If you receive a letter from Children and Youth Services notifying you that you are suspected of child abuse, it is completely natural to panic. You will likely be petrified of what may happen as a result of receiving such a letter.
The first thing that you should do when you receive such a letter is try to remain calm. You should contact a lawyer that you trust who has experience working with these kinds of cases so that an action plan can promptly be developed.
Children and Youth Services have a statutory obligation to investigate a report of suspected child abuse. The investigation is typically completed in 30 days but can be extended longer if necessary. Sometimes the caseworker will want to interview the alleged perpetrator of abuse. An alleged perpetrator has a right to have a lawyer present during the interview. Sometimes the agency will request for a police officer to be present. If that request is made, you should talk to a lawyer before agreeing to participate in the interview.
There are three possible outcomes to a Children and Youth Investigation for child abuse. The best outcome is for the agency to deem the report of suspected child abuse “unfounded.” This means that report identifying the alleged perpetrator and family will be destroyed no later than 1 year from the date the report of child abuse was received. If the agency determines that report is “indicated” the report will remain on file until the child reaches age 23 but the alleged perpetrator’s name may remain on file indefinitely. An “indicated” report can be appealed to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. A full hearing will then occur where evidence can be submitted, witnesses can be cross examined and the alleged perpetrator can be represented by counsel. A “founded” report by a court decision will result in your name remaining on file indefinitely. A founded or indicated report can impact one’s future employment and volunteer services under the Child Protected Services Law and there could be criminal charges filed at any time during the process.
Sometimes the agency will offer services to a family or ask for an individual to sign a safety plan pending the investigation. Again, you should talk with an experienced attorney about the legal consequences associated with cooperating or challenging the agencies’ recommendations.