Accusations of child abuse are incredibly serious and can have an enormous effect both on the victim and the accused. Protecting children is, of course, of the highest importance, but when unfounded claims cloud the system, valuable time and resources are lost to the anger of partners, exes, friends, neighbors, and more. Claims of child abuse cause huge amounts of stress, and with Pennsylvania's ChildLine service, reporting is easy and available 24/7. While this should be a good thing, the ease of access means that it can be filled with unfounded claims—and it is. In 2020, Schuylkill County had 414 total reports of child abuse, of which only 62 were found to be substantiated.
When claims of abuse become a way to ‘get back' at someone in divorces or custody battles, it takes away valuable time and resources from substantiated claims as well as putting undue mental stress on the accused. These claims must be investigated just like any other, which can delay justice for children who are facing real danger. Children deserve and need to be protected from real abusers. The Lento Law Firm will protect the rights of the accused, ensuring justice for all parties.
Impact of Allegations
This study from Oxford University shows that those falsely accused of abuse face enduring trauma, regardless of whether or not they have been convicted or arrested. If you have been accused of child abuse, you are going through a tough time and need the support of a team with years of experience in protecting your rights. The Lento Law Firm is here to defend you and your rights throughout legal proceedings. With his support, you can experience more peace of mind and feel confident in making it through the appeals process.
People who have been wrongfully accused often feel uneasy, paranoid, or like they are waiting for another allegation—even after claims have been cleared. You have the right to due process and freedom from slander to your reputation. Without the support of an Attorney to clear your name, these accusations can result in a loss of visitation or custody rights in the case of parents, and your name on the ChildLine abuse registry, which is available to the public.
How Does ChildLine Work?
In 2015, Pennsylvania introduced the ChildLine service to improve the processing of its increased call volume. Processing time had suffered without appropriate staff or budgeting for the call center. After an increase in staff and funding later in 2015, processing time and abandoned call rates went down, but reports continued to increase. The system accepts calls and online reports 24/7. This information is used to maintain a database that is publicly available of all indicated or founded reports of child abuse. This means that individuals can be put on the list without being convicted—your name goes on the list prior to any investigation.
Being publicly marked as an abuser prior to any trial is a blatant violation of your light to due process. Allegations of child abuse are serious and can cause major harm to one's reputation and mental health—and your name goes on the list by default without time to prove whether the claims are substantiated. ChildLine is designed with a focus on protecting children, which is why names are added quickly and without investigation. This means you'll want to remove your name just as quickly—there is a short period in which you can appeal the decision, generally 90 days. These 90 days will come and go quickly, so if you receive a letter from DHS indicating that you've been put on the ChildLine registry, contact the Lento Law Firm Team right away.
There is a major discrepancy in reported cases of child abuse and claims found to be substantiated or with reasonable evidence to support it. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services 2020 report, when rated compared to other PA counties, Schuylkill had a 2.2 rate of substantiated reports, below the rural average of 2.5, meaning there is a higher rate of unfounded claims. Even in the most serious of cases—fatalities or near fatalities—only 2 of 188 reports in 2020 were found to be substantiated.
Anyone can report a claim of child abuse. There are two types: mandated reporters and permissive reporters. Mandated reporters are legally required to report concerns about a child in danger. Generally, this is anyone who works with children: teachers, doctors, daycare employees, etc. If these people fail to report, they are at risk of losing their job or license. Permissive reporters are encouraged, but not mandated by law, to report concerns about child abuse. This includes people like babysitters, partners, or friends. These claims require only reasonable suspicion to submit—this is regardless of whether they know who is responsible or not. What qualifies as reasonable cause is up only to the reporter, which contributes to the high volume of unsubstantiated claims. Mandated reporters are also required to report if they receive any information about potential child abuse, regardless of where this comes from—the child themselves or another observer.
While mandated reporters have the option of calling or submitting an electronic report, permissive reporters must make a call. Good faith laws protect reporters, particularly mandated reporters who are assumed to always be reporting under good faith. The ability to report over the phone and anonymously means that it is easier to make false claims with little chance of repercussions, even though this wastes the time and resources of the state to investigate these claims.
How Does Reporting and Investigation Work?
First, a report is made either through the call center or an online form. A trained specialist at the call center will guide the report to get as many details as possible about the suspected abuse. Mandated reporters are required to share their information, but permissive reporters are allowed to remain anonymous. The specialist will then evaluate the case based on a set of risk factors about the child, abuser, family, and environment.
If you've been accused of child abuse, you will receive a letter from the Department of Human Services notifying you that your name has been added to the ChildLine registry.
If the risk factors merit investigation, the case is sent to an intake unit and overseen by a social worker. If the caseworker determines that the child is in immediate danger, they will be removed from the family. If there is no immediate threat, a more detailed investigation will proceed. An in-depth risk assessment is conducted of the reported abuser, primary caregiver, and home environment. From here, depending on the case, the family may be assigned ongoing services for support. The child may also be placed with a foster family or up for adoption. However, it doesn't have to end this way. If you've been accused of child abuse and fear losing your child, call the Lento Law Firm today. Their Criminal Defense Team is here to support you throughout the investigation and appeals and clear your name and reputation. You have rights during an investigation, including the right to be represented by an attorney. Investigators may prompt you to answer questions without representation, but it is best to wait to have your lawyer present. The Lento Law Firm Team has your back and will protect your rights during the investigation.
If you've received a notice letter from the Department of Human Services, you should contact the Criminal Defense Team immediately. If you have been accused of child abuse, you need an experienced lawyer to protect your due process, and the Team will do just that. You have the right to appeal to have your name expunged from the ChildLine abuse registry, as well as to appeal the findings of child abuse. Typically, you have 90 days to make an appeal, and it's important to act fast so you don't miss the chance to clear your name.
You can either start by asking the Office of Children and Youth Services to conduct an administrative review. Your other option is to move ahead to ask for a hearing in front of the OCYS's Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (BHA). If the BHA does not rule on your behalf, it is possible to appeal beyond their decision. You would then further appeal to the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
While it may feel like it, it's important to remember that an administrative hearing is not the same as a court proceeding. At the BHA hearing, you will present evidence on your own behalf to argue to overturn the ChildLine registry finding. If the state cannot provide convincing evidence that the allegations are true, the initial determination will be reversed, and your name will be expunged from the registry. If the BHA does not rule in your favor, you have 15 days to request a review from the Secretary of DHS.
The appeals process is not something you want to handle alone. If you've received notice from DHS, the best way to get through the appeals smoothly is to hire the Lento Law Firm. He and his team have many years of experience working with ChildLine registry allegations, and they will ensure that your rights are protected and due process is granted. They understand how these decisions are reviewed and processed and can use this to help you to prepare the most compelling appeal possible.
What if the Allegations Are Old?
Even if it has been a long time since your name has been added to the ChildLine registry, it may still be possible to have your record expunged. This is determined by the DHS in two situations: new evidence has come to light which shows the initial report was false, or it's been established that you are not presently a risk to the safety of children, so there is no public purpose to keep your name on the registry. Expunging your name from the registry can be a new chance at your reputation and self-confidence. If you or someone you know is facing allegations of child abuse, act fast to overturn this decision and protect yourself even against anonymous reports. Stop looking over your shoulder and wondering when the next allegations will be—there's still hope of clearing your name.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help
If you've been notified that a ChildLine report has been filed against you and that you are under investigation by the Schuylkill County Children and Youth Services, or if you've been notified that your name will now be listed on the ChildLine registry, contact the Lento Law Firm immediately. The Lento Law Firm Team has many years of experience with Pennsylvania's child abuse reporting system, and they can help you protect your rights during this extremely stressful time. They understand how the system works and how it can often be abused by people seeking to gain an advantage in divorces or custody battles.
When you're facing serious allegations such as those involving child abuse, you need the help of attorneys who have been there before and can make sure your rights are protected and respected. You want the support of someone with experience with your type of case. Contact them today at 888.535.3686, or through the Lento Law Firm online contact form to set up a confidential consultation. The Lento Criminal Law Team is there to listen and to help.