Mercer County ChildLine Referrals Attorney

It can be frightening and stressful to learn that someone has filed a ChildLine report with Mercer County Children and Youth Services (CYS) because they suspect your child has been abused or neglected. As your child's parent, you immediately become the focus of any investigation that CYS decides to initiate. You face detailed and difficult interviews with a CYS caseworker; your home and property may be inspected in detail; your child and other family members may be interviewed; and the CYS caseworker might even ask your neighbors and co-workers questions about you and your family. If you're faced with a ChildLine investigation in Mercer County, call the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team as soon as possible at 888.535.3686, or use our contact form to schedule a confidential consultation. Our experienced attorneys are ready to help you protect your rights during what we know is a difficult time for any parent.

Pennsylvania's ChildLine System

ChildLine is a statewide reporting system operated by Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services. It provides a toll-free number and a website that can be accessed at any time by anybody to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Once a report is received, it's then forwarded by the department to the child services agency located in the county where the child named in the report lives. In Mercer County, that agency is Mercer County Children and Youth Services, located on Sharon-Mercer Road in Mercer. Mercer County CYS can also take ChildLine reports directly by phone, either at its regular business number or at an after-hours/emergency number.

Anybody can make a ChildLine abuse or neglect report. Members of the general public – those who aren't required by law to make reports of suspected abuse or neglect – can make ChildLine reports anonymously. While this allows people who might not otherwise want to become involved in a potential child abuse situation to file ChildLine reports, it also makes it easy for someone to maliciously file a false abuse report. This can happen, for example, when a couple is divorcing, and one spouse wants an advantage in the child custody portion of the case.

When a Mercer County CYS caseworker decides after investigating a ChildLine report that it's likely that child abuse or neglect has taken place or is in danger of happening, the name of the person responsible for that abuse (or potential abuse) will be added to Pennsylvania's ChildLine registry. What this means is that, in addition to any actions taken directly by Mercer County CYS with respect to the child and the family, that person's name will be accessible to certain employers and organizations who have access to the registry for background check purposes.

If your name is added to the ChildLine registry, you may find it more difficult to get (or keep) a job. Organizations you want to volunteer for may refuse to allow you to work with them. If you're involved in a divorce proceeding, you may lose custody of your child and may be forced to visit with your child only under supervised conditions. All this can happen once you've been visited by a Mercer County CYS caseworker, in some cases before you are even aware that your name has been added to the ChildLine registry.

What Is a ChildLine Referral?

With both an 800 number and a website, the ChildLine reporting system can be accessed by anyone with a phone or an Internet connection. And, as noted, Mercer County CYS will also accept ChildLine reports directly and via phone. When submitted to the Pennsylvania ChildLine reporting system, ChildLine reports for children living in Mercer County are forwarded to Mercer County CYS. Once CYS receives a report, they will review it to determine whether the report relates to child abuse or neglect or whether it relates to some other aspect of family welfare that CYS or another agency can help with. In some cases, for example, a ChildLine report may result in a family being contacted for help with clothing, after-school care, tutoring, or other types of intervention and assistance that are unrelated to child abuse.

In cases where the ChildLine report does suggest that a child may have been abused or neglected or is in danger of being abused or neglected, a CYS caseworker will be assigned to investigate. Being the target of a ChildLine investigation can be extremely stressful. Having someone interview you and others around you about some of the most personal details of your life will feel extremely invasive. The CYS caseworker will likely want to interview you in person. They may also interview your child or children, other people who live with you, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers. Your home and property may be inspected in detail.

Mercer County CYS has a handbook for parents that it becomes involved with for one reason or another, including for ChildLine investigations. That handbook notes that CYS will become involved in cases where:

  • A child has been “injured, abused, or sexually molested” by a parent or caretaker
  • A child has not been “properly cared for or watched.
  • Parents are not able to properly care for the child, and there is no other adult available to do so
  • A child chronically fails to attend school
  • In other situations where CYS determines that a parent needs help with their own problems or with their child's problems

A CYS ChildLine investigation is not a criminal one. CYS caseworkers are not law enforcement officers. But if a CYS caseworker believes that a parent has committed criminal child abuse or neglect, they are likely to refer the matter to local law enforcement, who can investigate and take action on their own. In situations where a parent holds a professional license, the CYS caseworker might report the parent's conduct as a disciplinary violation that can affect the parent's license.

There is a lot at stake once Mercer County CYS begins investigating you for suspected child abuse or neglect. That's why it is important to have the help of an experienced attorney from the LLF Law Firm throughout the entire process. We'll help you understand what's happening and will protect your rights throughout the investigation and any further proceedings that may result.

ChildLine Referrals in Mercer County

In 2022, Mercer County CYS received more than 475 reports of suspected child abuse. Just over a quarter of these resulted in a determination that the report was “substantiated,” while the rest were not. These numbers were similar to those reported in 2021, though in 2021, just over 20% of the reports were substantiated. 2020 saw slightly fewer reports of suspected abuse, with just under 20% being substantiated by Mercer County CYS.

Five main types of abuse make up the types of abuse that Mercer County CYS caseworkers found in 2022. These were sexual abuse (31.4%), physical abuse/bodily injury (19%), “reasonable likelihood” of bodily injury (28.5%), serious physical neglect (11.7%), and “engaging in per se acts” (7.3%) (a “per se” act can include a number of physical acts that endanger a child as well as unreasonably restraining a child).

With nearly 75% of ChildLine reports for Mercer County being unsubstantiated, it's possible that some of the reports that were filed were false. It's not unheard of for someone to maliciously make an anonymous ChildLine report for the purposes of putting the target of the report through the very stressful experience of being investigated by Mercer County CYS.

The statistics are just numbers, however. Each ChildLine investigation is different, just as each family's situation is different. If you learn that a ChildLine report has been filed against you and that a Mercer County CYS caseworker is investigating you and your family, you need the help of the experienced attorneys from the LLF Law Firm who will help you protect your rights throughout the difficult investigation process. We can help you understand what's happening, prepare you for what the interview and inspection experience is like, make sure interviews and inspections are conducted fairly, and represent you in discussions with CYS caseworkers.

Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?

As we note above, anybody can file a ChildLine report, and the general public can do so anonymously. Certain people, however, are required by law to file ChildLine reports, and they must identify themselves when they do so. These people are called “Mandated Reporters.” Those who aren't mandated reporters are called “Permissive Reporters.”

Mandated Reporters

A mandated reporter is required by Pennsylvania Law to submit a report to ChildLine when they encounter a situation through their work that makes them suspect that a child may have been abused or neglected or is in danger of being abused or neglected. If a mandated reporter fails to make a ChildLine report in a situation where the facts determine that they should have done so, they can be prosecuted. A mandated reporter must thus identify themselves when they file a ChildLine report.

Most ChildLine reports are made by mandated reporters. About 83% of all ChildLine reports made in Pennsylvania in 2022 were made by mandated reporters. Mandated reporters include law enforcement personnel, public librarians, clergy, childcare workers, teachers, and healthcare workers, among others.

The danger of being prosecuted for failing to make a ChildLine report likely contributes to the number of ChildLine reports that are investigated but are not substantiated. When criminal liability is a penalty for not filing a ChildLine report, the instinct will be for a mandated reporter to err on the side of caution and file a ChildLine report even in situations where the reporter doesn't personally believe that child abuse is happening or is likely.

Of course, if you are named in a ChildLine report that's investigated by Mercer County CYS, the fact that a mandated reporter was being extra cautious when they filed the report will not provide you with much comfort. What will help is being advised by one of the experienced attorneys from the LLF Law Firm, who understands the investigation process and can protect your rights during what is likely to be one of the most stressful times in your life.

Permissive Reporters

If someone isn't a mandated reporter, they are a “Permissive Reporter.” Permissive reporters are allowed to submit anonymous ChildLine reports. And while it's a second-degree misdemeanor to file a false ChildLine report in Pennsylvania, as a practical matter it can be very difficult to identify and prosecute the source of an anonymous ChildLine report without a considerable amount of investigation.

In any case, where Mercer County CYS opens a ChildLine investigation, you will benefit by retaining an experienced attorney who understands the law, the investigation process, and your rights. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has helped parents across Pennsylvania get through ChildLine investigations, and we're ready to help you, too.

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

When a Mercer County CYS caseworker determines that a ChildLine abuse report about your child is “substantiated,” and that you are the one responsible, your name will be added to the statewide ChildLine registry. If the report is not substantiated, your name won't be added.

CYS may also take other actions. This can include removing your child from your home and having them live with relatives or in foster care. CYS may also report you to law enforcement for possible prosecution.

If your name is on the ChildLine registry, it can make it more difficult for you to find and keep a job. If you're a divorced parent or in the process of divorcing, it can affect your custody rights and can lead to you having restricted visitation rights. This is why you need the help of an experienced attorney who understands Pennsylvania's child abuse and neglect laws, someone who has helped others through the difficult process of a ChildLine investigation, a lawyer who will fight for your rights and make sure they are respected by the CYS caseworker and any others who may become involved. The LLF Law Firm is ready to help you as we've helped other parents across the state who have found themselves in the same difficult situation of being the target of a ChildLine investigation.

What Are Your Rights if Your Name Has Been Referred to ChildLine?

You are not without rights during the difficult ChildLine process. These include:

  • The right to know the details of the allegation of child abuse or neglect (or potential abuse or neglect) that was made against you
  • The right to have an attorney represent you throughout the investigation process, including during meetings and interviews with Mercer County CYS caseworkers and personnel
  • The right to challenge your ChildLine listing and to have it expunged or amended when facts support doing so

When the ChildLine investigation is complete, you have additional rights. These are:

  • The right to be notified of the results and whether your name will be on the ChildLine registry
  • The rights you have to amend or expunge your ChildLine listing
  • What effect the ChildLine listing can have on your employment and other career opportunities
  • The right to appeal the decision to add your name to the ChildLine registry, which you must do within 90 days, and your right to have a hearing on that appeal

It's not unusual for people to learn that their name has already been added to the ChildLine registry without their knowledge, generally because they failed to receive the notice that was sent. As noted above, it's possible to appeal a ChildLine registry listing, and in 2022, about 15% of appeals were successful. In those cases, the person's ChildLine listing was removed.

While appeals can be successful, though in a relatively low percentage of cases, what can be more effective is doing everything you can to make sure your name isn't added to the ChildLine registry in the first place. Working with an experienced attorney from the LLF Law Firm throughout the investigation process is the best way for you to reduce the chances that your name will appear on the ChildLine registry. In cases where your name has been added when it should not have been, the LLF Law Firm can help you with an appeal.

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

We understand the stress and anxiety that comes from learning that Mercer County CYS is investigating you for potential child abuse. We've helped parents all across Pennsylvania defend their rights in ChildLine investigations, and we're ready to help you, too.

Our experienced attorneys will work with you to help you understand how the investigation process works. We can prepare you for the often difficult and unfamiliar experience of being interviewed by a Mercer County CYS caseworker, and we can be there with you to make sure their questions are clear and understandable and that you have a chance to answer them properly. We can discuss your case with Mercer County officials, and in situations where your name is already on the ChildLine registry, we can help you with efforts to appeal it or have it removed. The LLF Law Firm is ready to help you at any stage of the ChildLine process.

The sooner you reach out to us after learning that a ChildLine report has been filed against you, the more we can help. Call us today at 888.535.3686, or use our contact form to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our experienced attorneys. At the LLF Law Firm, we understand how difficult this is for you, and we're here to listen and to help. 

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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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