Posted on September 25, 2023

A State Registry Claims to Protect Children. It Locks Black Parents Out of Jobs, Researchers Say

Juliana Feliciano Reyes, Philadelphia Inquirer, September 19, 2023

Tionna Collins stepped out of her new Southwest Philly home to make a call on a neighbor’s phone. When she returned, she found her house filled with smoke and her 7-year-old son playing with matches.

Collins, who had two younger children in the home, including a newborn, handled it the way her mother had when Collins was growing up, through corporal punishment.


The episode landed her in jail for five days and separated from her children for a month. She was ordered to take parenting and anger management classes. She no longer disciplines her children with corporal punishment.

But 10 years later, Collins, now 36, is still facing the consequences of that day. A former home health aide, she can’t get clients because she was placed on Pennsylvania’s ChildLine and Abuse Registry, which a growing number of employers use to run background checks.

Collins isn’t alone. Black Pennsylvanians are not only more likely to be listed on the registry but are also more likely to work a job that requires a child-abuse clearance, according to a recent report by the Penn and Temple Law schools that calls for the abolition of the registry.


“I hate to say the word abolition because I think it freaks people out, but that’s where we’re arriving — ‘Why do we even need it in the first place?’” said Jennifer J. Lee, a Temple Law professor who supervised the report.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS) said that although it would work to address any bias in the system, it did not have the power to abolish the registry. {snip}


While Black Pennsylvanians make up 12% of the population, they make up nearly 23% of the people placed on the registry, researchers found. {snip}

Parents are placed on the list when a county DHS opens an investigation of child abuse. If that DHS finds the claim to be founded, parents stay on the list for life, unless they are able to successfully navigate the appeals process.


In the last three years, more than 90% of appeals were successful, according to the report.

Community Legal Services, along with Philadelphia law firm LeVan Stapleton Segal Cochran LLC and University of Pennsylvania law professor Seth Kreimer, is currently suing Pennsylvania DHS over the registry, alleging that it is unconstitutional because people do not get a formal hearing before they are placed on it.