reverse the decision to place you on the ChildLine registry. The state must provide “clear and convincing” evidence that you, in fact, committed the alleged acts of abuse. If the state cannot provide that evidence, the decision should be reversed, and your name should be removed from the ChildLine registry.
If the BHA hearing still does not rule in your favor, you have 15 days to request the Secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS) review the appeal. This is your final option to appeal the ChildLine registry decision. However, there is hope--in 2021, 34 of the 86 appeals reviewed by the Secretary of the DHS were overturned.
Just like with the initial investigation, the appeals process is not something you want to handle on your own. You need an experienced attorney on your side who understands how officers and investigators arrive at these decisions, and knowledgeable legal counsel can help you devise the most effective appeal possible.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team have helped many people throughout Northampton County and across Pennsylvania. They have years of experience and can help you develop a strong and compelling appeal to increase your chances of obtaining the best outcome.
Expunging Your Name from the ChildLine Registry
You want to get your name expunged from the ChildLine registry, and you may have options even if your name has been on the list for some time. The Secretary of the DHS may expunge your entry in two situations:
- Where newly discovered evidence shows the initial report of abuse was inaccurate
- When it's determined that you do not pose a threat of child abuse and no public purpose exists for keeping your name on the ChildLine registry
How Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help
If you received notice someone filed a report through ChildLine against you, and you are under investigation by Northampton County Children, Youth, and Families Division—or if you have already had your name added to the ChildLine registry, contact Joseph D. Lento right away.
He and the Lento Law Firm Team have many years of experience with Pennsylvania's ChildLine reporting system, and they can help you protect your rights and support you during this stressful and uncertain time in your life. The Lento Law Firm Team understands how the system works and how some people abuse and misuse the system for their own benefit. They have helped exonerate many falsely accused and have their names expunged from situations involving custody and divorce proceedings where one spouse is trying to take revenge on the other.
Do not let false accusations of something as horrible as child abuse derail your chances of spending time with your kids and adversely affect virtually every area of your life. When facing such allegations, it's important to have an attorney who can make sure your rights are protected and respected.
Joseph D. Lento is the attorney you need to help you get the most favorable outcome possible, no matter where you are in the process. Call him today at 888.535.3686, or through the Lento Law Firm online contact form, to set up a confidential consultation. The Lento Law Firm Team is here to listen and help and fight for you each step of the way.