Individuals accused of child abuse can face serious consequences such as losing their jobs, being forced to move, or harsh community reactions. In Pennsylvania, reports of child abuse are usually made to the state's ChildLine reporting system. Unfortunately, this system allows reports to be made anonymously. While the county agency tries to vet each accusation, some inevitably fall through the cracks. Either way, once the claim is made, the harm is done even if the case is dismissed or the finding is appealed successfully.
Moreover, most accusations of child abuse are made out of spite, anger, or even boredom. Many are made to influence current court cases – like custody battles, child support awards, or divorce proceedings. The lengths that some people will go to disparage someone is incredible. For example, in Pennsylvania, the number of reported child abuse cases in 2021 was more than 38,000, but only just over 5,000 could be substantiated. As such, accusations of child abuse should never be taken lightly.
If you are accused of child abuse, you must contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands the accusations you are up against and will work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. Call 888-535-3686 today for help.
Accused of Suspected Child Abuse in Northumberland County
The Northumberland County Children & Youth Services (NCCYS) office manages reports of child abuse made to the ChildLine system in PA. So, once ChildLine receives the report, they forward it to NCCYS. NCCYS then initiates an investigation into the matter. In 2021, there were 528 cases of child abuse reported in Northumberland County. Of those cases, NCCYS was only able to substantiate 70 of them.
To ensure you are successful in this initial investigation, it is important you follow your defense attorney's advice. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team realizes that this process is overwhelming and will work diligently to ensure you are prepared. ChildLine reports are serious accusations that must be resolved so that you do not suffer any unnecessary hardships.
What Is the ChildLine System
Pennsylvania is home to the ChildLine reporting system, which accepts written and verbal concerns about a child's well-being, including allegations of child abuse. Once ChildLine receives the allegation, they forward it to the investigating agency of the county where the child lives. So, for accusations that are made for a child residing in Northumberland, the Northumberland County Children & Youth Services (NCCYS) office oversees the investigation.
In addition to receiving accusations of child abuse, ChildLine also maintains a registry of people who have committed child abuse in PA. Federal and state agencies, as well as current and prospective employers, have access to the ChildLine registry and can use it when conducting background checks on an individual. Additionally, accused individuals are added to the registry once the investigation is concluded but prior to the appeals process.
This means that an ultimately innocent individual can be added to the registry, suffer the consequences of being on the registry, and then have the NCCYS decision overturned, only to then fight to have their name removed from the registry. It doesn't seem fair or like it is modeling the notion that all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, which is another reason to have a competent attorney in your corner from the moment you are accused of child abuse. The Lento Law Firm can help you avoid such nasty situations and the resulting ramifications.
What Happens After a ChildLine Report is Made
The moment that ChildLine receives a report of child abuse in Northumberland County, they will forward it to the NCCYS office. NCCYS will initiate their investigation, which will stay internal at first to determine whether there is any credibility to the accusation. Once they believe it should be fully investigated, they will contact the accused individual for an interview. It's really important to have an attorney in your corner during these investigations, as they can be incredibly overwhelming. They tend to start in your home but could progress to your place of work and other areas of your community.
Moreover, a key tactic for investigations is to make the defendant feel comfortable. This means the investigator will do everything within their power to make you think you are in a safe space, talking to a friend, and there's nothing to worry about. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Having a skilled criminal defense attorney accompany you to these interviews will ensure the investigator is not infringing on your rights or coaxing you into admitting guilt when you are innocent.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Investigated by a Child Line Investigator
Every citizen in the US has certain rights when being investigated for a criminal charge or civil violation. In child abuse cases, the defendant usually has the right to confront their accuser, to work with an attorney, and to follow fair procedures. Thus, if a state or federal agency either refuses to provide these rights or infringes on them in some other way, their decisions have no bearing and should be reversed. An attorney will be able to easily recognize these infractions and have them corrected or leverage them as evidence in future civil suits against them.
One of the most common due process rights is the right to counsel, as mentioned above. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has significant experience helping individuals accused of child abuse in Northumberland County. He will be able to negotiate with the NCCYS investigators and mitigate any unnecessarily serious consequences you might incur from this kind of accusation.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides to Confirm an Abuse Report Against You
When the investigation finishes, the ChildLine investigator will notify the NCCYS of whether or not they believe the accusation of child abuse to be true. If they believe it is true, they will request that the defendant's name be added to the ChildLine registry. Having your name added to the registry can cause several immediate issues.
For instance, many child abuse findings require defendants to remain a certain distance away from school zones. If you are currently a teacher, when you are found guilty of committing child abuse, you will be let go immediately, forcing you to find a new job in a field you may not be educated in. Additionally, if you live near a school zone, you could be forced to move to another area of town.
Both outcomes are extremely inconvenient and can significantly impact your mental health. Moreover, once you are added to the registry, your name will stay there until you can successfully appeal the finding and request that the Secretary of the Department of Human Services remove your name. Your attorney will shoulder some of this burden and stress.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
Once the NCCYS makes its findings, you have the right to appeal it. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands how exhausting this process is, especially if you must pursue an appeal after fighting for your innocence through the investigation and interview period. However, if you are found guilty of child abuse in the interview period, you must pursue an appeal.
Appeals are the only way to ensure you have a chance to present your side of the story and refute the state's case against you. Successfully appealing the NCCYS decision will greatly enhance your chances of mitigating any issues you might face during and after the interview process. If the idea of an appeal is too much for you to comprehend, contact our offices today for help.
In Pennsylvania, most individuals have 90 days from the date they receive the NCCYS's finding of abuse to appeal it. We know 90 days sounds like a lot, but it goes by very fast. So, it is important to start your appeal the moment you learn of the NCCYS's decision.
To initiate an appeal, you must contact the Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) in PA. Then, you can either request that the OCYF perform an administrative review of the NCCYS's findings or that their Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) conduct a formal hearing into the matter.
BHA appeals are not court proceedings, and thus, if you decide to request this option from OCYF, the state may be allowed to admit evidence that would not be allowed in a regular court case. This means that you could be opening yourself up to evidence of past accusations or evidence of your character that could be extremely inflammatory. The Lento Law Firm will review your options and help you figure out which one to pursue.
In the BHA's appeal hearing, the accused individual gets the chance to present relevant evidence and witness testimony to support their argument of innocence. Despite this not being a regular court case, the state still has the burden of proof. This means they must prove, with clear and convincing evidence, that the accusations made in the ChildLine report did occur. If the state cannot do this, then their original finding should be reversed, and the defendant's name should be removed from the registry immediately.
However, if the BHA chooses to uphold the NCCYS's finding of guilt, their decision can be appealed further to the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Human Services, who will review the appeal and decide if it should be reversed or upheld.
While you have two choices at the beginning of your appeal, most defendants choose to pursue a BHA appeal because of this additional appeal to the Secretary if the BHA appeal is unsuccessful.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
The moment the NCCYS believes you are responsible for committing child abuse and places you on the ChildLine registry, your personal and professional lives are affected. Not only can any federal or state agency access the information, but so can any employer conducting a background check on you. Additionally, even when the NCCYS decision is reversed in an appeal, it does not necessarily mean the finding will be expunged. For the most part, you will have to request for it to be removed once the appeal is approved.
To ensure your registry entry is expunged, you must request that the Secretary of the Department of Human Services remove it. Further, these requests are only accepted if the NCCYS decision is reversed or if there is new evidence recently discovered that proves the original abuse claim was incorrect. If neither of these options is available to you, you can also prove to the Secretary that you no longer pose a risk of committing child abuse, and thus, you should not be kept on the registry. As you can see, it is not impossible to have your record expunged, but it is difficult.
How the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team Can Help
Crimes like child abuse deserve serious and lifelong consequences, but only when a defendant is actually found guilty. Until then, every accused individual has the right to be presumed innocent and avoid uncomfortable and overwhelming situations. However, because so many child abuse accusations that are made to the Pennsylvania ChildLine system are made out of anger or misinformation, innocent individuals are forced to suffer through hearings, interviews, and appeals for things they didn't do.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has spent years helping individuals around Pennsylvania overcome accusations of child abuse. They will work tirelessly to ensure Northumberland County does not infringe on your due process rights and that they uphold their procedural processes. You should not have to suffer for accusations of conduct you did not commit, especially when it comes to accusations of child abuse, which can cause physical, mental, and emotional turmoil for even the most innocent defendant. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.