As a former elementary school teacher, co-founder of the Community Legal Services (CLS) Youth Justice Project, and mother of two young children, I care deeply about the well-being of children, youth, and families.
During my 10 years representing young people as a lawyer at the CLS, I have come to believe that Pennsylvania ChildLine Registry – supposedly created to help children and young people – is much more likely to harm them, especially if they are black, brown and poor.
Parents, carers and even children as young as 14 can be placed on the registry based on allegations of abuse or neglect made by an investigating social worker, without the opportunity to have a hearing first. People are often put on the registry because of accidental injuries or allegations of neglect stemming from conditions of poverty.
Once registered, they cannot work in a wide range of fields, including all childcare and many healthcare jobs. Parents, guardians, and youth on the registry also cannot volunteer for curricular or extracurricular activities.
In our experience at CLS, the vast majority of parents, caregivers and young people affected by this system – over 90% of our clients – are black and brown.
The neighborhood league, a volunteer-run youth basketball league in North Philadelphia, has served more than 15,000 children and youth over the past 22 years. He had to turn away dozens of caring parents who wanted to volunteer with the league but couldn’t because they were on the roster.
For example, a La Liga team was invited to attend a tournament in Indianapolis, and all the children needed an adult chaperone to accompany them. But several children were unable to attend because their parents could not provide the required ChildLine permissions. These children must have missed the tournament.
When parents and guardians are unable to work or advance their careers because they are on the registry, their children are harmed.
A CLS client I will call MA had to drop out of nursing school because she was put on the register without being heard from first.
While navigating a long and complex process to clear her name, she remains on the register and is now permanently unable to join her nursing program. She has several dependent children and lost a vital opportunity to advance her career and income due to this broken system.
La Liga del Barrio, MA, and a group of other parents, caregivers and non-profit organizations recently filed a lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court in AW v. Commonwealth, alleging that the operation of the registry is unconstitutional.