Working with Law Enforcement: The Investigation and Your Child
At some level we all realize that investigations in real life take longer than they do on television. Yet, parents are often surprised and overwhelmed by the process of investigating the crime. Law enforcement protocols vary based on state law and availability of services. What follows are some of the things that could happen during an investigation.
Child Advocacy Center
A Child Advocacy Center (CAC) is a special, child-focused place used to collect evidence in child abuse cases. CACs are staffed with people who receive special training to work with child victims. Children are interviewed and receive medical exams when necessary. Parents or guardians receive information about the case and are given referrals to resources for counseling.
Family advocates are available at the CAC and meet with the parent or guardian. The advocate explains what is happening and answers questions. He or she will ask about resources needed and provide information to help the family.
A forensic interview is a special interview with the child to find out in their words what happened. If a CAC is available in the area, the interview is conducted there. CACs have highly trained people to interview the child. The interviewer creates a safe environment for the child by talking about everyday events in the child’s life. Once rapport is established the interviewer asks open ended questions about what happened. Children are never pushed to answer any question they find too uncomfortable to answer.
The interview is videotaped to preserve evidence and to lessen the number of times a child must recount what happened. Law enforcement is often present during the interview and watches on a screen in another room. This gives them the opportunity to have the interviewer ask additional clarifying questions.
When a CAC is not available, the interview is often done by the detective assigned to the case. Some law enforcement agencies may have an officer who handles most child interviews.
When indicated, a medical exam may be necessary to collect evidence and check the child’s health. When performed at a CAC, the child is asked permission to do the exam; if the child is unwilling, then it is not completed. Any evidence found is collected and pictures may be taken. All information and pictures are kept secure.
After the interview
After an interview at a CAC, non-offending parents or guardians usually have a meeting with the interviewer, the doctor who performed the medical exam, law enforcement, and the advocate. During this time childcare workers play with the child in another room. The interview team will talk about what the child disclosed, any evidence found, and next steps. Parents or guardians can ask questions at this time.
After this meeting, the advocate will meet one on one with the parents or guardians to give them any additional information about resources and to check in to see how they are doing. Advocates follow up with the parent or guardians post meeting to make sure their needs are met.
The investigators of a child abuse case understand that these first steps of the investigation are difficult for the entire family. They will do their best to support you while also getting the evidence they need. During this time, seek out help from your support system. You may feel like hiding this process from everyone but remember that your pastor can be confidential Christian support. Ask for his prayers for your family. As you wrestle with your fears, anger, and anxiety, reflect on God’s love for you, a love he demonstrated by Jesus’ willing sacrifice on the cross for your sins. May his resurrection give you hope in this difficult time. Find someone who is strong in the faith to support you. Having people you can trust and talk to is an important step in the healing process.