Berks County ChildLine Appeal Attorneys

Being implicated in child abuse allegations in Pennsylvania is a deeply distressing and anxiety-inducing event for anyone. These accusations can come from various sources, such as an estranged relative, acquaintance, physician, clergy, or even a neighbor. The ensuing scrutiny from an investigation based on such allegations can lead to sleep deprivation, significant stress, and enduring psychological trauma, even after the inquiry concludes. Even worse, not only can the allegation itself can be a stain on your public reputation, but the fact that your name automatically is entered in the Pennsylvania ChildLine registry can potentially impact your employment opportunities and community involvement for many years to come.

Undeniably, it is crucial to shield children from genuine instances of abuse. However, it is a harsh reality that false claims of abuse are often exploited as a strategy during divorce, custody battles, or other disputes. In Pennsylvania, for instance, a staggering 38,013 suspected child abuse reports were filed in 2021. Out of these, a mere 13.2% were substantiated by the local child welfare agency. Although not all of the remaining reports were unfounded, it is plausible that a considerable number might have been baseless.

Of particular concern in Pennsylvania is that anonymous child abuse reports can be filed via the state's ChildLine reporting system. This anonymity makes it challenging to hold individuals accountable for submitting malicious reports, which nonetheless must be investigated like any other report. Furthermore, while ChildLine understandably exists to protect children, state policies concerning reporting do not do much to protect those who have been falsely accused of child abuse.

If this unfortunate situation has happened to you, the psychological impact can be overwhelmingly substantial. Even if you are exonerated from the false accusation, the lingering effects of constant scrutiny and the fear of another baseless accusation and subsequent investigation can persist, causing significant distress and anxiety.

Facing Investigation for Child Abuse in Berks County

In Berks County, inquiries into suspected child abuse are handled by Berks County Children and Youth Services (BCCYS). This agency investigates reports made through the Pennsylvania ChildLine system and other channels. In 2021, 1184 suspected child abuse reports were lodged in Berks County, with only 154 of those reports confirmed after investigation.

If you are a resident of Berks County and receive notification of an impending child abuse investigation or placement on the ChildLine registry due to an investigation, it is essential to seek the help of a seasoned attorney. The LLF Law Firm Team has extensive experience representing clients facing child abuse investigations or unjustified placement on the ChildLine registry. To schedule a consultation, call today at (888) 535-3686.

What Is ChildLine?

ChildLine in Pennsylvania is a crucial service designed to ensure the safety and well-being of children in the state. It is a toll-free hotline that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing information, counseling, and referral services for families and children.

The primary purpose of ChildLine is to accept reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. Anyone who suspects a child may be at risk can call ChildLine, whether they are a concerned member of the public or a mandated reporter such as a teacher or healthcare professional. Mandated reporters are required by law to report any suspicions of child abuse, and they can do so by calling ChildLine or reporting electronically.

Once a report is made to ChildLine, it triggers an investigation to determine the validity of the abuse claims. Within 24 hours of receiving a report, ChildLine refers the matter to the local Children and Youth Services (CYS) agency for the county where the alleged abuse took place. In the case of Berks County, ChildLine reports are referred to BCCYS as described above.

Furthermore, ChildLine maintains a registry of individuals found responsible for confirmed child abuse reports. This registry is accessible to employers conducting background checks on current or potential employees. Unfortunately, most accused individuals find themselves listed on the ChildLine registry before they have the opportunity to contest the decision. Hence, it is vital to be vigilant if you receive notice of an impending child abuse investigation or inclusion on the ChildLine registry and consult an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

Who Can Report to ChildLine?

Any member of the public can submit a ChildLine report. Pennsylvania law distinguishes between two types of reporters: "mandated reporters" and "permissive reporters."

Mandated reporters are professionals legally obligated to report suspected child abuse. This group includes people such as:

  • Healthcare providers
  • Teachers
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Clergy
  • Daycare center staff members

Failure to report can result in criminal liability for mandated reporters if they withhold information or fail to report incidents or evidence they have observed that suggest child abuse. Pennsylvania law presumes that a mandated report is made in good faith, offering protection from civil liability unless it is proven that a false report was maliciously filed. Although mandated reporters must give their names when reporting, the identity of mandated reporters remains confidential in ChildLine reports, being released only to law enforcement and the district attorney when necessary.

Permissive reporters are those not required by law to report. They are encouraged to report to ChildLine or local child welfare or law enforcement authorities if they reasonably suspect a child to be a victim of abuse. Permissive reporters can file their reports over the phone and may do so anonymously.

What Happens When You Are Reported to ChildLine

When a report of suspected child abuse occurs in Berks County, Pennsylvania, it is forwarded by the ChildLine reporting line to Berks County Children and Youth Services (BCCYS). The agency reviews the report, and if the investigator deems that the alleged behavior constitutes child abuse, they will launch an immediate investigation.

Child abuse investigations are inherently intrusive. If you find yourself implicated in a suspected child abuse case, you will likely undergo an extensive interview at your home by a BCCYS investigator. Inhabitants of your household, including children, may also be questioned. Additional interviews could be conducted with friends and family, further escalating the stress level. In addition, your name will be automatically included on the ChildLine registry as a suspected abuser, and it may only be removed if the investigator determines the allegations are unfounded and social services are not required.

At the conclusion of the investigation, BCCYS will make one of the following three determinations regarding the child abuse accusation:

  • Unfounded: No substantiated evidence was found to support the allegation of child abuse.
  • Indicated: Some evidence discovered, yet lacking definitive proof.
  • Founded: Compelling evidence that confirms the child abuse allegations.

Your Rights During a ChildLine Investigation

As an individual under investigation, you have certain rights, including the right to legal representation. Given the tendency of investigators to present themselves as allies while posing ambiguous or misleading questions, having experienced legal representation is critical to ensuring you don't wrongly implicate yourself. Your attorney can ensure fairness during the proceedings, seek clarity of the investigator's questions, and make sure you understand the question before responding. While cooperation with the BCCYS investigator is essential, you should exercise caution when responding to their queries and providing information. Legal representation can help strike a balance between cooperation and safeguarding your rights. We strongly advise that you not answer an investigator's questions without an attorney present.

The LLF Law Firm Team has extensive experience assisting people under investigation by CYS agencies across Pennsylvania, including Berks County. They are prepared to support you throughout these demanding situations. The LLF Law Firm Team maintains communication with the investigator, keeping you informed about the investigation's progress. They can also provide additional information to the investigator that may aid in resolving the case if overlooked during the investigation.

Consequences of a Confirmed Abuse Report Against You

If a BCCYS investigator concludes that you may have committed child abuse (i.e., a determination of "Indicated" or "Founded" your name may remain on the ChildLine registry for life. If the determination was "Unfounded," but social services were required during the investigation, your name will remain on the registry with a note of "UNFOUNDED." Either way, inclusion on the ChildLine registry may unfairly disqualify you from working any job involving children, participating in child-related community activities, or becoming a foster parent. For that reason alone, upon receiving notice that your allegations were substantiated, your immediate course of action should be to appeal the decision. There are several avenues for appeals.

How to Appeal the ChildLine Abuse Determination

Typically, you will only have a 90-day window to contest a ChildLine registry determination--otherwise, your name stays on the registry for life. Therefore, it's crucial to take action quickly if you want to avoid this outcome. Initially, you have two appeal options: request an administrative review of the finding by the Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF), or bypass this step and request a hearing before the OCYF's Bureau of Hearings and Appeal (BHA). Furthermore, the BHA decision can be appealed to the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

For Berks County residents, BHA appeals are usually conducted in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia State Office Building. Although this may feel like a court proceeding, it is actually an administrative hearing.

During the BHA hearing, you will have an opportunity to present evidence refuting the ChildLine registry finding. The state must provide "clear and convincing" proof to the hearing officer that you committed the alleged acts. Failure to do so will overturn the initial determination, and your name will be removed from the ChildLine registry.

If the BHA hearing's outcome is unfavorable, you have another 15 days to request a review of the appeal by the Secretary of the Department of Human Services. This final step is worth considering; in 2021, out of the 86 appeals reviewed and decided by the DHS Secretary, 34 were overturned.

Because time frames are tight and the stakes are so high, it's not in your best interests to navigate the appeals process alone. Your best hope of a favorable outcome is to hire an attorney who has experience with these types of appeals. The LLF Law Firm Team has been aiding individuals in Berks County and throughout Pennsylvania in appealing ChildLine registry listings for many years. They can work swiftly to generate an appeal that is both timely and compelling.

Expunging Your Record From the ChildLine Registry

Even if your name has been on the ChildLine registry for a while, there might still be a chance to have it removed. The Secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS) can expunge the record under two circumstances:

  • If new evidence comes to light proving the initial abuse report was incorrect, or
  • If it's proven that you don't pose a risk of child abuse and there's no public interest in keeping your name on the ChildLine registry.

How the LLF Law Firm Can Help You

If you've been informed that a ChildLine report has been lodged against you and you're now under scrutiny by the Berks County Children and Youth Social Services, or if you've already undergone an investigation and received notification of a substantiated report, it's time to reach out to the LLF Law Firm Team immediately. With years of experience dealing with Pennsylvania's ChildLine reporting system, the LLF Law Firm Team is equipped to safeguard your rights during this challenging and stressful time. They know how the system operates and are aware of how it can be misused by individuals trying to secure an upper hand in custody or divorce disputes or by those seeking retribution against you for any reason.

When confronting severe allegations such as child abuse, it's crucial to have a lawyer who is experienced and can ensure your rights are upheld and respected. The LLF Law Firm Team is ready to lend an ear and extend their support. To arrange a confidential consultation, contact us today at (888) 535-3686 or use our online contact form.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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