Lackawanna County ChildLine Referrals Attorney

In Pennsylvania, child abuse or neglect accusations can be made anonymously through the state's ChildLine system. The accused individual is listed on the ChildLine registry when such accusations are found credible. However, given the nature of the anonymous reporting, it is very common for falsely accused individuals to be listed on the registry before being able to properly defend themselves.

If you or someone you know is accused of child abuse or neglect, you need a strong defense. Accusations and consequences, such as being listed on the registry, can seriously impact every area of your life. You might be removed from your current position, forced to find work in another industry, evicted from your residence, or issued a travel ban. Moreover, there is the stigma of being "ChildLined" and being considered a child abuser, which you will have to deal with over time.

To ensure you are not subjected to unnecessary punishments, hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is important. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has spent years helping individuals throughout Pennsylvania navigate ChildLine accusations and any subsequent criminal charges. Call 888-535-3686 or schedule a consultation online today.

What Is Pennsylvania's ChildLine System?

The ChildLine system was created to encourage reporting of child well-being concerns, including child abuse and neglect referrals. Once the system receives the report, it will immediately transmit it to the corresponding county office.

Unfortunately, though, these reports can be made anonymously. So, anyone can make a report of child abuse or neglect, whether it is real, suspected, or completely fabricated, and not have to face any repercussions for it.

After the county office receives the report, it will review it and determine if an in-depth investigation should be conducted. But if the county office believes there is no proof or evidence to substantiate the claim, it will dismiss it.

In cases where the county office does believe the accusations should be investigated, they will appoint a case worker to perform it. If the caseworker concludes her investigation and determines the accused individual is responsible for the accused acts, they will publish the individual's name on the ChildLine registry.

According to ChildLine, the registry categorizes names into "unfounded," "indicated," or "founded." However, individuals who have access to the database may not know what these different monikers mean. For instance, an individual who is labeled as "indicated" may receive the same kind of personal consequences as someone labeled "founded." If they worked in childcare, whatever category they are labeled as can prevent them from continuing to work, care for children, or even engage with their own children at home. As such, it is incredibly important to build a strong defense from the moment you learn of the accusation against you.

Furthermore, ChildLine referrals can also negatively impact other legal cases that might come later on. For example, if you are involved in a child custody case and the judge sees you have a ChildLine registry entry, it may prevent the judge from allowing you visitation without supervision.

The best thing to do when you get into a situation like this is to contact the Team at the LLF Law Firm for help. They will review your case and applicable law and determine the best possible defense.

What's a ChildLine Referral?

The moment the state's ChildLine system receives a report and identifies the corresponding county, it will forward it to the Lackawanna County Office of Youth and Family Services (LCOYFS). LCOYFS is tasked with investigating the accusation and deciding if the accused individual is responsible or not.

To start, LCOYFS will evaluate the ChildLine report and figure out if it should be investigated. When it believes a case should be investigated, it will appoint a particular caseworker to meet with the accused individual, victims (if they are known), and anyone else involved in their lives who might have something to say.

The interviews with the caseworker can be extremely uncomfortable. Not only will they be asking you about your work and home life, but they will also dig into your mental and physical health, your mindset, and anything else they think is relevant. They will also reach out to people in your life for interviews, which might also include co-workers, employees, and employers. Typically, this investigation must conclude within 60 days of being opened.

It should be noted that LCOYFS has the power to reach out to law enforcement officials or your professional licensing board for more information, which may spark other investigations from these additional agencies.

ChildLine Referrals in Lackawanna County

In 2021, there were 668 reports of child abuse made in Lackawanna County, but only 82 of them could be validated. This means that nearly 90% of the reports made in 2021 were made without evidence, out of spite or boredom, and without a care for the other individual's reputation.

The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is keenly aware of how anonymous reporting can upend an individual's life. The hope was that by making ChildLine accessible to everyone and allowing it to be anonymous, more children could be protected. But the reality is that the system is used for personal gain without really considering the consequences. And sadly, when the system is clogged with false accusations, it takes away resources, time, and empathy from individuals who actually need help.

Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?

All residents and non-residents of Pennsylvania are encouraged to report child abuse or neglect cases to the ChildLine system the moment they become aware of it. Individuals who voluntarily make reports to ChildLine are called "permissive reporters." While everyone is encouraged to be a permissive reporter, there are some who are charged by law to report instances of suspected child abuse or neglect.

Mandatory Reporters

Generally, mandatory reporters work in positions where they come into contact with children and families on a regular basis, such as teachers, daycare attendants, social workers, religious officials, nurses, and doctors. When mandatory reporters do not report incidents of child abuse or neglect that they witness, suspect, or hear of, they can face possible criminal charges. For instance, if you child's teacher witnesses a school counselor sexually assaulting your child and does not report it, the teacher can face certain criminal punishments.

For the most part, mandatory reporters will send their reports righto LCOYFS or law enforcement officials. But in some cases, they may decide to make the report directly to ChildLine. If they choose to make the report to ChildLine, though, they cannot remain anonymous. They must give their contact information to the ChildLine system or representative.

There is an assumption in Pennsylvania that mandatory reporters will only make reports in good faith. Thus, when they make their reports using their contact information, the state will protect their identities. But, if the state discovers that the mandatory report made a false report with malicious intent, it will not hide their identity from the public.

What Happens if a ChildLine Referral Results in a Finding of Child Abuse?

If the LCOYFS investigation determines that the accused individual did commit child abuse, the caseworker will enter their name into the ChildLine registry. They will also label them as "indicated" or "founded."

Unfounded Reports

The best outcome for a LCOYFS ChildLine report investigation is receiving "unfounded." This means that the report was investigated and there was no evidence present that substantiates the accusation of child abuse or neglect.

Unfounded reports are not added to the registry and are instead destroyed.

Indicated Reports

Unlike "unfounded," which has no evidence to support the claim, and "founded," which has a significant amount of evidence to support it, "indicated" reports only need "some" evidence to support them. Once the caseworker discovers the evidence, they will place the individual's name on the ChildLine registry.

The only way to substantiate a child abuse or neglect claim in Pennsylvania is to find evidence that supports the claim. The requisite evidence may include arrest reports, admissions of guilt, child protective services reports, and medical records.

Founded Reports

As referenced above, "founded" reports require significant evidence to validate them. A report is only given this moniker if one of the following events also happened:

  1. There was a court case that had the same facts and circumstances as the ChildLine report, and the court in that case decided the accused individual had abused the child.
  2. The accused individual went into an accelerated rehab program because of what happened in the ChildLine report.
  3. The ChildLine report involved a juvenile proceeding, and the court discovered that the minor in the ChildLine report did commit child abuse.
  4. There is a protection from abuse (PFA) order in place.

If the ChildLine report involves one of these scenarios, the accused individual will be placed on the ChildLine registry immediately.

Remember, having your name published on the registry will seriously upend your life. This is why it is critical you stay on top of your deadlines and proceedings. However, many accused individuals find it incredibly hard to stay engaged, especially when their lives might be falling apart around them.

This feeling of being overwhelmed is compounded if law enforcement or a professional licensing board begins investigating the matter at the same time. Working with LLF Law Firm is the best way to ensure you not only have a solid defense to the ChildLine report, but also that you are protected from any subsequent criminal charges.

What Are Your Rights if You've Been Referred to ChildLine?

In the United States, there are several rights that all people have – they are called our due process rights. One of these rights is the right to confront your accuser. But in ChildLine cases, the accuser is usually anonymous. Thus, the accused individual has no way of confronting their accuser. Determining what rights you have and how to leverage them is your defense team's number one priority.

That being said, individuals who are referred to ChildLine for child abuse or neglect still have specific rights, including:

  • The right to be notified of the allegation against you.
  • The right to an attorney.
  • The right to have that attorney present at all interviews, investigations, hearings, or meetings.
  • The right to appeal or expunge the LCOYFS' decision.

After Lackawanna's investigation, it will forward its findings to you, including:

  • The status of the ChildLine report.
  • How the ChildLine system categorized you if your name was published on the registry ("indicated" or "founded."
  • How the report will affect your career or employment opportunities.
  • The appeals process.
  • Steps to have your appeal be heard on the facts of the case.
  • How to get the ChildLine report expunged and have your name removed from the registry.

How the LLF Law Firm Can Help You if You've Been Referred to the ChildLine in Lackawanna County

Child abuse and neglect are some of the harshest crimes people can be accused of. As such, they carry significant penalties, including prison sentences and substantial fines. But often, individuals are referred to ChildLine out of boredom and spite or to influence the outcome of some other case. Moreover, the current ChildLine system model allows for anonymous reporting, which inhibits the accused individual's due process right to confront their accuser.

Even if you are found not responsible and your case is dropped and expunged, you may still be forced to deal with the stigma of being accused of child abuse or neglect. To ensure you are not being unnecessarily punished, you must reach out to a skilled attorney immediately. Call LLF Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule a consultation online.

You do not have to go through this by yourself. Let LLF Law Firm help navigate you through it, ensuring the best possible outcome for your case.

Contact Us Today!

The LLF Law Firm Team has decades 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 LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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