Allegations alone can mean a lifelong listing on the Commonwealth’s child-abuse registry
Child-abuse is a topic that involves very sensitive issues and often the most vulnerable in our society. Of course, there should be no shortage of protections in place. However, what many don’t realize is that individuals in Pennsylvania can be placed on the child-abuse registry for alleged child abuse or neglect without a day in court or legal opportunity to challenge the accusations.
Currently, a cursory investigation alone is enough in the Commonwealth. Many are not aware of the brief 90-day window for appeal so it is often missed. The potential result: A lifelong battle to overcome economic hardship with limitations placed on employment opportunities as more and more positions and companies require background checks.
By way of background, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania legislature created the Child-Abuse Registry in 1994 – a centralized database deemed a protective device so abuse cases would not easily be overlooked. Hospitals, schools and the like would have access to shared information. The use of this tool by employers has been in place since the onset, potentially disenfranchising many of those accused but never charged or convicted of child abuse or neglect. However, the aftermath of the Sandusky trial has resulted in stricter guidelines and expanded background checks outlined by the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL).
Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS), a non-profit organization representing mandated reporters such as hospital employees, outlined four (4) key areas for reform:
- strengthening due process protections before someone can be placed on the registry and provide for a right to counsel;
- restructuring the registry to distinguish between serious incidents of (e.g. sexual assault) from more minor incidents (e.g. missed doctor appointments) and limit how long people must stay on the registry;
- limiting the use of the registry as an employment screening tool by narrowing the category of jobs that must have child abuse clearances and only reporting individuals whose conduct is tied to ability to perform the job safely; and
- conducting a racial impact analysis of the registry and address structural racial bias at every step of the process. Ultimately, we note this a moment for reimagining what child safety and family well-being looks like, and that there are more effective and equitable ways to protect children than relying on an overly punitive child abuse registry system.
The importance of reporting child abuse cannot be understated. The registry was not meant to prevail as an employment screening tool that would negatively impact the children it was created to protect. The CPSL statutes are complex and should be reviewed as our world continues to evolve in the wake of COVID-19 and other changes that impacts residents of the Commonwealth.
If you have questions regarding the Child-Abuse Registry, have had allegations made against you, or believe your rights may have been violated, you should seek experienced legal counsel. To schedule a confidential consultation with the attorneys at Neff & Sedacca, P.C., contact the firm by phone at 215-563-9800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.