The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Simpson
Submitted: October 30, 2009
BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge.
Representing herself, F.V.C. (Mother), the mother of O.D., (Child), petitions for review of an order of the Department of Public Welfare (Department) granting the request of D.D., Sr., (Grandfather) to expunge his name from the ChildLine Registry.*fn1 On appeal, we consider whether Mother has standing to challenge the Department's order granting expungement and, if so, whether the record supports the Department's order. We conclude Mother has standing to appeal, but we affirm the Department's expungement order.
Child was born April 9, 2002 to Mother and D.D., Jr. (Father). Prior to their divorce, Mother and Father lived in various places including Grandfather's home in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Mother, Father, and Child lived with Grandfather on two separate occasions: the first time was when Child was one year old and the second time was for a period of one to two months beginning late July or early August, 2005. Child's grandmother and paternal aunt also lived at Grandfather's residence. Grandfather also spent time with Mother, Father, and Child when they did not live with him.
During a visit to Mother's parents' home in West Virginia in September, 2005, the three-year old Child allegedly reported to Mother that Grandfather bit, tickled and kissed her in the vaginal area. Mother contacted the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. West Virginia authorities interviewed Child and, based on the interview, contacted the Washington County Department of Children and Youth Service (CYS). In turn, CYS issued an indicated report of child abuse naming Grandfather as perpetrator.
Grandfather requested the Department expunge the indicated report; however, the Department's Office of Children, Youth and Families denied his request. Accordingly, Grandfather appealed to the Department's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA). A hearing examiner conducted several days of hearings during which Child, Mother, Grandfather, Father, paternal grandmother, paternal aunt, Child's counselor, and officials from West Virginia and CYS testified.
The hearing examiner recommended sustaining Grandfather's appeal. In particular, the hearing examiner determined the record supported Grandfather's position Mother was hyper-vigilant as to Child's diapering. The hearing examiner also found Mother's testimony not credible where she testified that she saw Grandfather digitally penetrate Child while applying ointment when Child was two months old. After this alleged incident, Mother nevertheless left Child in Grandfather's care. The hearing examiner also found it incredible that Mother did not take Child to the doctor when, at the age of 2, she allegedly started wetting herself and complained of vaginal pain and itching.
The hearing examiner further found it notable that Child could not answer most of the questions asked of her. In addition, Child testified she was three years old when the abuse occurred but later stated Mother told her that she was three when Grandfather touched her. Child also testified Mother was mad at Grandfather. These statements led the hearing examiner to conclude Mother spoke to Child and tainted her statements to authorities. Thus, the hearing examiner found Child's testimony credible in part but of little weight.
The hearing examiner recommended Grandfather's appeal be sustained and his name expunged from the ChildLine Registry. The BHA adopted the hearing examiner's recommendation in its entirety. Mother now petitions for review.*fn2
Initially, the Department challenges Mother's standing to appeal the order expunging Grandfather's name from the ChildLine Registry. It contends Mother is not aggrieved by the Department's order inasmuch as her interest in the expungement order is not direct. Mother did not reply to the Department's assertion.
Our courts have not decided whether the parent of an allegedly abused child has standing to appeal the grant of an expungement request of an indicated report of abuse. Generally, any person aggrieved by an adjudication of a Commonwealth agency who has a direct interest in the adjudication may appeal to a court vested with jurisdiction of such appeals. 2 Pa. C.S. §702.*fn3 Thus, Mother's standing to appeal is dependent on her status as a person with a direct interest in the expungement order.
Initially, the purpose of the Child Protective Services Law (Law)*fn4 is to "encourage more complete reporting of suspected child abuse", "establish protective services for the purpose of investigating the reports swiftly and competently," and protect children from further abuse. 23 Pa. C.S. §6302(b). Thus, the Law places a duty on local child protective services agencies to investigate reports of suspected child abuse and issue an appropriate report based upon the investigation. 23 Pa. C.S. §§6334-37. When a report of child abuse is determined to be indicated,*fn5 as here, the Law requires the local agency to enter the information in the statewide central registry. 23 Pa. C.S. §6338.
The Law further sets forth the procedure by which any person named as perpetrator in an indicated report of child abuse may request the Department to expunge the report on the grounds it is inaccurate or maintained in a manner inconsistent with the Law. In ...