Facing a ChildLine investigation comes with large amounts of fear and anxiety. Even for blameless parents, the thought of having their children removed from your care can have you second-guessing every decision you make. The investigations are overwhelming, leaving parents embarrassed, ashamed, and isolated. Once confident in their parenting abilities, parents may question their skills and feel judged by their entire community. Although a small portion of ChildLine investigations in Susquehanna County are substantiated, most are deemed baseless and closed at the investigation stage.
If you are fighting a ChildLine abuse allegation in Susquehanna County or considering a ChildLine Appeal, Contact the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team today. We have experience standing up to the ChildLine bureaucracy in Pennsylvania and are standing by to help you through this difficult time. Contact us today for a free consultation by calling 888-535-3686 or online through our confidential contact form.
Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania
Susquehanna County is located in Northeastern Pennsylvania near the top of the Endless Mountains. Some of the incorporated cities, boroughs, townships, and towns in the county include:
- Forest City
- Great Bend
- Hop Bottom
- Little Meadows
- New Milford
- Susquehanna Depot
- Union Dale
- Forest Lake
- Great Bend
- New Milford
- Silver Lake
According to the 2020 Child Protective Services Report drafted by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services ("DHS,") of the 118 child abuse allegations in Susquehanna County, only 18 were substantiated. Most of the substantiated reports involved instances of sexual abuse, followed by physical abuse, and lastly, physical neglect.
Susquehanna County Children and Youth Services
Allegations of suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment in the county are reported to the Susquehanna County Children and Youth Service ("CYS"), the agency responsible for investigating, referring, and overseeing child protective services in the county. Some of the services that CYS offers to families throughout the case management or reunification process include:
- Child Protective Services: Services provided after CYS concludes an investigation that helps improve family functioning and safety.
- Counseling as well as intervention services in crises.
- Custody home studies when mandated by court orders.
- Day Treatment: In-school counseling programs.
- Case Aide: Agency provided aides that assist parents in developing parenting skills in budgeting, parenting, housekeeping, etc. When parents need more support, CYS offers "Nurtured Parenting," a more individualized, evidence-based parenting support program.
In the unfortunate event that children do not remain placed with their parents or fail to reunify, CYS also provides the following services:
- Foster care placement.
- Adoption services include placement, adoptive home studies, and collaboration with public and private agencies.
- Independent living services that help youth transition out of foster care into independent living.
- Kingship Care and Guardianship Care.
While CYS professionals are extensively trained to manage and respond to allegations of child abuse, there are instances where misunderstandings, unintentional oversights, or areas of limited expertise may result in the initiation of baseless ChildLine investigations. In these instances, parents can combat these shortcomings with diligent attention to their case management, understanding their rights and legal procedures involved in a ChildLine investigation, and a strategic defense provided by our experienced LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team.
Pennsylvania's ChildLine System
CYS utilizes the ChildLine System, a state-mandated system under the supervision of the Department of Human Services ("DHS.”) This comprehensive system includes a 24-hour hotline, accessible to the public, for reporting any suspicions of child abuse within their community. Some of the key features of the ChildLine System are discussed below.
24/7 Abuse Hotline and Electronic Reporting
ChildLine operates a toll-free intake line (1-800-932-0313), which is available around the clock, seven days a week, to accept reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. Reports can be made by any member. Besides verbal referrals, ChildLine facilitates electronic reporting, particularly for mandated reporters (addressed below).
Collaboration With Investigating Agencies
Once a report is received, ChildLine quickly transmits this information to the appropriate investigating agency, CYS, Law Enforcement, Etc. This is a critical step to ensure that the allegations of child abuse or neglect are investigated thoroughly and promptly by the appropriate local authorities. Sometimes, CYS may work collaboratively with other agencies throughout the investigative process.
The ChildLine Registry
Pennsylvania's ChildLine directory is a compulsory statewide database that records the names of individuals who have had child abuse allegations substantiated against them. Having your name on the registry can have consequential ramifications, affecting your ability to gain employment, win custody battles, or even apply to foster or adopt down the line.
Pennsylvania State Code Title 23, Chapter 63, entitled "Child Protective Services," outlines the policies and procedures that must be followed throughout a ChildLine report, investigation, and referral. ChildLine investigations are first triggered when a ChildLine worker receives a report of alleged child abuse from a permissive or mandated reporter. Reports to by calling the toll-free line. Mandated reporters (discussed below) can also make reports utilizing the state's Child Welfare Portal.
To ensure fairness, accuracy, and consistency across all ChildLine reports, the Code mandates that all reports of suspected child abuse within the system contain the following:
- The names and addresses of the child, parents, and persons responsible for the alleged abuse, as well as their relationship to the child.
- A description of the child's family, whether they have siblings, who they live with, etc.
- The location of the suspected abuse.
- A description of the alleged abuse, as well as any evidence that substantiates the claims.
- The actions of the person making the report (did they speak to the child, call the cops, report it to someone else, etc.)
- The name, telephone number, and e-mail address of the person making the report inaccessible to the public.
Mandated Versus Permissive Reporters
In accordance with Pennsylvania state legislation, some individuals known as Mandated Reporters are legally required to report any instance of suspected child abuse or neglect that they are personally aware of. Mandated reporters typically include individuals who work in family-centered or child-centered roles, such as teachers, therapists, pediatricians, and even school bus drivers. Individuals who regularly volunteer with children, like camp counselors, scouting troop leaders, and coaches, are also mandated reporters. Finally, certain government employees like police officers, firemen, social workers, and government attorneys are often considered mandated reporters.
Although failure to report suspected child abuse as a mandated reporter can lead to serious legal consequences, ranging from a misdemeanor to a second-degree felony, mandated reporters typically receive thorough training from their employees/organizations that help them recognize signs of suspected child abuse.
Permissive reporters include all other individuals who are not considered mandated reporters. Permissive reporters can range from those who know a child exceptionally well, such as relatives and friends, to random acquaintances and neighbors. The name and contact information for permissive reporters will not be released and will only be kept confidential by law enforcement or the District Attorney's office.
Navigating Through the Stages of a ChildLine Investigation
After receiving a report from a mandated or permissive reporter, CYS examines the veracity of the abuse or neglect claim to see if further intervention is warranted. If the alleged actions fall within the context of abuse or neglect within the meaning of Chapter 63, Pennsylvania's thorough statutes addressing what constitutes child abuse or neglect, the investigators will initiate a more detailed investigation within 24 hours.
While each investigation will vary from family to family, it's not uncommon for investigators to seek out those connected to the family or child, such as extended family members, friends, neighbors, and educational professionals like teachers, for more information.
Investigators may also visit a child's school or the family home in announced or unannounced visits. The case may be closed should the ChildLine investigators conclude that there is no substantiated concern. However, if the concerns are validated, actions may range from offering supportive intervention services to the family to removing children and placing them in foster care.
What Rights Do Parents Have Throughout a ChildLine Investigation?
Navigating a ChildLine investigation can be a complex and emotionally challenging experience for both parents and children. Although parents may feel like they are in a weak position to advocate for themselves against the threat of having their children taken away, parents have rights throughout the process that investigators must respect.
Some crucial rights that parents have throughout a ChildLine investigation include:
- The right to be notified about child abuse allegations and the nature of the accusations against you.
- The right to maintain regular contact with your children throughout the investigative period, absent a contrary court order.
- The right to be fully informed about the specifics of the investigation, including its scope and anticipated duration.
- The right to be informed about any potential next steps CYS plans to take, such as removing your children, requesting monitored visitation, etc.
- The right to be treated with respect, free from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, or economic circumstances.
If you struggle to be respected and treated equally throughout a ChildLine investigation, contact our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team today for assistance.
CYS Confirmed the Allegations Against Me, What Now?
First, you must realize that confirmed allegations can be challenged. Secondly, because substantiated allegations trigger inclusion on the ChildLine Registry, you should immediately begin thinking about filing a request to remove your name from the Registry. Removing your name can be difficult, especially while navigating the state's complex bureaucratic system.
How to Appeal a ChildLine Decision in Pennsylvania
ChildLine appeals are typically required to be filed within a 90-day window following the issuance of an order substantiating the allegations. It is important to note that the legal procedures and regulations governing appeals are stringent and demand strict adherence to the state's prescribed timelines and formatting requirements.
ChildLine appeals typically proceed through one of two routes: First, an administrative review of your case may be conducted by the state's Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF). Alternatively, you may request a review hearing before the Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (BHA). In the event of an unfavorable outcome at the BHA level, there may be a final opportunity for appeal through the Department of Human Services (DHS).
Participation in appeal hearings can be intimidating, especially for individuals lacking a legal background. These hearings follow a structure akin to a mini-trial, allowing both sides to present legal arguments. During these hearings, the state bears the burden of establishing by "clear and convincing evidence" that the allegations against you are true.
How Can I Get My Name Removed From the ChildLine Registry?
Generally, two avenues are available if you want to remove your name from the ChildLine Registry. Firstly, the Secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS) can delete your name if new evidence demonstrates that the accusations against you were false. This depends on the strength of the evidence submitted and may be difficult to prove. DHS may also consider removing your name if you can establish that you no longer present a risk to children.
Fortunately, our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has extensive experience managing these requests. Contact us online or call for assistance today to learn more about clearing your name and reputation.
ChildLine Appeal Attorney in Susquehanna County
Our LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is well-equipped to challenge the ChildLine accusations against you and fight for your rights under the law. With years of experience navigating Pennsylvania's ChildLine system, we are fully prepared to safeguard your family and tailor a defense to your circumstances. If you are contemplating a ChildLine appeal, we can help you navigate the next steps.