Westmoreland County ChildLine Appeal Attorneys

Every year, thousands of Pennsylvania residents are placed on the state's ChildLine child abuse registry. Being put on the list — or "ChildLined" — can devastate a person's life and livelihood. In addition to having to deal with the stigma of being suspected of child abuse, people listed in the ChildLine registry face restrictions on where they can work, attend school, and even where they can volunteer within their communities.

Too often, people are falsely accused of child abuse. Having to defend against unfounded allegations of such a serious nature is probably one of the most challenging circumstances anyone can face. The seriousness of the accusation and the uncertainty of how it will affect your life can be overwhelming.

People make false child abuse allegations for many different reasons. Those involved in intense emotional situations such as heated custody battles and contentious divorces sometimes resort to underhanded tactics such as falsely accusing their exes of child abuse in order to achieve a desired outcome. Disgruntled co-workers may make false child abuse allegations against colleagues to either get ahead professionally or for other, more personal reasons.

The problem of false child abuse accusations is compounded in Pennsylvania by the fact that anyone can make an anonymous report of child abuse through the state's ChildLine reporting system.

What Is Pennsylvania's ChildLine System?

ChildLine is a 24-hour hotline established by Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services that is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Anyone can report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to ChildLine.

When ChildLine receives a report of suspected child abuse within 24 hours, they refer the matter to the appropriate county's Child, Youth, and Family Services department. In Westmoreland County, the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau receives ChildLine reports of suspected child abuse pertaining to incidents that occur within the county and those that involve children who reside in the county. The Bureau assesses the allegations and determines what if any, further action is needed.

ChildLine maintains a registry of individuals who are found to have "indicated" or "founded" reports of child abuse in Pennsylvania. Although the registry isn't available to the public, some employers conducting background checks can access it. Once someone is listed in the registry, it's very difficult to remove their name.

Who Can Make a ChildLine Report?

Anyone can report suspected child abuse to ChildLine. Some people are required by law to report suspected child abuse. Mandated reporters, such as healthcare workers, teachers, law enforcement officers, social workers, members of the clergy, and daycare workers, must report any suspected child abuse that they are aware of.

Mandated reporters can make a ChildLine report by phone or via ChildLine's online submission system. They must provide their name and contact information in their reports.

There is a general presumption under Pennsylvania law that mandated reports of child abuse are made in good faith. The state keeps the names of mandated reporters confidential and protects them from civil liability unless they file a false report with malicious intent. Mandated reporters can face criminal liability if they fail to report suspected child abuse that they are aware of.

Pennsylvania encourages anyone who isn't a mandated reporter who reasonably suspects a child is being abused to report it to ChildLine or local authorities. These so-called "permissive" reporters can make their reports to ChildLine anonymously by phone.

What Happens After a ChildLine Report Is Made?

When ChildLine receives a report of suspected child abuse, within 24 hours, they refer the matter to the appropriate county's Child, Youth, and Family Services department.

When ChildLine receives a report of suspected child abuse occurring in Westmoreland County or pertaining to a child who resides in the county, it will forward the report to the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau. A Bureau investigator then assesses the allegations and determines whether the report alleges behavior that constitutes child abuse.

If the report sufficiently alleges child abuse, the county will begin an investigation into the allegations and has 60 days to complete it. The investigation can include interviews with anyone who has any information about the matter, including the person accused, their family members, friends, co-workers, and any other potential witnesses.

Sometimes, in addition to contacting county officials, ChildLine will also contact law enforcement officials. In Pennsylvania, it's common for multidisciplinary teams that include social services and law enforcement agencies to investigate child abuse allegations on multiple fronts. ChildLine may also contact the appropriate state licensing board if the accused offender is a licensed Pennsylvania professional.

It's important to keep in mind that a ChildLine investigation is not a criminal investigation. But in some circumstances, it's possible for there to be both a ChildLine investigation and a separate criminal investigation into the child abuse allegations occurring at the same time.

What You Can Do if You Are Being Investigated by a ChildLine Investigator

Pennsylvania requires that anyone who is the subject of a ChildLine investigation must be notified of the existence of the report made against them, notified of their right to an attorney, notified of their right to seek an amendment or expungement of the county's final determination against them, and notified of their right to have an attorney present during any interviews or meetings with county officials.

Depending on the outcome of the ChildLine investigation, your name could be added to the state's ChildLine registry for child abusers. This can be devastating to your personal and professional life, and will restrict the kind of employment that is available to you, the volunteer opportunities that you can do, and more.

Also, even though ChildLine investigations aren't criminal investigations, in some circumstances, a criminal investigation might take place alongside the ChildLine investigation. Depending on the circumstances of the case, you could wind up facing criminal child abuse charges even if the ChildLine investigation doesn't result in a finding of abuse.

In addition, child abuse investigations are intense and can feel very intrusive. The process can be emotionally exhausting and can traumatize even the strongest, most resilient people. Even if you're cleared of all wrongdoing, the emotional toll that the ordeal can take on you can last long after the investigation concludes.

Therefore, as soon as you find out that you are the subject of a ChildLine investigation, the best thing you can do is speak with an experienced attorney.

The LLF Law Firm Team has years of experience helping people successfully navigate the ChildLine investigation process in Westmoreland County and throughout Pennsylvania. Too much is at stake to try to handle the situation on your own.

What Happens if a ChildLine Investigation Determines You Committed Child Abuse?

The outcome of your ChildLine investigation will determine whether or not your name will be added to the ChildLine registry. ChildLine investigators determine whether a child abuse report is unfounded, indicated, or founded.

An unfounded finding means that the county did not find evidence of child abuse and won't result in your name being added to the ChildLine registry.

An indicated report means that the county's investigators concluded that there was substantial evidence of child abuse. A founded conclusion means that there's a judicial adjudication – such as a trial verdict – that found substantial evidence of child abuse. Indicated and founded reports result in your name being added to the ChildLine registry.

Immediately upon the conclusion of the ChildLine investigation, the county agency will provide its results to the state, which will then notify you of:

  • The result of the investigation
  • Your right to request to amend or expunge the report
  • The effect the report will have on your future employment opportunities
  • The fact that your name, nature of the abuse, and indicated or founded status will be entered into the ChildLine database
  • Your right to file an appeal of the indicated finding within 90 days
  • Your right to a hearing on the merits on appeal, where the county must prove its case by substantial evidence.

In addition to the significant stigma that attaches to anyone suspected of child abuse, being named in the ChildLine registry may be a barrier to employment, especially for jobs that involve working with children.

But it's possible to appeal the results of the ChildLine investigation and seek to have your name removed or expunged from the registry.

How to Expunge Your Name from the ChildLine Registry

The law provides a way to remove your name or expunge it from the ChildLine registry – but the process is complicated and is governed by strict rules and timelines that you must follow in order to have a chance at removing your name from the registry.

Generally, an indicated report will be expunged or amended for good cause, which can include new evidence that the child abuse report is inaccurate and proof that the accused no longer pose a child abuse risk and no public purpose is served by keeping the person in the registry.

A person who is named as a perpetrator in a founded report may also be able to expunge their name from the ChildLine Registry. A perpetrator in a founded report must provide a court order that indicates that the underlying action that formed the basis of the founded report has been reversed or vacated. The knowledgeable attorneys at the LLF Law Firm can help you determine the best course of action in your situation.

You have 90 days to request an administrative review or appeal and request a hearing to amend or expunge an indicated report. If this request is granted, you then have 90 days to file an appeal. If the request is denied, you can appeal the denial.

If the appeal is received within the 90-day window, a hearing on the merits of the appeal will be scheduled. The expungement hearing takes place at the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, and the county bears the burden of providing evidence and proving by substantial evidence that the report should maintain its indicated status. It's important to keep in mind that this is an administrative, not a criminal proceeding.

You have the opportunity to speak at the hearing and present evidence, such as medical records and witness statements. For Westmoreland County matters, the proceedings will likely be held in Pittsburgh.

The hearing officer or administrative law judge will make a decision based on the evidence presented. If they decide that the report is unfounded, they will notify county officials and instruct them to update the records to reflect the report's amended status, and your name will be removed or expunged from the ChildLine registry.

How to Appeal a ChildLine Finding of Child Abuse

There are multiple opportunities to appeal decisions that are made in the ChildLine investigation process. Like the process for expungement, appealing a ChildLine finding is complicated, and you must carefully follow the process and deadlines in order to have a chance at a successful appeal.

The process of expunging one's name from the ChildLine registry is one form of appeal. It's also possible to appeal the denial of an initial request for administrative review of a ChildLine finding. If your initial request is denied, you have the right to appeal the denial and then request a hearing to amend or expunge the finding of an indicated report.

The hearing request must be made within 90 days of the decision. In the hearing, the burden of proof will be on the county to prove the allegations against you. If they fail to do so, your name will be removed from the ChildLine registry.

If the results of the hearing don't go your way, it's possible to appeal this decision as well. You have 15 days from the date of the final order of the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals to request reconsideration of the final decision and then will have 30 days to file an appeal with the Commonwealth Court.

Although it might seem like a long shot, appealing the final decision might be well worth the trouble: of the 86 decisions that were appealed in 2021, almost half were overturned.

The key to a successful appeal is a strong, knowledgeable legal team who is familiar with the ins and outs of the Pennsylvania ChildLine appeal process. The LLF Law Firm Team has been helping people in Westmoreland County and throughout Pennsylvania successfully navigate the ChildLine appeal process. They can create a legal strategy that will obtain the best possible outcome for you.

What to Do if You Are Facing a ChildLine Investigation for Suspected Child Abuse in Westmoreland County

In Westmoreland County, the Children's Bureau of the Westmoreland County Department of Human Services investigates and manages reports of suspected child abuse. The Children's Bureau investigates suspected child abuse reported to them through Pennsylvania's ChildLine system, in addition to reports made directly to them.

The Children's Bureau accepts anonymous reports but encourages reporters to include their names to add "credibility" to their reports. In 2022, the Children's Bureau investigated 1169 reports of suspected child abuse and 2671 reports of child neglect. According to a 2020 Child Protective Services Report, in Westmoreland County, there were 935 reports of suspected child abuse but only 135 substantiated reports.

If you're a Westmoreland County resident and receive notice that you've been added to the state's ChildLine registry or are under investigation for suspected child abuse, it's in your best interest to contact a knowledgeable attorney who has experience with Pennsylvania's ChildLine system and child abuse laws.

The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team have years of experience successfully representing clients throughout Westmoreland County in ChildLine investigations and all other matters pertaining to child abuse allegations.

How the LLF Law Firm Can Help People Facing ChildLine Child Abuse Investigations in Westmoreland County

If you're under investigation for child abuse by the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau or have been informed that someone has made a ChildLine report against you, it's crucial to take immediate action. Similarly, if you've been notified that your name will be listed in the ChildLine registry, you might not know what to do or who to turn to.

The experienced attorneys on the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team have years of experience representing clients throughout Westmoreland County and the entire state of Pennsylvania who have been accused of child abuse. We can help you understand how the ChildLine system works and help ensure that your rights are protected during this incredibly difficult time. Contact the LLF Law Firm at 888-535-3686.

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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