Somerset County Childline Referral Attorney

No one should be subjected to abuse and neglect. That's especially true of children, who are dependent on adults around them and may not have the maturity or ability to ask for help.

That Pennsylvania has a way to report suspected child abuse is, on the surface, a good thing. No child should be abused.

The problem is that statistics repeatedly show that most people who are reported for suspected child abuse are innocent. They and their families are subjected to stress and damage to their careers and reputations as a result of these false reports. For parents, false accusations may affect their ability to see their children.

If someone has made a Childline referral about you, you need help. You need to be proactive in protecting your reputation and your life. The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help. Call us at 888-535-3686 or fill out our online form.

Childline Statistics in Somerset County

Pennsylvania releases an annual summary of reports of child abuse. In 2022, while there were a total of 14.5 reports per 1,000 children, the state substantiated only 1.8 of those reports. Put another way, approximately 88 percent of reports of suspected child abuse couldn't be proven.

These statistics are the norm and not an outlier. In a five-year period, 85 percent of referrals were unsubstantiated - meaning there wasn't evidence of child abuse. However, these individuals and their families still underwent questioning and investigations into their lives.

In Somerset County, between 2020 and 2022, 83 percent of Childline referrals were unsubstantiated. That's over 500 people who were accused of child abuse or neglect without evidence of actual abuse or neglect.

What these reports don't include is how these individuals' lives, careers, and families were affected by allegations of child abuse and neglect. These numbers underline the importance of hiring the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team when you face abuse allegations: You need attorneys who will advocate for you and help minimize the damage to you and your family.

What Is Pennsylvania's Childline System?

Pennsylvania law requires that the state have a statewide program to allow people to report suspected child abuse or neglect or general concerns about child well-being. The system, known as Childline, operates 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Once someone makes a report, that allegation, known as a Childline Referral, is sent to the relevant investigating agency within 24 hours. In Somerset County, that agency is Somerset County Children and Youth Services (OCYS).

What Can Make a Childline Report?

Anyone can contact Childline to make a referral. Pennsylvania recognizes two types of reporters:

  • Permissive reporters
  • Mandated reporters

Permissive reporters are anyone who isn't required to report suspected child abuse or neglect but chooses to make that report. The state emphasizes that people need no proof to make a report: They just need to suspect abuse or neglect.

While Pennsylvania does encourage people to provide their name and contact information, the state does allow for anonymous reporting.

What this means is that anyone can make an accusation of child abuse or neglect against another person. In short, someone could make an anonymous, false accusation of child abuse or neglect and be unlikely to face penalties or punishment for that false accusation.

Permissive reporters must make a report via the Childline telephone number. Mandated reporters may make a report by phone or electronically.

Mandated Reporters

The second category of reporters are individuals who are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Mandated reporters who fail to report suspected abuse or neglect may face penalties.

A person's career is what generally makes them a mandated reporter. Pennsylvania has a list of individuals who qualify as mandated reporters. These professions include:

  • School staff
  • Teachers
  • Healthcare professionals
  • Law enforcement officials
  • Public library staff who interact with as part of their job children
  • Religious officials, such as priests, ministers, and rabbis
  • Social service agency staff who interact with children as part of their job
  • Certains individuals, even those working as an unpaid volunteer, who, as part of their regular responsibilities, is either responsible for a child's welfare or has direct contact with children

One other category of mandated reporter isn't based on a person's career: foster parents.

Mandated reporters don't have to have a child inform them of abuse or neglect to make a report. They must make a report when they have reasonable cause to believe a child is being abused or neglected.

After Someone Is Referred to Childline, What Are Their Rights?

Somerset County must inform anyone who is the subject of a Childline investigation. This notification must include the following information:

  • Pennsylvania has received a report of alleged abuse or neglect of a child
  • Anyone facing a Childline investigation has the right to an attorney
  • If someone hires an attorney, they have a right to have that attorney present at any or all interviews or meetings with county officials
  • They have a right to introduce evidence and cross-examine witnesses
  • They have a right to amend or expunge the county's decision

Anyone accused of child abuse or neglect should contact the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team. We help our clients build their cases, from assembling evidence to understanding the relevant defenses.

Who Investigates Childline Referrals in Somerset County?

Within 24 hours of receiving a Childline report, the state will forward it to the relevant government agency. In Somerset County, the Office of Children and Youth Services (OCYS) handles investigating all Childline referrals. Somerset County will receive referrals when the alleged incident either occurred in the county or the children reside in the county.

Once OCYS receives a report, an investigator will first determine whether the alleged incident or behavior meets Pennsylvania's definition of abuse or neglect. If the allegations are sufficient to indicate potential abuse or neglect, the county will open an investigation.

OCYS has sixty days to complete an investigation. They may conduct Interviews with anyone who would have knowledge about the reported circumstances, such as:

  • The accused person
  • The accused's spouse or partner
  • Any former spouses or partners
  • Their children
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Co-workers
  • Children's teachers
  • The accused's employer

What Is OCYS Looking for During a Childline Investigation?

Investigators are looking for evidence of abuse, neglect, or other mistreatment of children. While interviews are an important component of an investigation, they aren't the only way Somerset County will gather information.

Investigators are trying to assess both the safety and any future risk to a child or children. To do this, investigators may also:

  • Have a child undergo medical exams and tests, including photographing a child if there is evidence of physical injury
  • Make announced and unannounced home visits
  • If needed, arrange for services to reduce the risk of harm to children
  • If needed, initiate and present Children's Court proceedings
  • Recommend ongoing agency intervention

In some circumstances, the county may take children into emergency protective custody. The county will remove a child from a situation or home when it's believed necessary to avoid additional serious physical injury, serious physical neglect, or sexual abuse.

Emergency protective custody cannot last for more than 24 hours without a court order. These orders can include situations when a child needs medical attention.

What Happens After A Childline Interview?

Within 72 hours of an interview related to a Childline Referral, Somerset County must provide written notification to individuals of:

  • The report's existence and the alleged abuse
  • If a case goes to juvenile court, their right to counsel and right to introduce evidence and cross-examine witnesses
  • The perpetrator's rights to amendment and expunction
  • The right to obtain a report copy from the Statewide Central Register or OCYS
  • If a report is unfounded, it will be expunged from the pending complaint file within 120 days from the date the report was received at ChildLine.
  • The law's purpose and the report's outcome may determine services available through Somerset County
  • If a report results in a founded or indicated report of child abuse, it may affect a person's employment in childcare services or schools
  • If the agency has, will, or may make a report to law enforcement officials

Is Law Enforcement Involved in Childline Referrals?

Possibly. In some situations, the alleged incident or behavior may indicate potential criminal activity. A Childline investigation isn't a criminal investigation, but a Childline referral may result in both a Childline investigation and a criminal investigation.

In some Childline Referral investigations, social service agencies, such as OCYS, will partner with law enforcement to investigate the alleged abuse.

How Is a Childline Referral Resolved?

After an investigation, investigators will assemble a written summary of their findings. Childline Referrals will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Unsubstantiated
  • Substantiated

Unsubstantiated Reports

A report is unsubstantiated or unfounded where there's insufficient or no evidence of child abuse or neglect. These cases will be closed and shouldn't result in anyone being placed on the Childline Registry.

  • Once a report is labeled unfounded, a county cannot later change the status to indicated or founded.
  • This is different than if there's a subsequent, different Childline Referral than the one investigated and labeled unfounded.

Substantiated Reports

Substantiated reports mean an investigation did find evidence of abuse or neglect. There are two categories of substantiated reports:

  • Indicated: An investigation found substantial evidence that indicates child abuse or neglect occurred based on:
    • The Childline investigation
    • Available medical evidence
    • An admission of abuse or neglect by the perpetrator
  • Founded: More serious than indicated, a report will be classified as founded when there has been a criminal conviction, plea deal, or protection from abuse order (PFA) related to the alleged child abuse or neglect

What Are the Notification Requirements After a ChildLine Investigation?

Somerset County must notify everyone subjected to a Childline referral of the investigation's outcome. The notification requirements depend on the investigation's findings.

Individuals who wish to appeal a Childline decision have 90 days to file.

Indicated Reports

When a Childline referral ends in an indicated report, Childline will notify all involved individuals of:

  • The report's status
  • The accused's right to request the Secretary to amend or expunge the report
  • Under what circumstances a report will be expunged
  • Their right to services from Somerset County.
  • How the report may affect future employment opportunities in childcare services
  • Pennsylvania will keep the perpetrator's name and the nature of the abuse on file indefinitely if the state knows the perpetrator's Social Security Number or date of birth

Founded Reports

When a Childline referral results in a founded report, Childline will notify all involved individuals of:

  • The report's status
  • How the report may affect future employment opportunities in childcare services and schools
  • Pennsylvania will keep the perpetrator's name and the nature of the abuse on file indefinitely if the state knows the perpetrator's Social Security Number or date of birth

What Happens if Someone Makes a False Report to Childline?

Anyone who makes a good-faith report about suspected child abuse or neglect won't face penalties. This means that someone had a reasonable belief of suspected abuse or neglect and reported it out of the belief that a child was being harmed. These individuals won't be subjected to any penalties.

If, however, someone knowingly or intentionally makes a false report of child abuse or neglect or convinces a child to make a false report, that person may be subject to criminal charges. In Pennsylvania, making a false accusation of child abuse is a misdemeanor in the second degree. These individuals may also be subjected to civil suits.

If you believe someone knowingly made a false accusation of child abuse or neglect against you, contact the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team.

Protect Your Future

If you're facing accusations of child abuse or neglect, you need legal representation. Accusations of harming a child can affect all areas of your life, from your job and your home to your relationship with family and friends.

The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team works with the accused in Somerset County and throughout Pennsylvania. Allegations of child abuse carry serious repercussions for those who are accused. Call us at 888-535-3686 or fill out our online form.

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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