There are few allegations that can be made against an individual that have as significant and devastating effect on an individual as an allegation of child abuse. The allegation alone can pave the way for job loss, family drama and severe social backlash. It is the one allegation where the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” feels almost non-existent and the unfortunate reality is the accused has to immediately go on the defensive, regardless of how credible the allegations may seem.
If you are put in the uncomfortable situation of being accused of child abuse, either physical or sexual, there are certain procedures you must follow in order to preserve your right to argue against the allegations. While most people look immediately toward the criminal consequences and the possibility of having to face a judge and a prosecutor in criminal court, the process starts much earlier and is quite significant. Almost all allegations will begin with a “disclosure” and a “hotline”. A disclosure can be many things: a statement from a child, a child’s answer to a question from an adult, or even a simple observation by another party. A hotline is the act of bringing the disclosure to the attention of Children’s Division, the state agency charged with the protection of children. If a matter is hotlined, Children’s Division must follow through with an investigation.
Once Children’s Division is involved, an investigator will be tasked with making a finding. Ultimately, the question is whether the allegation is “substantiated” or “unsubstantiated”. It is extremely important to understand that regardless of the finding at this stage, it is not a finding of guilt or innocence. An allegation that is found unsubstantiated by Children’s Division may still be charged by the prosecuting attorney. Likewise, an allegation that is found substantiated may never be charged criminally. If, after investigation, Children’s Division makes a finding by the “preponderance of the evidence” that abuse occurred, the accused will have his or her name placed on the Family Care Safety Registry. This can have a significant impact on employment, particularly for any work in education, health care, or any other position involving contact with children.
Even if Children’s Division does make a preliminary finding against the accused, there is still a method for appeal. The first is internal, involving a request for the supervisor of the Children’s Division to review the case. These types of review rarely result in a change of finding. However, even if this review is unsuccessful, an accused always has the right to appeal and appear in front of the Child Abuse/Neglect Review Board (CANRB). This gives the accused and his or her attorney the opportunity to tell another side of the story. Witnesses can be called and argument can be made to the board. The board is a small panel of doctors, social workers and attorneys tasked with reviewing the findings made by Children’s Division.
The opportunity to argue in front of the CANRB should never be passed up. These types of allegations can leave the accused feeling helpless. An allegation from a child can be crippling. Most people want to believe that a child is incapable of lying about something so significant. But the CANRB knows that children are capable. Children can lie for many reasons, whether they understand the consequences or not. In today’s society, children are aware at a much younger age that allegations such as these can be tools used to manipulate adults and change custody arrangements, school assignments and, in some cases, just provide the attention the child is desperate to receive. It happens more than anyone would like to believe, but that is why a hearing in front of the CANRB is so important. It provides an opportunity for a group of individuals who know that not all allegations are true to hear both sides of the story and come to an appropriate conclusion.
If you are ever contacted by Children’s Division as a result of an allegation made against you, it is extremely important to contact counsel immediately. Statements made to the investigator can be used against you, but there are also strict timelines involved in any appeal process, making contact with an attorney a must. The experienced attorneys at the Thurman Law Firm can help make sure your voice is heard in a situation that can feel hopeless and confusing. If you, a friend or family member find them in this unfortunate circumstance, please feel free to call our firm to discuss your situation.