If you've never heard of ChildLine, you're not alone. Many people don't know about ChildLine or how it works until they're worried about a child's welfare or they've been impacted by child abuse allegations. Here's an overview of how the program works and the potential consequences if you're accused of child abuse.
ChildLine is responsible for accepting child abuse and neglect allegations statewide. The initiative protects children by making it easy for individuals to report concerns quickly. The ChildLine specialists will refer any concerns to the relevant investigating agencies, and they keep a record of any decisions made.
The ChildLine Registry
When someone reports a concern, the alleged perpetrator is listed on the ChildLine Registry. The individual is listed on this database automatically – even if the accusations are untrue. Being listed on the ChildLine Registry can significantly impact your life, so contact an experienced ChildLine attorney immediately for legal advice if you're in this situation.
Being Reported to ChildLine
Anyone can report suspected child abuse. However, reports are often initiated by “mandated reporters” who have a legal obligation to report concerns. These individuals include teachers, doctors, and religious leaders – if a person's job brings them into contact with children, there's a good chance they will be legally obliged to report issues.
If you suspect your spouse or co-partner is abusing your child, you should use the 24/7 toll-free hotline to report your concerns or contact an attorney for advice immediately. An experienced family law attorney can explain what protective options are open to you, particularly if you're in the process of separating and you have concerns about sharing custody.
What Constitutes Child Abuse
Child abuse, in PA, is broadly defined as knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly doing something which causes a child harm or creates a risk of harm. Actions which could be considered child abuse include:
- Leaving a child in a situation where it's likely they could be physically harmed or sexually abused
- Sexually assaulting a child
- Unreasonable restraint of a child
- Failing to act which results in bodily injury
- Causing a child severe mental injury
- Deliberately denying medical care
What could be considered abuse depends on the case facts and the intention behind the alleged abuser's actions. If there's nothing to suggest that the person acted knowingly, it may not be considered child abuse.
Within 24 hours of receiving a report, ChildLine passes it to the relevant Child, Youth, and Family (CYF) agency. The agency will notify the alleged abuser in writing about the pending investigation, and a caseworker will produce a report on their findings. The status of the reports can either be:
- Unfounded: the investigation reveals no evidence the abuse took place
- Indicated: based on the caseworker's findings, there is evidence to suggest the abuse occurred
- Founded: these reports typically originate from a judicial hearing of some kind that concluded that the abuse took place. An example would be if there's a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order in place involving the alleged abuser and the victim
- Pending: the investigation is still ongoing
The investigations normally take around 30 calendar days, but they can take longer. If the assigned caseworker believes the child is in immediate danger during this period, they may be removed from the home.
Consequences of a ChildLine Registry Listing
The PA courts take child abuse and neglect allegations extremely seriously. As a result, individuals face severe repercussions if they're placed on the ChildLine Registry. While the exact consequences will vary depending on a person's unique situation, there are four major restrictions you should know about.
Individuals listed on the ChildLine Registry are unable to volunteer in certain settings where they're responsible for children, such as school field trips. Being listed could directly affect the memories you and your children make as a family.
A ChildLine Registry listing reduces your chances of adopting a child, becoming a foster parent, or even getting custody of your own biological children. You could lose out on spending precious time with your children, which is a highly emotional scenario for everyone involved.
You might find it harder to work in certain jobs if you're placed on the ChildLine Registry. This is because if there's any chance you'll interact with children, you'll often undergo a background check. If prospective employers discover your listing, they may choose to reject your application – or the law might prohibit them from employing you. So, if you dream about working in a field such as medicine, care, education, or even the religious sector, you could struggle to find employment.
Just as a ChildLine Registry listing could hinder your employment prospects, it could stop you from pursuing a degree in certain fields or entering some academic programs. Missing out on educational opportunities could adversely affect your long-term prospects and make it impossible to pursue a professional goal.
Bear in mind that these consequences may come into play even before there's a ChildLine Registry listing. If, for example, someone is arrested on criminal charges, or they discover that there's an abuse investigation ongoing, they could face significant disruption to their daily life. Contacting an experienced ChildLine attorney at the earliest opportunity is the best way to help minimize these negative consequences where possible.
Appealing ChildLine Allegations
You can appeal ChildLine report findings, but you must do so within a certain timeframe.
To make an appeal, you must file within 90 days of receiving the initial notification. If you file for an appeal after this deadline expires, there's a chance ChildLine may still consider your request, but they could reject your application for being out of time.
If your appeal request is rejected, your name will automatically go on the ChildLine Registry – even if the allegations are untrue. Given how serious the consequences can be, don't delay your application. Hire an experienced ChildLine attorney who can help you file in time and ensure you don't miss your chance to be heard.
The Appeals Process
Appeals must be requested in writing. To request an appeal, you should contact an attorney. They will ensure you complete the right paperwork.
If your appeal request is granted, a hearing will take place at the relevant agency office. The hearing officer will evaluate the facts of the case and consider whether there's sufficient evidence to show the alleged abuse or neglect took place.
Although the burden is on ChildLine to prove the allegations, the hearing is an opportunity for the named party to show why the appeal should be granted. Joseph Lento can represent you at this hearing and help you achieve the best outcome possible – contact him now for representation.
The Standard of Proof in ChildLine Cases
Following a 2012 court case, the attorney prosecuting the case must show that there is “clear and convincing” evidence of abuse. “Clear and convincing” essentially means that it's far more likely to be a true accusation than a false one.
- The judge must be convinced that, based on the evidence available, it's highly likely the alleged abuse took place
- If the prosecution fails to make their case for abuse or neglect, your appeal will be granted, and the report can be expunged
ChildLine appeals are complex. If you're facing abuse allegations and you're appealing the findings, you should contact an experienced attorney who understands how the process works and how to present the strongest possible defense.
Removing a Report
Under Pennsylvania Code Title 23 Section 6337, it's possible to have a report expunged (removed) from the ChildLine Registry in certain circumstances.
An unfounded report will be kept on file for a period of one year from the report date. After this date, the report should be expunged within 120 days.
Valid reports are held for ten years or until the youngest child identified in the report turns 23 – whichever happens first. After this point, the report should be expunged within 120 days.
Substantiated reports can be expunged after a successful appeal hearing. It may be possible to have a report expunged early if, for example, the defendant can show good cause or if new evidence comes to light which suggests the initial report is inaccurate.
How a ChildLine Attorney Can Help
A ChildLine report can seriously affect your personal relationships, academic opportunities, and employment prospects. If you're notified of a child abuse allegation against you, then it's crucial you retain an experienced attorney immediately who can help you challenge these accusations and achieve the best outcome possible.
Don't feel like you need to handle child abuse allegations alone – the Lento Law Firm wants to help. Joseph Lento has the knowledge and experience to represent you at your hearing, and he'll walk you through what to expect during this confusing and stressful time. Call him on 888.535.3686 or leave him a message online to discuss your family law matters in more detail.