In Pennsylvania, the government agency ChildLine exists to protect the physical, mental, and emotional health of the state's children. Anyone who has concerns about a particular child's welfare may contact ChildLine at any time, but there are also individuals who are considered “mandated reporters.” These people have a legal responsibility to report suspicions of child abuse and may face serious repercussions if they don't.
Usually, mandated reporters are trained in how to handle child abuse concerns based on the profession that they have. They can still make mistakes, however. This guide covers what you need to know about ChildLine reports, how to know if you are a mandated reporter, and what happens if a mandated reporter reports you to ChildLine.
What Is ChildLine?
ChildLine is a statewide protective services program run by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. Its main purpose is to accept allegations of child abuse and refer them to the relevant investigating agencies. The goal of ChildLine is also to make reporting child abuse quick and easy by having a single point of contact for individuals to report their concerns.
ChildLine keeps a registry of names of people who have been reported for child abuse. If someone calls ChildLine and reports you for child abuse, your name automatically goes into the registry, even if the allegations are untrue. If you're in this situation, you should consider contacting ChildLine attorney Joseph D. Lento for legal advice.
The ChildLine Reporting Process
When someone calls ChildLine to report suspected child abuse, the process generally goes through three phases: report, investigation, and appeals.
Anyone can report suspected child abuse to ChildLine. Most often, however, it's mandated reporters who contact ChildLine and file a report. These people have legal obligations to report suspicions of child abuse and face legal consequences if they don't.
If you have concerns about your spouse or co-parent potentially abusing your child, you can contact ChildLine toll-free at 1-800-932-0313. There are operators at ChildLine 24/7.
Within 24 hours of receiving a report, ChildLine passes the case to the relevant agency in Child, Youth, and Family (CYF) services. A caseworker gets assigned and investigates the allegation. These investigations usually take about 30 days but sometimes can take longer. When they're done, the caseworker produces a report with one of the following findings:
- Unfounded: No evidence that abuse took place
- Indicated: Some evidence to suggest abuse occurred
- Founded: Typically, a judicial hearing that takes place alongside the allegation concludes that abuse took place
- Pending: The investigation is ongoing
If you want to appeal a ChildLine finding against you, you must do so within 90 days of receiving initial notification. You must submit the appeal in writing. If it's granted, you must go to a hearing where a hearing officer will evaluate the facts of the case. If it's rejected, your name stays in the ChildLine registry.
What Constitutes Child Abuse in Pennsylvania?
The Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) in Pennsylvania states that child abuse is to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly act in a way that causes a child mental or physical harm or puts them at risk of harm. Some examples of child abuse are:
- Bodily injury
- Falsifying or inducing medical symptoms that result in a harmful medical evaluation
- Causing or contributing substantially to a child's serious mental injury
- Sexual abuse or exploitation of a child
- Serious physical neglect of a child
- Causing the death of a child through any act or failure to act
- Engaging a child in a severe form of human trafficking
- Unreasonably restraining or confining a child
- Forcefully shaking a child under one year of age
- Forcefully slapping or striking a child under one year of age
- Interfering with a child's breathing
- Leaving a child unsupervised with an individual who is a sexual offender
Who Are ChildLine Mandated Reporters?
Mandated reporters are adults who have a legal obligation to report suspected cases of child abuse. The following people must report child abuse concerns to ChildLine:
- Anyone who is licensed or certified to practice in any health-related field that falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of State
- Medical examiners, coroners, and funeral directors
- Healthcare facility employees or providers licensed by the Department of Health, who engage in admission, examination, care, or treatment
- School employees
- Childcare services employees who have direct contact with children in their employment
- Clergymen, priests, rabbis, ministers, Christian Science practitioners, religious healers, or spiritual leaders of any regularly established church or other religious organization
- Individuals who are responsible for a child's welfare or have direct contact with children due to their part in a regularly scheduled program, activity, or service (like daycare)
- Social services agency employees who have direct contact with children
- Peace officers or law enforcement officials
- Emergency medical services providers who are certified by the Department of Health
- Public library employees who have direct contact with children
- Individuals who are supervised or managed by any one of the above
- Independent contractors who have direct contact with children
- Attorneys affiliated with an agency, institution, or organization that is responsible for the care, supervision, guidance, or control of children
- Foster parents
- Adult family members who are responsible for a child's welfare
When to Make a Child Abuse Report
Mandated reporters must contact ChildLine when they suspect child abuse, and there are particular circumstances that dictate when they should make a report. If they come into contact with the child they suspect is being abused in their employment, occupation, or through a regularly scheduled program or activity, they must make a report.
If somebody else comes to a mandated reporter with concerns about a child who is potentially suffering abuse, the mandated reporter must also act on this information. Mandated reporters must also report someone who confesses to committing child abuse if that person is 14 years of age or older.
How to File a Child Abuse Report in Pennsylvania
You can file a report with ChildLine at any time by calling the toll-free number. If you are a mandated reporter, you can also create an online account and submit a report electronically.
The information you should have ready when you report an allegation of child abuse to ChildLine is:
- Your basic contact information
- The names, contact information, and locations of the parties involved in the alleged incident
- Details about the alleged abuse
- When and where the alleged abuse occurred
Can Mandated Reporters Remain Anonymous?
Mandated reporters may not make anonymous reports to ChildLine. They must identify themselves and provide contact information in case they need to be reached again for more clarification on the situation. The name of the mandated reporter is not given to the alleged abuser or child involved in the report and is kept confidential. Only law enforcement officials and the district attorney's office will receive the mandated reporter's name.
One exception to remaining confidential, however, is the possibility of mandated reporters having to testify in court. If they reported on a matter that involves a juvenile or criminal court proceeding, they might be asked to provide testimony that can be used as evidence in the court case.
How Much Information to Provide When Reporting to ChildLine
When reporting a suspected child abuse case to ChildLine, the question of protected health information might come up—especially for healthcare professionals. Are mandated reporters allowed to disclose medical information about the parties involved in the alleged child abuse?
The law allows reporters to provide protected health information in a report of suspected or known child abuse to ChildLine. Privileged communications between a mandated reporter and their patient do not remove the obligation to make a child abuse report to ChildLine. Confidential communications made to members of the clergy or an attorney are protected, however.
What Happens if You Fail to Report Child Abuse in Pennsylvania?
Mandated reporters who willfully fail to report child abuse may face criminal charges ranging from a second-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree felony. If convicted, these charges can result in fines and imprisonment, as defined in Title 30 of Pennsylvania's Consolidated Statutes:
- Second-degree misdemeanor: A fine of $500-$5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to two years
- First-degree misdemeanor: A fine of $1,500-$10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to five years
- Third-degree felony: A fine of $2,500-$15,000 and/or imprisonment of up to seven years
- Second-degree felony: A fine of $5,000-$25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 10 years
If you are considered a mandated reporter, and under scrutiny for not having fulfilled your legal obligation, there could be a lot at stake for you. Consider working with an experienced ChildLine attorney to navigate this process.
How Do You Know if a Mandated Reporter Filed a Report Against You?
Once you have been reported to ChildLine and your name has been added to the registry, you will receive a letter in the mail shortly after stating that you are under investigation for child abuse and neglect. Soon, a caseworker from a CYF agency may show up at your home to start interviewing you, your child, and other family members, as well as gather evidence for a risk assessment.
The Consequences of Being Listed in the Pennsylvania ChildLine Registry
Once your name is in the ChildLine registry, it stays there for the rest of your life—even if you never have another child abuse allegation again. The registry is not available to the public, but it can be seen by some government agencies, law enforcement, and employers. If you want to work somewhere that requires contact with children, you'll most likely need a Child Abuse History Clearance. If your name is in the Childline registry, you won't be able to get this clearance.
An allegation of child abuse or neglect against you can also lead to a civil or criminal court case. If you are found guilty of child endangerment, it is considered a first-degree misdemeanor. While you are under investigation for child abuse or neglect, your child may also be removed from your home and placed with another guardian or in foster care.
How a Lawyer Can Help with a Mandated Reported Issue
Pennsylvania takes child abuse cases very seriously, and there are many rules and processes surrounding ChildLine reports, investigations, and appeals. If you have been accused of child abuse or you are a mandatory reporter who's worried you may not have fulfilled your reporting obligations, a ChildLine attorney can help.
An attorney will understand the nuanced processes at ChildLine and be able to guide you through them while providing support and advice. They will prioritize the child's best interests while working on getting a favorable outcome for you. The long-term consequences of a ChildLine report and investigation can have significant impacts on both accused persons and mandated reporters who didn't report. It can hamper your ability to work with children, cause you to lose contact with your own children, produce severe professional and reputational damage, and even lead to criminal charges.
An experienced ChildLine attorney will ensure you have all the information and guidance you need to navigate this process and help guarantee your rights are protected.
Contact a Mandated Reporter Attorney in Pennsylvania
Joseph Lento has helped both mandated reporters and people accused of child abuse deal with ChildLine. He understands that the process you're going through is difficult and, at times, confusing, and he is here to offer guidance and support. Contact the Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686.