Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare in the case of Appeal of: A.C., c/o Blaine J. DeSantis, No. 21-81-1, dated March 2, 1982.
Blaine J. DeSantis, DeSantis, Huckabee, Weiler & Schmehl, for petitioner.
Mary Frances Grabowski, Assistant Counsel, for respondent.
Elaine B. Battle, for amicus curiae, Guardian Ad Litem for E.C.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges Williams, Jr. and Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Williams, Jr.
[ 80 Pa. Commw. Page 361]
This case involves an appeal from the decision of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) denying appellant Alcides Cruz's request for expungement of a report of "indicated" child abuse which was filed pursuant to the Child Protective Services Law (Law), 11 P.S. §§ 2201-2224.*fn1
The Law, which was enacted in 1975, establishes a procedure for maintenance of a central state-wide
[ 80 Pa. Commw. Page 362]
registry which contains record of all "founded" and "indicated" reports of child abuse. As defined in the Law, a "founded report" is "a report made . . . if there has been any judicial adjudication based on a finding that a child who is the subject of the report has been abused." 11 P.S. § 2203. An "indicated report" is "a report made . . . if an investigation by the child protective service determines that substantial evidence of the alleged abuse exists based on (i) available medical evidence, (ii) the child protective service investigation or (iii) an admission of the acts of abuse by the child's parent or person responsible for the child's welfare." Id. "Child abuse" is defined in part as: "serious physical or mental injury which is not explained by the available medical history as being accidental, or sexual abuse or sexual exploitation, or serious physical neglect, of a child under 18 years of age, if the injury, abuse or neglect has been caused by the acts or omissions of the child's parents or by a person responsible for the child's welfare. . . ." Id. Unless expunged by order of the Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare, a report of founded or indicated abuse entered in the central registry remains there until the latter of the child's 18th birthday or five years after the closure of any subsequent report of abuse to the same child, a sibling or offspring of the child, or another child in the same care or custody. 11 P.S. § 2214(n).
The instant appeal arose from a report, on October 14, 1980, of child sexual abuse made to the Berks County Children & Youth Services, a county child-protection services agency charged under the Law with responsibility for receiving, investigating, and determining reports of suspected child abuse. An investigation of the report by an agency social worker resulted in a report of indicated child abuse being filed in the central registry in November of 1980. By
[ 80 Pa. Commw. Page 363]
letter dated December 3, 1980, the appellant, through his attorney, requested that the child abuse report be expunged. This request was denied on January 22, 1981 by the Director of Protective Services Programs of DPW.
At the request of the appellant, a hearing was held on June 9, 1981 before a hearing officer attached to DPW's Office of Hearings and Appeals. Testimony was taken from the Director of Child Protective Services Programs, the investigating social worker, the alleged abuse victim, who was 14 years old at the time of the hearing, and the victim's younger brother, then age 12. The two minors were questioned in camera, with only the attorneys present. The appellant declined to testify in his own behalf. On March 2, 1982, DPW's Office of Hearings and Appeals accepted the recommendation of the hearing officer, and ordered that the request for expungement be denied. This appeal followed.
The appellant asserts a medley of arguments, some based on the United States Constitution, and others premised on the Law itself. Our scope of review requires that we determine whether DPW's adjudication comports with the applicable law, its findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether the appellant's constitutional rights were violated. Montgomery County Child Welfare Services v. Hull, 51 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 1, 413 A.2d 757 (1980).
The appellant first contends that his constitutional right to due process of law was abridged by virtue of the in camera questioning of the abused child and her brother. More specifically, he asserts he had a constitutionally protected interest in his good reputation, and that he was deprived of that interest without due process when he was excluded during his ...