When you learn of a Pennsylvania ChildLine investigation against you, you need to take immediate action to defend your legal rights and family interests by hiring a skilled and experienced Pennsylvania ChildLine attorney. ChildLine is the state's system, codified at 55 Pa. Code Sections 3490.1 et seq., for quickly investigating instances of child abuse and neglect to record them in a statewide registry. Mandated reporters of suspected child abuse, including teachers, law enforcement officers, and healthcare providers must report through the ChildLine system. Anyone else may also report. Caseworkers in local county offices of the state's Children, Youth, and Family Division quickly investigate ChildLine reports, recording abuse in the ChildLine statewide database when indicated. Your name could end up in ChildLine immediately after an investigation. Once your name is in the ChildLine registry, law enforcement, child agencies, courts, and certain employers can access the ChildLine database to learn of the alleged abuse.
What's at Stake in a ChildLine Investigation
You have a great deal at stake in your ChildLine investigation. The caseworker's investigation may lead to the immediate removal of your child from home for placement with relatives or in temporary care. The investigation may also lead to a no-contact order and other restraints. You could lose contact with your child. If the caseworker's investigation leads to a ChildLine abuse entry against you, you could lose your job, especially if your job brings you into contact with children. You could also face criminal child abuse and neglect charges, which could lead to your imprisonment. ChildLine entries can also have collateral consequences, affecting your reputation, relationships, licenses, and other rights and interests. Don't underestimate the risks of a ChildLine investigation. Retain premier Pennsylvania family law attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team for your best possible outcome to a ChildLine investigation.
What Triggers a ChildLine Investigation
Calls to the state's ChildLine toll-free number and entries through the state's Child Welfare Portal are the typical triggers for ChildLine investigations. Anyone can call 911 or otherwise contact the police or child protective services to trigger an investigation. But the laws mandating reporting, and imposing severe penalties for failing to report, generally result in ChildLine and Child Welfare Portal use. Police, healthcare providers, teachers and aides, psychologists, therapists, social workers, religious officials, foster parents, and even volunteers interacting with children all have the duty to report. The ChildLine call specialist will record the child's name, description, and age range; the parent or guardian's name, address, and telephone, the name, description, address, and telephone of the suspected abuser; the abuser's relationship to the child, the child's injury, where the abuse took place, any concern for the child's immediate safety, and the reporter's relationship to the child, keeping the reporter's name anonymous if wished.
The ChildLine Investigatory Process
When a reporter contacts ChildLine, the call center records the information to pass on to the correct local county office. 55 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 3490.32 requires the report's immediate transmission. Local county offices vary in size and structure. But generally, an official at the local county office screens the information to determine whether it reports potential abuse. If so, the screener assigns an investigator, sometimes called a caseworker, who is often a social worker or has equivalent skills. 55 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 3490.54 requires independent ChildLine investigation, no matter what other agencies may be doing. The investigator will contact and visit the child's home within twenty-four hours, bringing or calling the police if the child is in immediate danger. 55 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 3490.55 requires immediate investigation on receipt of the report. 55 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 3490.15 authorizes the child's immediate removal when necessary to protect from injury. At the first visit and subsequent visits or investigation, the investigator may observe and speak with the child, examine the child's environment, speak with the parent or guardian and other household members, and speak with the suspected abuser. The investigator may also contact teachers, neighbors, daycare providers, healthcare providers, or others having contact with the child and examine any available medical, school, and other records. 55 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 3490.55 requires the investigator to record investigation findings in writing and photograph the child's injuries if any. The statute also authorizes expert medical examinations in cases of serious injury or physical neglect. Investigations can, in short, be invasive, embarrassing, documented, and far-reaching. Retain attorney Lento the moment you learn of a ChildLine investigation to ensure a fair investigation and to protect your family's interests and legal rights.
ChildLine Investigation Results
Under 55 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 3490.55(e)(2) and other law and practice, ChildLine investigations generally lead to "indicated," "founded," or "unfounded" results. "Indicated" should generally be the result only when the investigator finds clear and convincing evidence that the abuse or neglect occurred. Under 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 6303, the investigator must make the "indicated" finding based on any medical evidence, the investigation observations and interviews, and any admission by the suspected abuser. Under 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 6303, "founded" should generally be the result only when a court has adjudicated the issue finding abuse. "Indicated" and "founded" determinations result in a ChildLine entry. "Unfounded" should be the result when the investigator finds no substantial evidence of abuse or neglect. "Unfounded" determinations should not go in ChildLine. You may ordinarily expunge unfounded abuse allegations and records. The local county office may offer or provide services to you, and other family members in the event of "indicated" or "founded" results. You may alternatively face removal of your child for placement in temporary care, either while you address the abuse and neglect issues to the office's satisfaction or while the state seeks permanent removal and placement. Retain attorney Lento to help you understand and address the full implications of any of these investigation results.
How You Learn of a ChildLine Investigation
You may learn of the ChildLine investigation when the assigned investigator contacts you at your home to visit your child within the first twenty-four hours of the referral of the report. Or you may learn of the investigation when the investigator first arrives at your home, with or without police, to confirm your child's safety. Investigators must not conceal their role or purpose. 55 Pa. Cons. Stat. 3490.58 requires the investigator to tell you that you are under investigation on allegations of child abuse and neglect. Whether you are in the home or not at the investigator's first visit, you should also receive written notice of the ChildLine investigation mailed to your home address within seventy-two hours, as 55 Pa. Cons. Stat. 3490.58 requires. Local agency officials will also notify the child's custodial parent or guardian if that person is someone other than you. These are the usual ways in which the suspected abuser learns of a ChildLine investigation, although in some cases, the suspect may learn from the reporter, the circumstances, or others. No matter how you learn of a ChildLine investigation, immediately retain attorney Lento to help you protect your rights and interests.
How Long a ChildLine Investigation Takes
The ChildLine investigator must ordinarily complete the investigation within thirty days or document why the investigator needs more than thirty days. Once the investigator completes the investigation, the local office generally has another thirty days to conclude the case. ChildLine investigations thus ordinarily conclude within about sixty days. Criminal charges, juvenile proceedings, and administrative appeals can extend a ChildLine matter, but the investigation itself ordinarily concludes within that sixty-day timeframe. The point is not to rush a ChildLine case but to manage it to the best possible effect. Retain attorney advisor Lento to guide you through a ChildLine investigation to its best possible conclusion.
The Evidence ChildLine Investigations Seek
Under 55 Pa. Cons. Stat. 3490.321, ChildLine investigators must determine whether the child faces no risk, low risk, moderate risk, or high risk of abuse or neglect. Under the same statute, the investigator must make that risk assessment based on the following evidence:
- characteristics of the environment in which the child abuse occurred, including a history of prior abuse and neglect;
- characteristics of the parent, caregiver, household member, primary person responsible for the welfare of a child, and perpetrator, including a history of drug and alcohol abuse;
- characteristics of the family, including the history of family violence.
A Reference Manual for the Pennsylvania Model of Risk Assessment further articulates the factors that ChildLine investigators use, including:
- factors such as the child's vulnerability, the severity of the abuse or neglect, the frequency of the abuse, prior abuse or neglect, and the extent of emotional harm;
- caregiver, household member, and perpetrator factors such as their age, physical condition, intellectual capability, emotional condition, cooperativeness, parenting skill and knowledge, any alcohol or substance abuse, their access to the child, prior abuse and neglect, and relationship with the child; and
- family factors such as domestic violence, the condition of the home, family support, and family stressors.
What to Do During a ChildLine Investigation
The single most important thing you can and should do when learning of a ChildLine investigation is to retain a skilled and experienced Pennsylvania ChildLine attorney. 55 Pa. Cons. Stat. 3490.58 requires the investigator to notify you of your right to counsel. Exercise that right. Your retained ChildLine attorney will not only guide you through the process and help you communicate appropriately and accurately with the ChildLine investigator and others. Your retained ChildLine attorney will also help you exercise your constitutional and statutory rights. Here are other tips for your ChildLine investigation that your retained attorney may advise and endorse:
- resist the temptation to attempt to explain everything to the investigator because the investigator can and will use what you say against you. The investigator may not believe you and may find inconsistencies in what you say. Instead, let your attorney guide you as to when and to whom to speak;
- resist the temptation to invite the investigator into every room and to look into every closet and cabinet because the investigator can use against you what the investigator observes. Instead, let your attorney guide you as to what to reveal to whom;
- do not admit to abuse or neglect that you did not commit, assuming that admissions will help you, because the investigator will instead use your admissions against you. Rely on your attorney to advise as to when and to whom to make any admissions.
Appealing ChildLine Abuse Indications
Don't lose hope if your ChildLine investigation results in a ChildLine entry that you committed abuse. You may appeal the ChildLine abuse entry to an administrative law judge. The caseworker should have made the ChildLine abuse entry only on clear and convincing evidence that you committed abuse. But caseworkers make mistakes. They also overreach their authority, sometimes making ChildLine abuse entries that their evidence does not support. That's where your appeal comes in. A skilled and experienced Pennsylvania ChildLine attorney preparing your appeal may show the administrative law judge that the caseworker's evidence did not meet the clear and convincing evidence standard. Administrative law judges deciding ChildLine appeals generally have substantial training and experience in applying the evidentiary standard and evidence rules, holding the caseworker to the proof burden.
Premier Family Law Attorney for ChildLine Investigations
Pennsylvania family law attorney Joseph D. Lento has the masterful skills and substantial experience to help you achieve the best possible outcome for your ChildLine matter, whether you are at the investigation stage or need a ChildLine appeal. Early representation during the investigation phase may save having to defend child abuse allegations and registry later. Better to address your situation during the investigation phase than to have to appeal a ChildLine abuse entry, fight to regain child custody, expunge abuse records, and try to salvage your employment and reputation later. Attorney Lento has successfully helped many Pennsylvania family law clients with their ChildLine disputes. Call 8885353686 or go online now.