Who will be involved?

Following disclosure of child sexual abuse, many agencies become involved in the life of the child victim and with family members. Mothers are involved with all those agencies. They are responsible for getting the child to appointments, for providing information to these agencies, and for supporting and protecting the child. How the disclosure takes place and the identity of the perpetrator determine the types of agencies involved. Law enforcement investigates all reports of child abuse and provides information and evidence to the prosecutor. Court hearing or dismissal of the case will occur at that point. If the offender is not a family member, and the child is not at risk in their home, then social services does not need to become involved. However, if the offender is a family member, particularly if living in the home, the Department of Human Services/Child Welfare (DHS/CW) will work with law enforcement in the investigation of the abuse and will make a determination regarding a dependency petition to the court and removal of the child or children in the home to court-approved alternative placement of the child (safe family member, such as grandparent; foster care; other court-approved facility).

Law Enforcement When Law Enforcement receives a report of child sexual abuse, an officer will come to the residence or school where the report initiated. If another mandated or community reporter is involved, the officer will interview the reporter to gather information. Many states require collaboration between DHS and Law Enforcement in the investigation of abuse cases. Both may visit the school or home at the same time, sometimes making immediate safety decisions based on prior reports regarding the child. The initial interview with the child may be conducted by law enforcement. Many communities now have law enforcement officers that have been trained in forensic interviewing of child sexual abuse cases. If the report involved abuse by a family member, a child welfare worker may be involved in the initial interview and will be involved in the ongoing investigation. If the report involved abuse by a family member, a child welfare worker may be involved in the initial interview and will be involved in the ongoing investigation.  

Child Protective Services (DHS/CW). Safety is the first concern for the child. Many states require collaboration between law enforcement and DHS during the investigation of a child sexual abuse case. If the abuse occurs in the home, a social service specialist will interview the child and family members. The DHS social service specialist will determine whether the family (usually mother) is able to maintain the child's safety from further abuse. The worker will assess the family's belief of the child's report and willingness to protect the child from further harm. If the child is not believed and supported by the mother, the worker will remove the child from the home in order to protect him or her from further abuse. A court hearing will then be scheduled, and determination of court-ordered protective custody of the child will be decided by the judge. If the father/father-figure or sibling is the abuser, the mother will have to indicate willingness for the abuser to be removed from the home and the child protected from further contact with that individual until the court decides. DHS will present an Action Plan to the court, stipulating services that will be provided to family members and requirements of caregiver to comply with recommended changes and activities. The disclosure of a child's sexual abuse produces psychological trauma in the mother, and her initial reactions (shock, denial, anger, guilt, depression) are a grief  response. However, the child's welfare is the presiding interest of professionals and agencies involved in the case, and the mother's attention must focus on the child, rather than the abuser or her own responses.

Physicians . If a child discloses sexual abuse, the mother should report this immediately to the law enforcement and/or DHS. However, mothers sometimes observe physical signs without the child's disclosure. Call the child's physician and schedule an immediate appointment. You will need to tell the office the reason for the call, so that the appointment can be expedited. If this occurs on the weekend, take the child to the local hospital's emergency room. If evidence of sexual abuse is found, the physician or hospital staff will make the report because they are mandated reporters. If the child has made a disclosure, and the community has a Child Abuse Assessment Center, it is best that the physician at that center conduct the forensic examination. Results of the physical examination will be forwarded to the prosecutor.

Child Abuse Interviewer. The child may be interviewed at one or more interviews (law enforcement, DHS/CW). However, it is in the child's best interest to minimize the number of interviews. For this reason, assessment by the multidisciplinarian team at a local Child Abuse Assessment Center is the most effective manner to conduct the investigation. Interviewers at all involved agencies should be trained in forensic interview techniques. The interviewer must first spend time getting to know the child before initiating the interview process. The interviewer observes the child's emotional state, developmental stage, and function/competence during the early part of the interview. If the interview is being taped, there are others (law enforcement, DHS, physician) 
observing the interview from another room. The child must be informed that others see and/or hear what she is saying. Techniques used in the child interview include picture drawing, story telling, anatomical dolls, and doll house. Questions are designed for the child's age and developmental level and follow established questioning strategies. The interviewer assesses the child's statements and behaviors to determine the child's description of the sexual abuse, the context of the sexual abuse, and the child's emotional response to the sexual abuse. Results of the interview will be forwarded to the prosecutor. 

Prosecutor. A prosecutor will be assigned responsibility for the case by the Office of the District Attorney. This prosecutor will direct the case through the criminal justice system. Some jurisdictions have a special unit assigned to child abuse cases. The assigned prosecutor or representatives of the special unit will attend a preliminary hearing for the defendant. The prosecutor will determine if sufficient cause exists for prosecution, and, if appropriate, will authorize charges by law enforcement. If evidence of sexual abuse has been found, a warrant for arrest may be ordered. However, this may be postponed until the Indictment. A Preliminary Hearing will establish reasonable cause. The specific rules regarding admissibility of evidence vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If the court finds no probable cause, the prosecution typically ceases continued legal proceedings against the defendant. However, many jurisdictions allow the prosecution to seek a new preliminary hearing or even seek a bill of indictment from a Grand Jury. The court will determine if sufficient evidence exists to justify the case proceeding to criminal Trial 

Mental Health Counselor. Child victims need to see a mental health professional (licensed counselor, social worker, or psychologist) as soon after disclosure as possible. Sexual abuse is a trauma experience. Many children develop posttraumatic stress symptoms following the abuse (and ongoing). If the child is able to talk to someone about the abuse, possesses or learns positive coping skills, and has family and social support, long term consequences of the abuse can be reduced. Counseling offers a safe place where the child can express her feelings and feel accepted. Victims have emotional problems (e.g. anger, betrayal, hurt and pain, fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, and depression) related to the abuse. They may experience somatic symptoms. They have cognitive distortions related to the abuse. They struggle with trust, boundary, and self-esteem issues. Most child victims act out behaviorally, including inappropriate sexual behaviors. The counselor helps the child process thoughts and feelings and begin the healing process. Counselors can teach stress management and anger management skills and offer training in resilience and self-protection. Victims may talk with their counselors about the abuse experience. Sometimes a child's disclosure to authorities is not adequate to move forward with the legal process. The child may later disclose additional information to her counselor so that the offender can be prosecuted. The counselor may be called to a trial to testify. If the abuser was a family member, the child can discuss feelings and safety issues about living arrangements and family support. Mothers should also see a counselor following a child's abuse disclosure to process thoughts and feelings related to the abuse and to work through the grief process. It is helpful for the mother to meet with the child and her counselor occasionally in order to talk about issues and resolve problems. 

Child Abuse Assessment Center (Children's Advocacy Center) Some communities have multidisciplinary teams that become involved at the time of the report, and an efficient system of investigation is in place so that the child does not experience repeated interviews. Ideally, the child victim will go to a local Child Abuse Assessment Center. A physician trained in forensic medical examination of child sexual abuse victims will conduct a medical examination. A child abuse interviewer will follow a structured interview process with the child. This interview is usually taped and can be shown at the trial in many cases. Law enforcement and staff from the local DHS/CW are able to observe the interview process from another location via video recorder. This process reduces the number of times that the child has to experience a formal interview.   


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