If you're facing a ChildLine allegation, one of the first things you probably want to know is what an investigation will look like. You need to know how the process typically works and what investigators can do as the process unfolds. You'll find useful information on these subjects here.
In addition, you'll find important information on how to get help if you're facing a ChildLine accusation. There are supposed to be rules about what investigators can and can't do. They're meant to abide by certain standards. Not every investigator is properly trained, though, and not every investigator is willing to abide by the rules. The only way you can be sure you're treated fairly and given every due process right you deserve is to retain an experienced attorney. You'll find information on how to do that here as well.
What Is ChildLine?
We all want to do what we can to prevent child abuse, and in that sense, ChildLine is well-intentioned. The Pennsylvania program was created to encourage childcare givers and the community at large to report any abuse they might encounter. Essentially, ChildLine is a toll-free number that processes such reports and passes them on to the relevant authorities.
The trouble is that ChildLine doesn't have enough due process checks in place to prevent innocent parents from getting caught up in the system. Anyone can make an allegation simply by picking up the phone. Cases are handled by county Child, Youth, and Family agencies which assigns a caseworker to investigate. While such caseworkers usually have some training and must follow a set of procedures, ultimately, they have sole authority to determine whether or not abuse has actually occurred.
If they decide you've committed abuse, they can add your name to the ChildLine registry, a publicly accessible, searchable database, and that can do permanent damage to your reputation. While there is a process to appeal these decisions, the process is complicated, and in the meantime, you have to deal with the fallout from a decision made not by a judge and jury but by a single social worker. That's a lot of power in the hands of one person.
What Does the Process Look Like?
What happens during a case, and more specifically, what are investigators entitled to do as part of their investigation?
By law, ChildLine must turn allegations over to county agencies within 24 hours of receiving them. Each county, of course, has its own set of procedures for handling these allegations. Most counties begin with a screening process by which they determine whether or not a given accusation merits a full investigation. These decisions aren't made by a judge, a prosecutor, or any other law enforcement representative. Most often, they are in the hands of a social worker who may rely on the allegation alone to make their determination.
If the agency decides to investigate, a caseworker will contact you to schedule a day and time to make a home visit. As part of this visit, they ask personal questions about your family, they inspect your home, and they observe how family members interact with one another.
As part of the investigation, caseworkers also perform a risk assessment. This process involves rating your family situation in fifteen separate categories, such as your physical, intellectual, and emotional capacity; the condition your home is in; and whether or not you are cooperative during the investigation.
Further, caseworkers have the right to look at medical records and to review any criminal record you may have. They can also interview people you and your family know. As you might expect, such interviews can alert your community to the fact that you're being investigated and can, in and of themselves, ruin your reputation. You could find yourself ostracized; you could be prohibited from working with any youth organizations; you could even lose your job.
What Are the Potential Outcomes of an Investigation?
While the process itself gives investigators an enormous amount of power, the bulk of their power comes from their authority to decide the outcome of your case. Basically, there are three options.
- Unfounded: If your caseworker decides that the allegations against you are “unfounded,” the case is dismissed. Of course, this finding can't undo the damage that may have been done to your family by the investigation itself.
- Founded: If the caseworker decides the abuse did occur, they issue a “founded” report. The most immediate impact of this report is that you are listed on the ChildLine registry.
- Indicated: The caseworker can also issue an “indicated” report, suggesting there may be cause for concern, but not enough evidence exists to prove abuse.
A founded report is not a criminal conviction. However, it does—again, by law—place you on the ChildLine registry. Beyond any stigma that might attach to this listing, the listing can have a number of peripheral consequences. For instance, it can have a direct impact on custody battles. It can keep you from certain careers. It can even prevent you from volunteering at your child's school.
ChildLine circumvents many important due process rights that you'd have if you were accused of any other sort of crime. After all, even those on the state sex offender list, SORNA, were only placed there after they were convicted in a court of law by a judge and jury.
There is one right, however, that ChildLine cannot take from you: the right to an attorney. What can an attorney do for you in a ChildLine case?
- Help you respond to the initial allegation
- Ensure you're not mistreated during the investigation
- Help you answer questions during the investigation
- Ensure the case worker makes a fair decision
- Help you to appeal a “founded” decision
Joseph D. Lento: Childline Defense Attorney
When you're facing a ChildLine investigation, it's important you have a lawyer by your side. It's just as important, though, that you choose the right lawyer. Joseph D. Lento has represented dozens of clients in ChildLine cases. He understands the process; he knows just how unfair it can be. Joseph D. Lento is committed to ensuring all his clients are treated fairly and that they get the very best resolution to their case.
If you are dealing with a ChildLine accusation, don't wait to find out what might happen. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 or use our automated response form.