HCWC’s Children’s Advocacy Center, Roxanne’s House,
Conducts Hundreds of Forensic Interviews Each Year
What is a Forensic Interview?
A forensic interview is a non-leading, non-suggestive interview that is fact finding in nature when there are allegations of child abuse. This approach to interviewing alleged victims of abuse is evidence-based and nationally supported. Details are an important part of the process and the format is strictly governed. If a child has experienced abuse or witnessed a traumatic event, HCWC’s Roxanne’s House offers a child-friendly environment, a safe and neutral place for the child to tell what happened in their own words.
A forensic interview is required by Texas law when a child has made an outcry of sexual abuse and they are under the age of 13 (as per the penal code). A child can also be interviewed if they are an alleged victim of physical abuse or witness to a traumatic event such as domestic violence, homicide, suicide or attempted abductions to name a few. A forensic interview is quite different than an interview conducted by law enforcement or even child protective services. Hays County CPS Program Supervisor, Sharla Lawless commented, “The forensic interview is the first step to gathering pertinent information about child abuse or neglect without using leading questions.”
Caldwell County District Attorney, Fred Weber described the value of forensic interviewing as, “often the most critical part of building a case. Many child sexual abuse cases have no physical evidence.The interview is where we evaluate the merits of the case and our strategy on going forward to indictment.”
A specially-trained forensic interviewer conducts the interview. The interviewer is trained to understand children’s language and to assess children’s developmental levels. Factors to consider in assessing the child’s developmental level are: age of the child, socio-economic status, gender, whether or not there are any disabilities present, academic level, verbal skills, family dynamics, social skills and the nature of the abuse. The interviewer is also trained to ask questions in a non-leading, non-suggestive way. Hays County Sheriff’s Office Detective Jeffrey Jordan explained, “The forensic interview is more than a tool. It is an opportunity for the child to be heard in their words. It is the device by how we, in law enforcement, can better understand how the offense occurred and has impacted the child. It is the first step for the child to start the healing process.”
Referrals to Roxanne’s House Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) may only be made by the following agencies: child protective services, law enforcement and the district attorney’s office. Once a child abuse report has been made to one of these agencies and it has been determined that the child(ren) need to be interviewed, they will contact the forensic interviewer at Roxanne’s House to schedule a day and time.
The forensic interview is the first step to gathering pertinent information about child abuse or neglect without using leading questions.
HCWC Forensic Interviewer, Vanessa Paulini stated that “forensic interviews are valuable tools to help abused children whose abuse might otherwise go undetected.” She recalls interviewing a child who had risk factors. The child felt comfortable enough in that setting to tell about the abuse FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME. Had we not interviewed this child, he may have never disclosed the abuse that had been occurring for months.”
It is important to note that the forensic interview is an investigative tool intended to be used by investigators to determine the next steps in an investigation. Often, children do not outcry abuse and the case is often closed as a result. In the event that there is an outcry, investigators may request additional forensic interviews with other children at-risk. In an active investigation, cases are referred to the district attorney’s office to prepare for the criminal court process. Forensic interviewers are often called to testify in these cases. Active cases are reviewed monthly by our Multidisciplinary Team which is made up of local law enforcement, child protective services, court appointed special advocates (CASA) and the district attorney’s offices.
Texas is a mandated reporting state and has recognized the importance of protecting its youngest citizens with specialized laws and an integration of the children’s advocacy centers role. Child abuse cases require special training and professionals who are committed to providing services utilizing the best practices. Roxanne’s House has been providing these critical services since 1997.
This article was featured in HCWC’s Summer 2015 Edition of the Networker. To read the full newsletter, visit our Newsletters page, and join our email list to receive the quarterly publication and occasional updates in your inbox.