If you're a school administrator at any level in Pennsylvania (e.g., Principal, Vice-Principal), you are a rare breed, indeed. It takes a great deal of commitment and dedication to devote one's career to educating children. The job is often thankless and likely underpaid. You don't do it for the money but for the fulfillment, and you get a great sense of reward when your students do well.
Not surprisingly, it can be a huge, devastating blow to discover that someone has reported you to ChildLine for suspected child abuse--not just because of the threat to your reputation (although that's a factor), but also because it immediately disrupts your career and puts your life into crisis mode.
Regardless of whether these allegations are partly true, arise from a misunderstanding, or are utterly unfounded, the simple fact that you are accused of child abuse will likely have severe repercussions on your life. Depending on the specific circumstances, the allegations can divide your family, force you from your home, cause you to lose contact with your children, and possibly even result in criminal charges--all within a short period of time. Additionally, as someone who is now listed in the ChildLine registry as a possible abuser, you can expect to be removed from your position as a school administrator even before the complaint is substantiated--and you probably won't be allowed to work in schools again unless your name is completely cleared.
A Sound Defense Against Child Abuse Accusations: The Lento Law Firm
If you're facing unfair accusations of child abuse in Pennsylvania, suffice it to say you're not alone. The latest data suggest that tens of thousands of adults are reported to ChildLine each year, and yet in 2021, only 13.2 percent of the reports were substantiated. That reflects a huge number of people having their lives (and livelihoods) interrupted over unfair or false accusations that they caused harm to a child. That's how brutal the system can be.
Given how much is at stake, if you're accused of child abuse, the last thing you need is to face these accusations alone. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Criminal Defense Team have the necessary knowledge to handle the complex nature of child abuse cases. They will work to protect your rights, present your defense effectively, and strategize to lessen the impact of a ChildLine report. If charges are filed against you, they will provide strong representation in court. To discuss your case, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.
What Is ChildLine?
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services initiated ChildLine as a 24/7 hotline dedicated to countering child abuse. Any individual can employ this service to report suspected child abuse or neglect incidents or patterns. Furthermore, certain professionals, including healthcare workers, clergy, law enforcement, and school officials, are legally obligated to report any known or suspected acts of child abuse to ChildLine.
When ChildLine receives a child abuse report, the information is forwarded to the local Child, Youth, and Family (CYF) Services within 24 hours for a comprehensive investigation of the allegations. This investigation may also involve interviews with the child, parent/guardian and other persons who know of the suspected abuse. Once this initial assessment is complete, if there is substantial evidence of abuse or neglect, then CYF will take further steps to protect the safety of the child--which can include removing them from their home if the suspected abuser is a parent or guardian. CYF will also refer the matter to local prosecutors for possible charges.
What Defines Child Abuse in the State of Pennsylvania?
Child abuse in Pennsylvania is addressed by the Child Protective Services Law. This law broadly defines child abuse as any deliberate action, or lack of action, that results in harm to a child or puts the child at unnecessary risk. This harm could be either physical or psychological. Examples of acts of child abuse include, but are not limited to:
- Infliction of physical injury.
- Infliction of mental distress.
- Interference with a child's breathing.
- Unreasonable confinement of a child.
- Denial of necessary medical attention to a child.
- Physically assaulting a child who is less than a year old.
- Sexual assault or enabling sexual assault on a child.
- Leaving a child unsupervised in the presence of a registered sex offender.
- Neglecting the physical needs of a child, specifically failing to provide adequate supervision.
Are School Employees Obligated to Report Suspected Abuse to ChildLine?
Yes. School employees are specifically required under PA law to report any suspected child abuse to ChildLine. Additionally, any independent contractor or volunteer who regularly interacts with the children is considered a mandated reporter under the law. This means that when you're a school administrator, your actions can come under scrutiny by any member of the faculty, staff, teacher's assistant, parent volunteer, or even a parent chaperone. If someone observes behavior from you that they consider suspicious--even if your actions are misinterpreted, and even if you're interacting with your own children at the time--they must report you to ChildLine.
What to Expect If You're Reported to ChildLine
As a school administrator who has been reported to ChildLine, things will move forward in a very quick and disruptive way. Here is a brief overview of what you should anticipate.
Your name is automatically enrolled in the ChildLine potential child abusers' registry.
This is in compliance with current Pennsylvania law. Irrespective of your guilt or innocence, your name is now listed in a directory that tags you as a potential child abuser. Removal from this list is possible only through lawful expunction, even if the allegations are ultimately disproven.
CYF launches a comprehensive investigation.
The investigation usually lasts for around 30 days and involves the CYF caseworker interviewing the child and the parents, interviewing you, reviewing physical evidence and medical records, subpoenaing school records, and potentially conducting visits to the school and possibly your home. This process can be highly disruptive. If the allegations claim the abuse took place at school or in the context of your role as a school administrator, CYF will most likely interview other staff and faculty members, which could easily tarnish your professional reputation. You're also likely to be suspended from your position at least until the CYF releases its findings. If you are accused of harming your child, CYF can remove the child to another temporary location during the investigation if they deem it necessary.
CYF makes a determination based on the evidence.
After the investigation, CYF will make one of the following determinations in your case:
- Unfounded--meaning no evidence was found to substantiate the allegation of child abuse;
- Indicated--meaning some evidence was found, but it is not enough to prove definitively; or
- Founded--meaning there is clear evidence to support the allegations of child abuse.
You will receive a formal notification from the Department of Human Services outlining the findings.
You can face legal action.
For cases in which claims of child abuse were substantiated (i.e., "indicated" or "founded"), CYF will then forward the matter to local prosecutors for further investigation. There is a risk that you may face both civil and criminal charges. In case of conviction, the punishment could include fines, imprisonment, and a criminal record. Additionally, there is a high chance that you might lose custody of your children.
The Long-Term Impact of Being Reported to ChildLine in Pennsylvania
Unsubstantiated allegations of child abuse can result in profound and enduring effects on your personal and professional life, and being reported to ChildLine can have lasting consequences, even if you're found to be innocent in the matter. You're effectively labeled as a suspected child abuser, and the attached social stigma, potential legal ramifications, and emotional turmoil can be overwhelming, both during and even after the CYF investigation. And while the ChildLine registry is generally inaccessible to the public, certain government bodies, employers, and community programs that interact with children can access it. Therefore, being listed on the ChildLine registry can lead to the following challenges:
You'll no longer be able to work at a school (or at any other place of employment working with children). If you cannot get your name removed from ChildLine, your days of working as a school administrator are effectively over. You'll also be barred from working in any educational institution, childcare center, youth program, or even any medical practice that treats children. Employers working with minors have the right to access your ChildLine record and may refuse employment based on your listing.
Disqualification from community activities involving children. You will be prohibited from participating in community-based activities such as coaching sports teams or volunteering in local programs.
Disqualification from foster care and adoption procedures. If you are seeking to adopt a child or become a foster parent, your name being listed on the ChildLine registry will prevent you from doing so.
Your ChildLine report can also be used against you in custody proceedings. If you are a parent and your name appears on the ChildLine registry, this could impact any current or future custody disputes with the child's other parent. A judge may consider your listing on the registry as a potential risk factor when deciding on custody matters.
Will My Name Be on the ChildLine Registry Permanently?
In many cases, yes--with two possible exceptions:
- Unfounded claims: If the CYF concludes that the accusations are unfounded, your name will usually be expunged from the database after a period of 120 days. However, if social services are involved during the investigation (e.g., removing the child from a home), your name remains on the registry indefinitely with a notation of "unfounded."
- Successful appeals: for cases determined as indicated or founded, the report will remain on the registry until the alleged victim reaches the age of 23 and your name appears on the registry for life. However, you may be able to get your name expunged if you file a successful appeal within 90 days of the determination.
Filing an Appeal to Have Your Name Expunged from ChildLine
If the CYF determines the allegations against you as indicated or founded, you have the right to appeal this decision. It is crucial to act swiftly as you have a 90-day window to file an appeal. The process of expunging your name from the ChildLine registry is composed of several steps:
- Request a hearing: The first step is to file a formal request for an administrative hearing to review your case. This request must be submitted in writing to the Department of Human Services within 90 days of receiving your notification. If you fail to do so within this timeframe, your right to an appeal will be lost, and your name will stay on the registry for life. The hearing request should outline why you believe the allegations are false or unsubstantiated and should state your desired outcome--that is, to have your name expunged from the ChildLine registry.
- The hearing itself: The hearing will be held in front of an Administrative Law Judge, where you can appear with an attorney and present arguments as to why you believe the determination was unfair and why your name should be removed from the ChildLine Registry.
- The decision: After the hearing, the ALJ will review the evidence and testimony presented and make a decision. If the judge rules in your favor, the department will expunge your record from the ChildLine registry. If the judge rules against you, your name will remain in the registry.
How We Can Help
For a school administrator, especially, fighting accusations of child abuse is a messy business, indeed. It's a battle that must be fought on numerous fronts, from fighting to keep your job to fighting to get your name removed from ChildLine to fighting potential criminal charges--and possibly even fighting to keep access to your own children. Only with the help of an experienced attorney can you have a fighting chance on these fronts. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Criminal Defense Team have helped many people in your situation who are dealing with the unfair consequences of child abuse accusations. By engaging our team early in the process, we can often help you avoid the worst outcomes and minimize the long-term damage to your life and career. We can also defend you vigorously in court and coordinate any appeals that may be necessary.
Being reported to ChildLine in Pennsylvania can have a profound and lasting impact on your life, but with the help of an experienced attorney, you may be able to fight back. For assistance, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us using our online form.