Child abuse is a serious offense with criminal implications. In Pennsylvania, ChildLine is a state-run program that allows people to easily report suspected instances of child abuse. While we can agree that children must absolutely be protected, it's important to note that suspected child abuse can be effortlessly reported on ChildLine. The reports can also be made anonymously. Further, some individuals are required to make reports under threat of criminal prosecution. The bottom line is: a lot of accusations get made, and sometimes, they're frivolous. The type of evidence the investigators will look for can be ambiguous, and if someone has reported you or your family to ChildLine, you need to understand how ChildLine works and what sort of evidence may be collected in the investigation.
ChildLine in PA Explained
As described by Pennsylvania DHS:
ChildLine is part of a mandated statewide child protective services program designed to accept child abuse referrals and general child well-being concerns, and transmit the information quickly to the appropriate investigating agency. ChildLine is responsible for receiving verbal and electronic referrals 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A ChildLine report may be substantiated or unsubstantiated. If a claim is unsubstantiated, it will likely be dismissed because it means there's no real evidence against you at that time. If, on the other hand, the ChildLine claim is substantiated, then you need to contact a PA defense attorney if you haven't already.
If a claim is made against you, you'll receive notice of an investigation to be made. A caseworker will also be assigned to you, and while they aren't necessarily against you, they may not be great at helping you through the ordeal either. Caseworkers are often busy and overwhelmed, and your best course of action is to speak to an attorney who can give you their undivided attention.
Who Can Report Me to ChildLine?
Anyone can make a report of suspected child abuse in PA to ChildLine. There are a number of ways this report can be made, and the person reporting only has to pick up the phone and dial a toll-free number. They might also fill out an anonymous report online. Child abuse reporters are categorized in two different ways per ChildLine:
- Mandatory Reporters
- Permissive Reporters
A Mandatory ChildLine Reporter is someone who is in a position of added responsibility and who comes into contact with a child in the course of their position. For example, the following are a few examples of Mandatory ChildLine Reporters:
- Police Officers
- Social Workers
Mandatory ChildLine Reports in Pennsylvania face criminal penalties for failure to report. A Permissive ChildLine Reporter, on the other hand, is anyone else who might suspect child abuse is occurring. This second category doesn't have a legal duty to report child abuse.
What Kind of Evidence is Used in an Investigation After a ChildLine Report is Made?
When an investigation is conducted after a report to ChildLine is made, authorities will seek to determine whether child abuse or neglect occurred under the laws of Pennsylvania. Pursuant to Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6303 (b.1), child abuse is defined as “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” causing scenarios that include:
- Causing bodily harm
- Feigning the need for harmful medical treatment
- Causing or contributing to substantial mental injury
- Sexual abuse or exploitation
Child abuse can also occur if the above-listed actions haven't yet occurred but are likely to.
In seeking to determine whether child abuse did, in fact, occur, authorities may look to the child's physical and mental condition. If a mandatory reporter is a physician, they could document the child's medical condition through x-rays and more. During the investigation, you can expect the caseworker to perform interviews with the child and the accused. Depending on the accused's relationship with the child, inspections of the home could be taken.
Child abuse isn't always obvious, especially if the abuse isn't physical in nature. Unfortunately, while these children need protection, it can lead to false accusations. In the grand scheme of things, it's better for the children of PA if citizens adopt a “see something, say something” attitude, but that doesn't mean the accused shouldn't defend themselves.
What Burden of Proof is Required in ChildLine Reporting Cases?
Burden of proof refers to the standard of evidence required in proving or disproving that child abuse occurred in the eyes of the state. The burden of proof standard is different for different types of law. For example, in most civil trials, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence. This means that a person will lose their case when a preponderance of the evidence is against them. To distinguish, in a criminal case, the burden of proof standard is beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that for someone to be found criminally guilty, the evidence has to demonstrate their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In ChildLine cases, the burden of proof standard is: clear and convincing evidence. While child abuse is a criminal offense, ChildLine cases aren't handled in criminal court. Instead, this clear and convincing evidence standard is a lower hurdle for the courts to determine whether child abuse occurred. To be clear, criminal charges could be later brought, but ChildLine is more concerned with getting the child to a safe place.
Retain a Domestic Violence Defense Attorney in PA
Child abuse is a criminal offense, and if you or someone you love is accused of child abuse, you need to hire a criminal defense attorney right away. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is dedicated to ensuring his clients receive the defense they are entitled to. To learn how the Lento Law Firm can help you, call 888-535-3686 or contact us online today.