Being accused of child abuse is one of the most stressful and frightening things that can happen to someone, especially a parent. Accusations can come from virtually anywhere, from a former or current spouse or romantic partner to a doctor, teacher, neighbor, or friend. If you received notice that you're under investigation for child abuse—or worse, you already have your name added to the Pennsylvania ChildLine reporting system—you have likely experienced many sleepless nights and much consternation in dealing with the issue.
While no one would argue children need protection from legitimate abuse, unfortunately, many claims of abuse are unwarranted and made out of spite or other ulterior motives, such as to gain sole custody of a child during divorce proceedings. No matter the reason, the ordeal can greatly impact every aspect of your life and cause considerable challenges in trying to rectify the situation.
In fact, false claims of child abuse happen more often than you may think. In 2021, there were 7235 reports of child abuse filed in Pennsylvania by so-called “permissive reporters,” who are ordinary people with no legal obligation to report abuse. Of those, only 7.4% were substantiated by child protection agencies.
One of the issues surrounding this is that anyone can file a report of child abuse in Pennsylvania, and many times, the reporter can remain anonymous. Pennsylvania maintains an online database of substantiated child abuse claims through its ChildLine reporting system, and the information is publicly available for anyone to search.
The problem with claims filed maliciously is that the person who made the report may never be identified, so it's very challenging to learn who your accuser is and hold them accountable for their bogus claim. The mental toll this can take on people unjustly accused of child abuse can be enormous. You may feel that you are constantly looking over your shoulder or are ever wary that the proverbial “other shoe” will drop and forever affect your life adversely.
Accusations of Suspected Child Abuse in Philadelphia County
Reports of suspected child abuse in Philadelphia County are handled by the Philadelphia Department of Human Services Children and Youth Division (DHSCYD). The DHSCYD receives reports of suspected child abuse through the ChildLine system as well as directly from concerned citizens in the county. In 2021, Philadelphia County received 4,142 total reports of suspected child abuse, of which 683 were substantiated.
If you live in Philadelphia County and received notice you are under investigation for alleged child abuse or have had your name added to the ChildLine registry, contact an attorney with experience dealing with child abuse reports and investigations. The Lento Law Firm Team has years of experience representing clients who are being investigated for alleged child abuse or placed on the ChildLine registry for no good reason.
What Is Pennsylvania's ChildLine System?
Pennsylvania has established and maintains a statewide child abuse reporting system called ChildLine. ChildLine allows parties to submit reports of suspected child abuse either online or by phone, and the system is available 24/7. When a report comes in through ChildLine, personnel forward the matter to the appropriate agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting the alleged offense. In Philadelphia County, reports are forwarded to the DHSCYD.
Along with receiving reports of suspected child abuse, ChildLine also provides a list of people who have substantiated reports of child abuse against them. Since the system is publicly available and anyone can search, prospective or current employers can check to see whether any employees or applicants are on the registry.
Unfortunately, sometimes, people are placed on the ChildLine registry without receiving any notification of the decision or having a chance to defend themselves or appeal the decision. Thus, it's extremely important you pay close attention if you receive a notice from DHSCYD or any child protection agency and reach out to an attorney immediately for advice regarding your best course of action.
Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?
ChildLine allows virtually anyone to submit a report of suspected child abuse against someone else. However, the system established two different types of reporters: mandated and permissive.
Mandated reporters are individuals who are required by law to report suspected child abuse because they work in certain professions. These include teachers, doctors, social workers, law enforcement, clergy, and daycare workers, among others. Mandated reporters are typically considered more trustworthy as they are usually certified or licensed professionals or figures of authority—thus, officials may assume reports from mandate reporters are accurate and real.
However, since they can face criminal charges and even civil liability for not reporting child abuse, mandated reporters can make false accusations of child abuse when they misinterpret signs and symptoms they see in children. No matter how good their intentions are, mandated reporters can still make unsubstantiated reports of child abuse, and their identities may remain confidential.
By contrast, permissive reporters are those who have no legal obligation to report suspected child abuse because of their profession. Pennsylvania encourages individuals to report suspected child abuse if they have reasonable cause to do so. Individuals can report suspected child abuse through ChildLine or by contacting law enforcement, a child protection agency, or another legitimate child welfare party. Permissive reporters may also make their reports anonymously.
What Happens After Someone Submits a ChildLine Report?
When a report of suspected child abuse in Philadelphia County is made through ChildLine or any other means, officials will forward the report to Philadelphia County's DHSCYD. Once they receive the report, authorities will determine whether it is a valid claim and constitutes child abuse. If authorities feel the matter needs further investigating, they will initiate an investigation into the issue. At this time, things can get difficult and stressful for the person being accused.
An investigation into alleged child abuse can feel very invasive. This is especially true if the report was filed maliciously. The accused individual may be blindsided by the accusation since they never acted abusively toward any child.
If you have been reported for suspected child abuse through ChildLine or any other means in Philadelphia County, an official from DHSCYD will likely come to your home and interview you along with others in your household. They may also speak with your children, family members, friends and neighbors, and even your co-workers and employer. Officials may also conduct follow-up interviews, and the whole ordeal can severely affect your life in many ways.
The investigation can drag out for some time before officials determine whether to place your name on the ChildLine registry.
What You Can Do if You Are Being Investigated by a ChildLine Investigator
Even while under investigation for suspected child abuse, you have rights, and one of those rights is to have an attorney represent you throughout the process. Many times, child abuse investigators will make you feel as if they are on your side or are your friends looking out for your family's best interests.
As such, investigators can ask confusing or misleading questions to try and get you to admit to the child abuse or gain other evidence to use against you. Do not let this happen. Having an attorney on your side can help you understand the investigator's tactics, and your attorney can field any questions on your behalf. They are also there to protect your rights and look out for the best interests of all involved.
The Lento Law Firm has helped numerous people throughout Philadelphia County and across Pennsylvania with their serious child abuse investigations. He and the extraordinary defense team at the Lento Law Firm are here to help protect your rights and obtain a favorable outcome to your situation. The Team can remain in close contact with investigators to keep tabs on the investigation's progress and findings. They can also preemptively submit exonerating evidence to help establish your innocence.
Do not ignore any notice you receive from Philadelphia County DHSCYD or any child welfare agency, and you should be as cooperative as possible with any representatives, officials, or investigators who reach out to you. You should also contact the Lento Law Firm Team to level the playing field and ensure you are treated fairly and within your Constitutional rights.
What Happens if a ChildLine Investigator Decides an Abuse Report Against You Is Confirmed
If a Philadelphia County DHSCYD investigator determines that you committed child abuse, they can place your name on the ChildLine registry almost immediately. What's worse, your name may be on the registry without your having received notice or a chance to appeal the decision. This can put you at a serious disadvantage in challenging DHSCYD's decision and having your name removed from the registry.
The moment you learn your name has been added to Pennsylvania's ChildLine registry; you should contact an attorney immediately to discuss your options for an appeal.
How You Can Appeal a ChildLine Abuse Finding
Typically, you only have 90 days to request an appeal of the ChildLine registry determination. Those 90 days can pass quickly, so you should waste no time in taking action and contacting an attorney for help.
You basically have two options for appeal:
- You can ask (or have your attorney petition) the Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) to review the finding against you to determine if the decision was just and sound.
- You can have your attorney request a hearing before the OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (BHA).
For Philadelphia County, BHA appeals will most likely be heard in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia State Office Building.
If the BHA appeal proves fruitless, you can further appeal the decision to the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. You should understand that an administrative review or hearing is not a court proceeding, although it may seem like one. However, administrative hearings typically rely on a preponderance of the evidence and a majority decision rather than proving your guilt unanimously beyond a reasonable doubt, like in a court of law.
Nevertheless, you are allowed to have legal counsel represent you, and you may present exonerating evidence to challenge the state's supposed “clear and convincing” evidence used against you. If the state fails to establish that you committed child abuse, your name should be expunged from the ChildLine registry.
If the BHA hearing does not rule in your favor, you may request an appeal and administrative review from the Secretary of the Department of Human Services. You have 15 days to file a request, and in a considerable number of cases, it has worked in the defendant's favor. In 2021, for instance, 86 appeals that the Secretary of the DHS reviewed and decided in 2021, 34 were overturned.
Do Not Go It Alone
You do not want to try and handle the appeals process on your own. You need an experienced attorney on your side who understands how child welfare authorities review cases, conduct investigations, and make decisions. An attorney also understands how to combat their tactics and challenge their evidence to help defendants obtain the best results.
The Lento Law Firm Team has been helping people in Philadelphia County and all over Pennsylvania for years who have had issues with DHSCYF decisions and ChildLine registry appeals. They can help you understand your rights and options and work with you to devise the strongest appeal possible.
Expunging Your ChildLine Registry Entry
You may think there's nothing you can do if your name is on the ChildLine registry for child abuse, but you have options available. You may be able to get the listing expunged. You can have your attorney contact the Secretary of the DHS, who has the authority to review child abuse cases and grant appeals in either of two situations: where newly discovered evidence establishes the initial child abuse report was inaccurate or fraudulent or when it's determined that you do not present a risk of child abuse and it's not necessary in the interest of public safety to have you listed on the registry.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help
If you receive notice that a report of suspected child abuse has been filed against you—or if you discover your name is on the ChildLine registry, contact the Lento Law Firm at once. They have many years of experience defending clients against accusations of child abuse and helping many others expunge their names from the ChildLine registry. They understand how Pennsylvania's child abuse reporting system works and how authorities investigate and prosecute alleged reports of abuse. They can help you protect your rights and offer trustworthy guidance and support during this very difficult and stressful time.
Contact the Lento Law Firm for help right away. You can call 888.535.3686 or use the Lento Law Firm online contact form to request a confidential consultation. The Lento Law Firm Team is there to listen and to help.