Pennsylvania Court Considers the Standard of Proof Required for Online Child Abuse Registry
In G.V. v. Department of Public Welfare, Caregiver G.V. appealed the order of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW), Bureau of Hearings and Appeals’, which adopted an administrative law judge’s recommendation denying petitioner’s appeal and his request to have a child abuse report against him expunged under the Child Protective Services Law, 23 Pa.C.S. §§ 6301-6386.
G.V. was accused of sexually abusing his 16 year-old great niece of whom his wife and himself had custody. An investigation was conducted and a report was filed with the ChildLine and Abuse Registry (ChildLine Registry) listing him as a perpetrator of child abuse. A subsequent hearing was held at which time petitioner’s request for expungement was denied. The court held that there was substantial evidence to support the indicated report of child abuse based on the testimony of the niece and a county children and youth social service agency investigator. However, the court addressed the standard that must be met in order for an indicated report of child abuse summary to be maintained on the ChildLine Registry and held that substantial evidence must support a determination of whether child abuse has occurred, but there must be clear and convincing evidence of child abuse to maintain statutorily-designated information from an indicated report on the ChildLine Registry. The court was unsure whether that standard was met in the case.
The court held that, “An indicated child abuse report impacts upon three competing interests: (1) the child, (2) the accused perpetrator, and (3) limited government officials, law enforcement and individuals. The Pennsylvania General Assembly has clearly stated that the lowest evidentiary standard is to be applied where the safety and well-being of the child is in question. Accordingly, any doubt of harm will be resolved in favor of providing protection to the child. However, completely absent from the Child Protective Services Law, 23 Pa.C.S. § 6303(a), is the standard of proof required to maintain designated information from the indicated report on the ChildLine Registry or to disclose it to limited outside third parties.”
Because of this unclear standard, the court vacated the order denying petitioner’s appeal and remanded the matter to DPW for a hearing to determine whether there was clear and convincing evidence to maintain disclosure of petitioner’s child abuse on the ChildLine Registry.
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