Being the subject of a Pennsylvania ChildLine investigation is a scary experience for anyone, but it raises a number of particular concerns and fears for immigrants. If you're a non-U.S. citizen at the center of a ChildLine investigation, you're probably worried that the allegations could jeopardize your immigration status or cost you your job.
Any non-U.S. citizen notified of a pending Pennsylvania ChildLine investigation should immediately contact an experienced Pennsylvania family lawyer. You need a skilled advocate to help ensure that your rights, family, and immigration status are well-protected. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to get in immediate touch with an experienced attorney.
Keep reading to learn about ChildLine investigations in Pennsylvania. We will give an overview of the investigation process, explain how the investigation could impact immigration status and life in general, and discuss steps you can take to fight the allegations, including possible defenses.
What Is ChildLine?
ChildLine is a Pennsylvania-wide child protective services program intended to help safeguard children suffering from abuse or other forms of mistreatment. The program hotline can receive reports of suspected abuse or neglect 24 hours a day, seven days per week, verbally or electronically. Trained caseworkers receive the report and decide upon the most appropriate next step.
Who Makes Reports to ChildLine?
Any person who has seen you interacting with a child in a manner that raises serious concerns about the child's welfare can contact ChildLine to report suspected abuse or ill-treatment. Many hotline calls come from family members, community members, or friends who suspect a problem at home concerning the child.
However, Pennsylvania law requires certain people in regular contact with children through their employment or other means to report suspected abuse or mistreatment. About 80 percent of calls to the hotline come from these "mandated reporters," who include:
- teachers, coaches, and school employees
- medical or mental health care providers
- law enforcement officials
- medical care providers
- religious and spiritual leaders
- foster parents
What Types of Actions Are Reported to ChildLine?
ChildLine's purpose is to process reports of child abuse, neglect, or serious mistreatment. In Pennsylvania, child abuse or neglect can take a variety of forms, including when a person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:
- causes bodily injury through an act or failure to act;
- fabricates, induces, or exaggerates a medical symptom that results in an invasive or potentially harmful medical evaluation or treatment.
- causes or significantly contributes to a mental injury through an act or failure to act;
- causes sexual abuse or exploitation of a child through an act or failure to act.
- causes the neglect of a child (e.g., no proper clothing, malnourished)
- forcefully shakes or slaps a child under one year of age
- leaves a child unsupervised or with a registered sex offender.
What Happens After ChildLine Receives a Report?
When an intake caseworker receives a ChildLine referral, they must refer the case to the appropriate state agency within 24 hours of the original complaint. They will forward the report to a relevant county agency for further investigation if abuse is suspected. If the reporter's allegations suggest the child is in immediate danger or a crime has been committed, the caseworker will contact a law enforcement official who can take prompt action. If the child's well-being seems endangered, but they aren't being abused, the caseworker will most likely refer the matter to a state social agency for investigation.
How Do ChildLine Investigations Proceed?
Once ChildLine has referred the case to the relevant social services or law enforcement agency, an investigator will be assigned. They will examine the available facts to determine whether the situation merits further investigation. If they believe the child is in urgent danger, they will go to the child's home and remove them from the alleged abuser's care, if necessary.
If there is no sign of immediate danger, but the investigator believes maltreatment may occur, they will probe deeper into the situation. Among other things, they will promptly schedule a home visit to assess the potential risk of abuse or wrongdoing in the home. Among other things, the investigator will interview each family member, look for signs of abuse or neglect of the child, and assess the safety and general state of your home environment.
The investigation should be completed, and a report filed within 60 days.
What Is in the Risk Assessment Report?
The investigator's assessment report determines the level of risk the alleged perpetrator presents to the child. Ultimately, they must conclude that the initial allegations fall into one of the following categories:
- Founded: If the investigator reaches a "founded" determination, it means they uncovered evidence indicating that the allegations are valid and they believe that abuse has occurred.
- Indicated: An "indicated" finding means the investigator discovered evidence they believe to be suspicious but did not definitively indicate whether any abuse or wrongdoing occurred.
- Unfounded: An "unfounded" determination means the investigator didn't find any evidence of mistreatment, and the case can be dismissed.
When the investigator assigns a "founded" or "indicated" status to a case, ChildLine will place the names of the alleged perpetrator on the ChildLine abuse registry. ChildLine will notify the person of their status and right to challenge or appeal the findings.
What Is the ChildLine Abuse Registry?
The ChildLine Abuse Registry is a database that lists the names and personal details of anyone accused of child abuse or neglect in Pennsylvania. The assessment report for those with a "founded" or "indicated" status will remain in the database until the child turns 23. However, once your name is in the database, it will stay there indefinitely, even if you did nothing wrong unless you appeal the decision and fight to remove it.
If the allegations are deemed "unfounded," your name will not go on the registry, but ChildLine will maintain the report for one full year before expunging it.
Why Should I Have a Lawyer if Subject to a ChildLine Investigation?
The ChildLine investigation process and registry are seriously problematic. Your name may be placed in this database based on the single assessment of one investigator. The process provides no opportunity to defend or explain yourself before being placed on the list. Even worse, the ChildLine registry does not distinguish between the different types of offenses: parents who have swatted their child's bottom in punishment may be on the list, as well as sexual predators.
The consequences of being named in this database can have a severe and sweeping impact on your life, especially if you're an immigrant or non-U.S. citizen. It's essential to hire an experienced Pennsylvania family lawyer who will support you through the process, fight to keep your name off the list, or have it removed once placed there.
Might I Be Deported or Lose My Visa for Being Named on a ChildLine Registry?
You will not immediately be deported or lose your visa status after being named on the ChildLine registry. However, you are right to be concerned. If you have a non-immigrant visa, you may encounter difficulties upon renewing your application, jeopardizing your right to live in the U.S. If you are undocumented or have overstayed a visa, you might risk deportation if the government considers your alleged actions a threat to public safety.
In the context of a ChildLine investigation, being convicted of domestic violence or child abuse puts you at the highest risk of being deported or having your visa revoked or denied. In Pennsylvania, child abuse is considered a component of domestic violence if there's a domestic relationship between the alleged perpetrator and the child (e.g., the accused abuser and child live under the same roof).
Being named in the ChildLine database doesn't necessarily mean you will face arrest for domestic violence or child abuse. If you are arrested, however, you must contact a knowledgeable Pennsylvania lawyer immediately. A lawyer can help minimize any impact on your immigration status. Attorney Joseph Lento has had ample experience assisting non-U.S. citizens in these situations, so contact him as soon as possible.
What Are Other Possible Consequences of a ChildLine Allegation?
Appearing on the ChildLine registry can have various negative consequences on your life beyond jeopardizing your immigration status. It may influence your relationship with your child, particularly if you are in a custody battle. If your name is on the ChildLine registry, your former spouse or co-parent might use it against you to obtain custody or require supervised visitations.
Being named on the registry could also prevent you from participating in your child's school or community activities. For example, a parent named on the list cannot attend school field trips or become involved in extra-curricular activities, which can be devastating for both the parents and the children.
Your name on the registry could also affect your employment. People who work with children risk losing their jobs if their employers fear or dislike the optics of having an alleged child abuser on staff. If you are in the U.S. on a work-based visa, the loss of your job could threaten your ability to live in the U.S. Moreover, as the allegations are likely to surface in a background check when searching for a job, you might also have difficulties finding new employment, which could further complicate your immigration status.
The ChildLine registry could also bar you from specific educational opportunities, especially if you intend to work with or in close proximity to children. You may not be eligible for certain scholarships, career programs, or internships.
What Are Possible Defenses of a ChildLine Accusation?
You may be able to raise one or multiple defenses to a ChildLine child abuse allegation. For example, as an immigrant or non-U.S. citizen, you may be able to argue that cultural differences led to a misunderstanding about your treatment of your child. Many immigrants and non-U.S. citizens have different cultural parenting norms than U.S. citizens. While the circumstances vary from case to case, depending on the behavior at issue, your lawyer might be able to mount a cultural defense.
In some cases, you might be able to show that the child's injuries aren't a result of child abuse. You may also be able to argue that someone falsely accused you of abuse or that there is no evidence to support the allegations. You will need to speak to an attorney to explore the full range of possible defense options and those that would be best for your situation.
Can I Leave the Country While a ChildLine Investigation is Pending?
No law prevents you from leaving the country if a ChildLine investigation is underway unless criminal charges are being filed against you. However, you should speak to an attorney before leaving the country to ensure that you will not complicate your case or have difficulties re-entering the country. You should not leave the country if you are undocumented, at high risk of deportation, or have committed a crime that might bar you from re-entering the U.S.
What Should I Do if I've Been "ChildLined"?
If ChildLine or any Pennsylvania social services agency is investigating you for child abuse, neglect, or other misconduct, you should contact a Pennsylvania ChildLine lawyer immediately. When a lawyer represents you early in the investigation process, you have more assurance that your rights will be protected, and your voice will be heard. A lawyer experienced in such investigations may be able to help clear up misunderstandings and help you avoid being placed on the ChildLine registry, which would help keep your immigration status secure.
It's even more essential to hire an attorney if you have already been named on the ChildLine registry. A good lawyer is critical for appealing the decision and getting your name removed.
The removal process is called an expunction. You must submit a request for an expunction within 90 days of receiving the notice of your status on the registry. If you meet the deadline, you'll have the opportunity to tell your side of the story at an administrative hearing and ask them to remove your name. Courts grant an expunction to the vast majority of people with an "indicated" status. However, the expunction process is notoriously complex. You will need the assistance of an experienced ChildLine lawyer to avoid mistakes and boost your chance of success.
If you miss the deadline, you also miss your chance for expunction or appeal, and your name will remain on the registry indefinitely. For this reason, it's absolutely urgent to hire a lawyer like Joseph Lento and his Family Law Team as early as possible in the investigation process or after you receive notice of your status to avoid any blowback on your immigration status.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help with ChildLine Investigations
If you are an immigrant or non-U.S. citizen facing a child abuse investigation or your name has been added to the ChildLine registry, Joseph D. Lento is ready to fight for your rights. Attorney Lento understands the frustrations and complexities of the ChildLine system. He will help ensure that your story gets heard by the right people and that you are treated fairly. Contact the Law Offices of Joseph D. Lento today to find out how we can help. Call 888.535.3686 or contact us online. We're ready to fight for your family and your future in the U.S.