Child abuse or neglect allegations can devastate anyone. This is especially true for individuals living in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, where accusations are typically reported through the state's ChildLine system. If a person is accused of misconduct in PA and placed on the ChildLine registry, it can seriously impact their life and livelihood. Not only could they lose their jobs and housing, but they may be prevented from working in their chosen career, prohibited from visiting with their children, and even restricted from where they can travel.
If you are placed on the ChildLine registry (commonly referred to as being "ChildLined"), you will have to deal with the stigma of being a child abuser for the rest of your life. To avoid such difficulties, you need to hire a competitive and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to advocate on your behalf. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands the challenges you are up against and will work tirelessly to help you avoid such negative consequences. Call 888-535-3686 or schedule a consultation online today.
What Is Pennsylvania's ChildLine System?
Pennsylvania's ChildLine system is part of a statewide mandate to ensure child well-being concerns, including child abuse, are referred to the state. The ChildLine system accepts verbal and electronic reports 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and transmits them to the corresponding county office for investigation.
Additionally, ChildLine reports can be made anonymously. While the intention behind this endeavor is to encourage people to report child abuse or neglect without worrying about being targeted for the report, it ends up allowing individuals to submit false reports. Many of these false reports are made for vindictive reasons, such as to influence child support or spousal support awards. Moreover, the anonymous nature of the reports makes it hard for falsely accused individuals to have any chance of recompense.
After ChildLine transmits the report to the county, they will conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if there is any credence to the allegation. If they find preliminary evidence that supports the report, they will launch a formal investigation.
At the end of the formal investigation, if they find evidence that the accused individual did, in fact, commit the alleged acts, they will publish that person's name on the ChildLine registry as either "indicated" or "founded." However, the individuals who have access to the registry database may not know the difference between the two statuses. This can lead to individuals who have been "indicated" to experience the same severe consequences as individuals who have been labeled as "founded."
Those who have access to the registry database include employers, law enforcement agencies, medical facilities, and government offices. When applying for a job, any of these organizations can conduct a background check and see the ChildLine registry entry. This is especially true if you work with children, such as individuals with early education certifications, teachers, and pediatric nurses or doctors. To ensure you are not subjected to both the stigma and consequences of being registered on the ChildLine registry, it is important you work with a skilled criminal defense attorney.
The attorneys at LLF Law Firm have helped hundreds of individuals all around Pennsylvania who have been accused of child abuse or neglect in a ChildLine report. As such, they have the experience and legal acumen to help you get the best possible outcome for your case.
What's a ChildLine Referral?
The moment the ChildLine system receives a report of a concern for a child's well-being in Northampton County, they will transfer it to the Northampton County Children, Youth, and Families office (NCCYF).
NCCYF oversees both the preliminary and formal investigations. With the preliminary investigation, NCCYF is just reviewing the report to see if it qualifies for a formal investigation. If they believe it does, they will assign an intake caseworker to conduct the investigation.
To uncover the truth behind the report, the caseworker has 60 days to complete their investigation. They will contact the accused individual and, in most cases, their family, friends, and anyone else involved in their lives, such as their co-workers, employers, employees, or even their acquaintances. During these "interviews," the caseworker will prod into the accused individual's life and work, opening up old wounds and creating new ones. Having an attorney present during your interviews is an integral part of your overall defense. LLF Law Firm will ensure you are prepared to answer the caseworker's questions and do not fall for any of their conversational traps.
There are times when NCCYF will contact law enforcement officials and inform them of the information in the ChildLine report. Law enforcement will then review the accusations and determine if a criminal investigation is warranted. NCCYF and law enforcement can also inform the accused individual's professional licensing board of the accusations if they believe it violates their license in some way. Because of this, it is not uncommon for all these agencies to work together on their investigations. This makes it even more important to employ a competent criminal defense attorney if you are referred to the ChildLine system.
ChildLine Referrals in Northampton County
The intention of being able to anonymously report to ChildLine was to encourage people to report alleged child abuse or neglect when they see or hear of it without having to be on an official record about it. Sadly, though, this allows anyone to make a report to ChildLine for any ulterior motive. For instance, spouses embroiled in a custody battle may make false reports against the other to influence the judge's decision.
In fact, in 2021, there were 1,003 reports of child abuse made in Northampton County, yet only 148 of them could ever be verified. This means that over 85% were made without any evidence to support them. Over 850 individuals had their lives forever changed without any ability to go after the anonymous reporter for restitution.
While NCCYF does try to separate out the false accusations from the get-go, there is always a number that falls through the cracks, taking up time and resources from actual child abuse and neglect cases that need investigation. Working with the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team from the moment you learn of the accusations will not only prepare you to answer NCCYF's interview questions but also give you opportunities to negotiate with the county.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?
There are three kinds of ChildLine reporters: permissive and mandatory. A permissive reporter is one who voluntarily reports an individual to ChildLine. Permissive reporters can choose to remain anonymous.
In contrast to permissive reporters, mandatory reporters have a legal obligation to report incidents of alleged child abuse or child neglect.
Ordinarily, mandatory reporters will work in professions or positions where they frequently interact with children. For instance, religious leaders (like priests, imams, or rabbis), school employees, social workers, psychologists, and healthcare professionals are all mandatory reporters. As are volunteers who interact with children during a scheduled activity, law enforcement officials, and other childcare service providers.
So, if a daycare attendant sees a child come in a few times with bruises that look like fingerprints, and they reasonably believe it is evidence of child abuse, they are required to report it. If they fail to do so, and something happens to the child, they can face criminal penalties.
Most of the time, these reports are made directly to NCCYF or law enforcement, but mandatory reporters can also make them to ChildLine. However, no matter where they report the incident, they must leave their contact information. The state assumes that mandatory reporters are making reports in good faith, so they will hide their identities from the public. But if they discover a mandatory reporter has made a report in bad faith, they will no longer protect it.
What Happens if a ChildLine Referral Results in a Finding of Child Abuse?
When NCCYF discovers that the ChildLine report was true, they will place the accused individual's name on the ChildLine registry as either "indicated" or "founded."
Unfounded reports are those that NCCYF has determined to lack evidence of child abuse or neglect. The accused individual's name is not added to the registry, and the ChildLine report is dismissed.
Conversely, if NCCYF discovers evidence of child abuse during the caseworker's investigation, they will enter the individual's name into the ChildLine registry and mark it as "indicated."
To validate a ChildLine report of child abuse or neglect, NCCYF must have evidence to support it. Common examples of evidence that will support the claim include child protective service reports, arrest reports, or the accused's admission of guilt.
Like "indicated" reports, "founded" reports must also have evidence to validate them. However, the evidence must be much more significant than that of "indicated" reports. Usually, ChildLine reports are recorded as "founded" if one of the following is available:
- There is a protection from abuse (PFA) order in place.
- A court determination of child abuse that concerned the same factual circumstances as the ChildLine report.
- A report that the accused individual entered an accelerated rehab program because of the facts that are involved in the ChildLine report.
- A court decision stating that the accused juvenile in a ChildLine report did, in fact, commit child abuse.
Once your name is recorded on the ChildLine registry, it will have a catastrophic effect on your entire life. That being said, they are not the same as a criminal investigation and require more acute attention to detail to ensure your defense is successful. This is especially true if NCCYF refers your case to law enforcement for a criminal investigation. Having the help of the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team during this time is the only way to ensure you are not being unjustly investigated by two government agencies.
What Are Your Rights if You've Been Referred to ChildLine?
While the ChildLine system is intended to protect the rights of children, it actually disregards the due process rights of the accused. Due process rights are the rights that are meant to protect an individual from governmental persecution. One of the more common due process rights is the right to confront your accuser. However, because ChildLine reports are made anonymously, an accused individual is unable to confront their accuser.
Thus, it is important to remember that if you are referred to ChildLine for child abuse or neglect, you have a number of due process rights that should not be allowed to infringed on. These rights include:
- The right to council.
- The right to have an attorney present during all interviews, meetings, conferences, or hearings.
- The right to appeal NCCYF's decision.
- The right to have your ChildLine registry entry expunged.
- The right to be notified of the accusations made in the ChildLine report.
Then, after the NCCYF caseworker finishes their investigation, they must inform you of the following:
- Their findings.
- The status of the report.
- Whether your registry entry is categorized as "indicated" or "founded."
- The effects the ChildLine report will have on your employment and career opportunities.
- Your right to appeal NCCYF's decision which must be done within 90 days of receiving their decision.
- Your right to a hearing on the facts of the appeal, which will obligate NCCYF to prove how they came to their conclusion by presenting substantial evidence in front of a judge.
- How to request the ChildLine report expunged and your name be removed from the registry.
How the LLF Law Firm Can Help You if You've Been Referred to the ChildLine in Northampton County
All crimes against children are serious offenses that deserve punishment. However, when the alleged perpetrator is being falsely accused, the ChildLine report can still negatively impact their life. To ensure you are not being subjected to someone else's personal vendetta, it is important to reach out to a skilled criminal defense attorney.
The LLF Law Firm knows the challenges you are facing and will take on that burden for you. Don't let these accusations affect your life, your relationships, or your future. Call us today at 888-535-3686 or schedule a consultation online.