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In a case of first impression, a split state appeals court held that a woman who entered an accelerated rehabilitative disposition program after being charged with child endangerment was wrongly denied an evidentiary hearing before the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to dispute the facts recited in two abuse reports.

The Commonwealth Court panel in J.F. v. Department of Human Services ruled in favor of the mother, J.F., who was ordered into ARD following her arrest for child endangerment.

According to President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, who authored the court’s majority opinion, J.F. was arrested after she was found intoxicated and semi-conscious on the street while her children were left home alone for hours.

After J.F. was charged, the unspecified county children and youth social service agency considered the abuse reports to be founded by virtue of the criminal charges. An administrative law judge agreed and recommended that the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals deny J.F.’s request for an evidentiary hearing, which the bureau ultimately did.

J.F. appealed, arguing the bureau improperly dismissed her request for a hearing. She claimed that the allegations against her had not been adjudicated and that she could still be exonerated of criminal charges.

J.F. also argued that she is entitled to a hearing by precedent in order to explain her reasons for entering into the rehab program. She claimed that the charge of child endangerment is not the same as “serious physical neglect” under the Child Protective Services Law.

“As mother observes, there has been no judicial finding about the risk in which she placed her children ‘because no record of the ARD proceeding was submitted,’” Leavitt said. “She argues that the allegations in the criminal complaint and the statements in an affidavit of probable cause cannot become adjudicated facts based solely on entry into ARD. We agree. No facts were adjudicated in the ARD proceeding. Accordingly, mother’s appeal of the founded report does not lodge a collateral attack on a judicial determination. Thus, mother is entitled to a hearing on whether CYS correctly amended the indicated reports of child abuse to make them founded reports.”

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Michael H. Wojcik said the majority’s opinion expands the law to an unwieldy level, requiring a hearing for every founded report of abuse.

“The majority concludes that petitioner ‘is entitled to a hearing on whether CYS correctly amended the indicated reports of child abuse to make them founded reports,’” Wojcik said. “Because petitioner does not argue that her ARD disposition involves different factual circumstances than are involved in the allegation of child abuse, she raises no issue necessitating a hearing under the CPSL.”

With the exception of the opinion, the record in the case was sealed and no attorney information was available.