When Child Protection Investigations Harm Children


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When Child Protection Investigations Harm Children October 1, 1997

The Wenatchee Sexual Abuse Cases – Special Report October 1997
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SUMMARY
When do child protection investigations harm children? When the state’s child protection system, instead of serving the child’s best interest:

•allows forced incarceration in an out-of-state mental hospital until sexual abuse allegations are produced;

•allows the lead police investigator for the sexual abuse case involving the child to serve as the child’s foster parent;

•allows the police to dictate when a child’s relationship with a therapy agency should be abruptly terminated;

•allows records of interviews with child witnesses to be destroyed;

•fails to require that child witness interviews be well-documented;

•allows coercive child interview methods to be used and fails to require minimum standards for such interviews;

•fails to clarify proper roles of law enforcement and CPS in conduct of child interviews;

•fails to provide an effective mechanism for quality control and accountability in child protection investigations.

This report discusses the above eight problems in Washington state’s child protection system, which the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU-W) has identified as harmful to children in sexual abuse investigations. These systemic problems are illustrated by allegations which arose from the child sexual abuse cases in Wenatchee in 1994 and 1995. For each problem, the ACLU-W’s understanding of the factual allegations involved is first summarized, as these provide a context for discussion of systemic problems. The purpose of this report is to recommend certain basic safeguards that should be implemented to address the problems that have come to light as a result of the Wenatchee child sexual abuse cases. While the recommendations stem directly from problems in sexual abuse cases, they are appropriate for all child abuse investigations. These recommendations include:

1.adoption and enforcement of policies that ban involuntary confinement of children in out-of-state inpatient mental hospitals;

2.elimination of the practice of allowing law enforcement officers responsible for child abuse investigations to serve as foster parents for children involved in the investigations;

3.a bar on law enforcement intervention in DSHS decisions on foster care placement and therapy for foster children;

4.prevention of the destruction of records in child abuse investigations;

5.establishment of minimum standards for documenting child witness interviews in child sexual abuse cases;

6.establishment of minimum standards for conducting child witness interviews in child sexual abuse investigations;

7.clarification of police and CPS caseworker roles in child sexual abuse cases; and

8.establishment of additional mechanisms for quality control and accountability in child abuse investigations.

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USE OF OUT-OF-STATE LOCKED MENTAL HOSPITALS FOR CHILDREN IN STATE CUSTODY Factual allegations
Sarah Doggett, now age 18, was one of the alleged victims of child sexual abuse in the one of the Wenatchee cases. On February 14, 1997, she filed a lawsuit in Chelan County Superior Court against DSHS and others. The suit alleges that CPS caseworker Pat Boggess and Wenatchee Police Department Detective Robert Perez worked together to mislead Ms. Doggett’s guardians into returning her to the State of Washington. Once she arrived in Wenatchee, Ms. Doggett allegedly was separated from her sister (contrary to Det. Perez’s promises and contrary to her guardian’s insistence that it was in her best interest to stay with her sister). A few days later, Ms. Doggett was taken by CPS caseworkers to their office for questioning. When the questioning ended, Ms. Doggett was placed in a wheeled stretcher in physical restraints and rolled onto an ambulance waiting in the parking lot and driven to Pine Crest Hospital in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. Another CPS caseworker had a physician complete a “certificate of admission to psychiatric hospital for inpatient care.” Based on this “certificate” the Pine Crest Hospital admitted Ms. Doggett to a locked ward as a “voluntary” patient.

The Doggett complaint makes a number of allegations about the conditions of her confinement at Pine Crest as well. Ms. Doggett allegedly was allowed no access to counsel or other outsiders and had no court hearing. A CPS caseworker signed the receipt of the patient rights statement and allegedly never showed it to Ms. Doggett. Ms. Doggett was admitted to the hospital based on claims she had made suicidal threats and suffered from eating disorder symptoms. Yet the hospital allegedly did not treat her for those problems and instead required her to submit to group and individual sessions focusing on sexual abuse. Her “counselors” confronted her by claiming she was “in denial,” insisting that her parents had molested her. A variety of techniques including very long interrogations and “memory recovery therapy” allegedly were used on her in an attempt to elicit accusations against her parents. A CPS caseworker told the hospital Ms. Doggett had a “history” of sexual abuse by multiple family members and friends in Wenatchee when this was not consistent with either the police reports or court documents.

Ms. Doggett was not the only one of the child witnesses involved in the Wenatchee cases who spent time confined at the Pine Crest Hospital. Some children were allegedly sent to Pine Crest first, and then moved to a King County facility. One of the reported decisions in a criminal appeal arising out of a 1994 Wenatchee case mentions that sexual abuse allegations were elicited from a child living in Wenatchee who, for unknown reasons, was undergoing a psychiatric evaluation at Pine Crest hospital in Idaho.

It has further been alleged that children taken into state custody as a result of the Wenatchee sexual abuse cases were drugged improperly with psychotropic medications, and that their testimony was affected by the medication and/or the medication made them more vulnerable to suggestion and pressure from the police. One Seattle newspaper reported that one-third of the children involved in the Wenatchee cases were given psychotropic drugs paid for by the state after the children were put in foster care.

Current policy and practice
The current Division of Children and Family Services (DCF Policy and Procedures Manual (page 4000-140a to 4000-140c) severely limits the use of inpatient mental health treatment for a child in state custody. Even if a child is in court- ordered placement, the parent’s written consent to inpatient mental health hospitalization must be obtained “whenever possible.” If parental consent is “not possible,” prior approval of the juvenile court is required unless there is an emergency. An “emergency” is when the child is gravely disabled or presents a danger of serious physical harm to herself or others or a risk of serious harm to property. Even when an emergency is present, a physician or mental health professional must certify that inpatient mental health hospitalization is medically necessary, and a hearing is required within 48 hours. The child is supposed to be screened to determine the location of hospitalization through Washington’s Regional Support Network system, which manages mental health care within the state.

There are at least two facilities in Washington State which offer inpatient mental health treatment for adolescents: Fairfax Hospital in Kirkland and Mid-Columbia Hospital in Richland.

It is not clear whether the same or a similar policy regarding out-of-state inpatient mental health treatment was in place in 1994 and 1995 when Ms. Doggett’s case arose in Wenatchee. Nevertheless, DSHS has an arrangement with the Pine Crest Hospital in Idaho to regularly use its services for inpatient mental health treatment of adolescents. According to documents obtained from the DSHS Medical Assistance, between 116 and 153 children in DSHS foster care were given psychiatric treatment (inpatient and outpatient) by out-of-state providers each year between 1994 and 1996. In 1996 Washington paid Medicaid expenses for DSHS foster care children of over $100,000 each to Pacific Gateway in Oregon and Pine Crest in Idaho, both locked inpatient facilities for juveniles. The amounts paid to Pine Crest in 1994 and 1995 were over $700,000.

In response to a public disclosure request, DSHS stated that it does not keep records of the number of children in state custody sent out of state for inpatient mental health treatment; the only records that may exist are in individual case files.

The use of out-of-state inpatient facilities for Washington children in state custody has been prohibited by at least one Washington court. In one King County case, the court ruled that it was unlawful to include placement in an out-of-state locked residential facility in a dependency order. The court stated that inpatient commitment of children in state custody must be accomplished through Washington’s Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA)(1).

Recommendations
1.DSHS policy should be clarified and enforced so no child in state custody is confined to an out-of-state locked mental hospital absent parental and child consent or compliance with Washington’s involuntary treatment act.

2.Whether in-state or out-of-state inpatient mental health treatment is used for children in state custody, DSHS policy should clearly prohibit hospitalization for the purpose of producing allegations of child abuse.

3.In order to monitor enforcement of these policies, DSHS should keep centralized statistical records on the number of children in state custody placed in out- of-state inpatient mental health treatment facilities, and the reasons for that placement.

4.The investigation ordered by the Governor’s Office and DSHS Secretary Lyle Quasim regarding the use of psychotropic medication on children in state custody should be vigorously pursued, and safeguards should be implemented to avoid the unnecessary and/or coercive use of such medication for foster children.

5.The physical restraint and transportation of a child out of state to a locked inpatient mental hospital in circumstances such as those described in the Doggett lawsuit is contrary to a child’s best interest, and violates the child’s due process rights and the child’s rights under Washington’s civil commitment statutes. The practice also is unnecessary since there are several facilities for mental health treatment within the state.

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LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS RESPONSIBLE FOR CHILD ABUSE INVESTIGATIONS ALSO SERVING AS FOSTER PARENTS FOR CHILD WITNESSES Factual allegations
Det. Robert Perez was the lead child abuse law enforcement officer for the Wenatchee Police Department. As such, it was his job to investigate and assist in the prosecution of the Wenatchee child sexual abuse cases. At the same time as he was performing this job, he remained on the list of persons eligible to serve as a foster parent for children removed from their homes by DSHS in the course of child abuse investigations. In fact, DSHS placed one of the main child witnesses in the sexual abuse cases in Det. Perez’s home for foster care. Problems with controlling this child’s behavior allegedly arose while the child was placed in Det. Perez’s home, to the point where “respite” foster care in another home was required. Following such “respite” care, the child was returned to Det. Perez’s home for foster care placement, and the child’s sister, also a leading witness in the sexual abuse cases, was also placed in Det. Perez’s home for foster care.

Det. Perez testified at one of the sexual abuse criminal trials (Roberson) that he grabbed the arm of one of the witnesses who had been placed with him and bruised her arm the morning of her testimony in court. He allegedly admitted he also grabbed her arm, twisted it behind her back, threw her to ground and straddled her.

Current policy and practice
The Wenatchee office of CPS apparently had no policy that prevented a child from being placed with the lead law enforcement investigator working on the same case in which the child was a crucial witness. The Wenatchee CPS office also apparently allowed an additional troubled child to be placed in the same home as her sister, when that same home had experienced problems with the first child’s presence and both girls were crucial witnesses in the court case where the foster parent was the lead State’s witness.

King County has adopted the following protocol regarding persons acting as a guardian to child abuse victims: “discussion of the incident should not be initiated by adults with the child;” “advise parents not to conduct investigative activities of their own.”

Recommendation
DSHS policy should ban law enforcement officers responsible for child abuse investigations from serving as foster parents for children who will be witnesses in those investigations.

Allowing a person to serve as a foster parent for children who are the subject of a child sexual abuse investigation, and having that foster parent at the same time be the lead law enforcement officer investigating the child abuse, when the foster parent and the children will appear as witnesses in the same court case, would seem to invite serious conflicts of interest. The King County protocol recognizes this problem by requiring separation between the role of a foster parent and the role of a child abuse investigator. While there may be a shortage of qualified foster parents, the harm that can be inflicted on children as a result of this conflict of interest is apparent.

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LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERVENTION IN DSHS DECISIONS ON FOSTER CARE PLACEMENT AND THERAPY FOR FOSTER CHILDREN Factual allegations
Documents have surfaced in one of the civil lawsuits arising from the Wenatchee sexual abuse cases that indicate the CPS office in Wenatchee allowed the police to decide who would provide counseling services to children in state custody. Allegedly, Det. Perez told CPS to immediately stop using counselors at the Children’s Home Society. Det. Perez claimed the Children’s Home Society had a “conflict of interest” by counseling both parents and children; he also believed counselors would not be strong witnesses in court because “they didn’t believe the seriousness of the sexual abuse that was going on.” In response to Det. Perez expressing his views to CPS, Supervisor Warman at the Wenatchee CPS office allegedly told Det. Perez that termination of the Children’s Home Society’s services would occur immediately. Termination of those services did occur. The Society allegedly was told DSHS “works cooperatively with the police” and the children would have to see other counselors because the police requested that counseling occur elsewhere. The Society allegedly was disturbed by this since it believed the children would be seriously harmed by the sudden change in counselors, especially when CPS refused to allow a final meeting between the children and their Society counselor.

Other documents allege CPS had to get police approval prior to placement of foster children in Wenatchee sexual abuse-related cases.

Current policy and practice
Current DSHS policy does not appear to authorize:

1.the police determining which counselors children in state custody should see; or

2.police approval of foster care placements.

The ACLU-W is not aware whether any disciplinary action was taken with respect to the above incidents.

Recommendation
1.DSHS should implement and enforce policies prohibiting police interference with child therapy and foster care placement decisions made by CPS personnel.

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DESTRUCTION OF RECORDS IN CHILD ABUSE INVESTIGATIONS
Factual allegations

A large number of interviews of child witnesses were conducted by the Wenatchee police together with CPS (Wenatchee) caseworkers. It is alleged that notes of these interviews were taken by the police and/or the caseworker, yet the notes would subsequently be destroyed. Not only is it alleged that Det. Perez threw away his own notes or refused to take notes of some interviews, but it is alleged he threw away notes taken by others, including CPS caseworkers, often without their knowledge. Det. Perez has stated that he began destroying his notes so he couldn’t be “played with on the stand.”

Several of the child witnesses involved in the Wenatchee cases who initially made accusations of abuse subsequently recanted their accusations.

Current policy and practice
CPS policy appears to require the retention of notes of child interviews.

Recommendations
Compliance with DCFS policy requiring retention of notes of child interviews should be monitored and enforced so that it is clear notes must be taken of child interviews conducted by the police in the presence of a CPS caseworker, and those notes must be retained in the child’s case file rather than destroyed.

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MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR DOCUMENTING CHILD WITNESS INTERVIEWS IN CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE CASES
Factual allegations
The factual allegations set forth in Part IV are relevant to this issue as well.

Current policy and practice
DCFS current policies do not require taping or any other form of verbatim record of child witness interviews. RCW 26.44.030(12)(2) requires DSHS to maintain investigation records and conduct timely and periodic review of all abuse cases.

Recommendation
Require that child witness interviews in child sexual abuse cases be well documented in a near-verbatim manner by any agency which conducts the interview.

Whether to videotape child witness interviews in sexual abuse cases has been hotly debated.(3) It is not the purpose of this report to duplicate that debate. Additionally, the Legislature in 1996 mandated a study of videotaping that is currently underway. In the interim, the ACLU-W recommends that DSHS establish certain minimum standards to ensure that, in the absence of videotaping, child witness interviews are well documented in other ways:

•near-verbatim note-taking by an adult participant in the interview who attempts to capture the verbatim phrasing of the questions and the child’s responses; or

•true verbatim transcription (an audiotape or videotape recording may be taken so that the transcript can be prepared, or the tape may be used as the record itself).

Whatever form of record of a child witness interview is chosen, the minimum standard of making and retaining a close-to-verbatim record should be adopted statewide for all governmental parties involved in child sexual abuse investigations.

Any one of the above methods of documenting a child witness interview can be set up so that it is inconspicuous and does not traumatize the child. A child does not need to feel “like a criminal” if the need for the documentation process is explained as a necessary part of the interview process designed to promote accuracy.

The objection is sometimes voiced that there should not be special rules for documenting child witness interviews when such requirements do not exist for other interviews. But a child witness interview in a multiple party child sexual abuse investigation is a special situation. The exact language and context of the child interview becomes the focal point in such cases. When a verbatim or near-verbatim record of the interview is not made and kept by the police and/or DSHS, the lack of such record invites attacks on the child’s credibility. Doubt is necessarily cast on the reliability of the child’s statements. Furthermore, when the investigator knows no record is being made, there is no incentive to avoid coercive practices, and the coercive practices may cause children to be traumatized by the investigation process itself. The cycle of accusations, counter-accusations, and recantations seen in the Wenatchee cases will continue to occur in the absence of clear documentation standards.

On the other hand, harm to the child as a result of documenting the interview has not been proven. A well-documented interview may result in eliminating the need for the child’s in-court testimony, although not always, in that the credibility of the child’s accusations may be clear from the verbatim or near-verbatim record of the interview. Requiring a good record of the interview provides an incentive for the interview to be conducted according to established standards, and there is a mechanism for accountability if coercive practices are used instead.

The Wenatchee cases provide a clear demonstration of the problems that arise when DSHS has required standards for documenting interviews but allows others conducting such interviews (such as the police) to be relieved of this obligation. The harm to children which results from failure to document child witness interviews in a near-verbatim manner will continue unless all governmental agencies involved in this process comply with the same minimum standards.

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MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR CONDUCTING CHILD WITNESS INTERVIEWS IN CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE CASES Factual allegations
One of the most troubling concerns that has been raised repeatedly regarding the Wenatchee child sexual abuse cases is the allegation of coercive interview techniques used during the questioning of child witnesses. It is not the ACLU-W’s purpose to enter the debate as to what did or did not occur. Nevertheless, the allegations point to a significant risk of harm to children that warrants efforts to prevent coercive interview techniques in the future.

Some of the coercive practices allegedly used in interviewing child witnesses connected with the Wenatchee sexual abuse cases include:

•refusing to allow anyone else to be present at the interview, even when the child requested the presence of a parent or teacher or other adult;

•threatening children with “trouble” or detention, or threatening to jail their parents, if the child did not disclose sexual abuse;

•if the children denied sexual abuse, telling them the interviewer knew it had occurred because other children had said so, and calling the child a liar if the denials persisted;

•isolating the child in a room at school or the CPS office for up to five hours of intense questioning, or threatening the child that the interrogation would continue for more than a day.

When questioned at trial about some of these practices, DSHS personnel expressed a lack of awareness of any CPS guidelines for conducting child interviews. It was unclear who was responsible for supervising child witness interviewers and whether those supervisors received any training in conducting such interviews.

Current policy and practice
RCW 26.44.030(10)(4) allows DSHS or police to interview children in response to an abuse report and further states certain requirements about such interviews. The law requires parental notification at the earliest possible point in the investigation that will not jeopardize the investigation or the child. The statute requires DSHS or the police, before beginning the interview, to determine if the child wishes a third party present and if so to make reasonable effort to accommodate that request. Even without a request from the child, unless the child objects, DSHS or the police are required to make a reasonable effort to include a third party in any interview unless the investigation would be jeopardized.

There is a significant amount of literature available on recommended protocols for conducting interviews of child witnesses in abuse cases. Recently, a report mandated by the Legislature(5) (the Lieb Report) addressed this subject of the minimum requirements for a good child witness interview. The report recommended:

•conducting the interview in a warm, supportive manner and avoiding direct or indirect intimidation;

•avoiding asking questions or conveying the attitude that the interviewer had a preconceived idea of what happened;

•avoiding repeated and suggestive questioning, questioning after long delays, and questioning by authority figures seeking to obtain desired answer;

•”Coercive, insistent questioning or the use of bribes or threats to secure answers is never justified, no matter how strong the suspicion or how urgent the situation. Even if the children are telling the truth, confidence in the results is completely undermined.”(6)

RCW 26.44.063 states that it is the intent of the legislature to “minimize trauma to a child involved in an allegation of sexual or physical abuse.”

Recommendations
1.Adopt and enforce minimum standards for conducting child witness interviews in child sexual abuse cases.

2.Require any agency conducting such interviews to abide by the minimum standards for training and for conducting such interviews.

3.Enforce the requirements of RCW 26.44.030(10) regarding permitting third parties to be present during child witness interviews.

A major step toward improving child protection would be the adoption and enforcement of certain minimum requirements for conducting investigative interviews of children. The way the interview is conducted may result in protecting the child through reliable disclosures which form the basis for legal proceedings, or the method of conducting the interview may further traumatize a vulnerable child.

Researchers have “found in their studies that requiring adherence to a strict protocol produced more uniform results in interviewer behavior and that most children gave statements about abuse experiences.”(7) It is critical to institute binding rules for all governmental agencies conducting child witness interviews in sexual abuse cases minimum standards. The benefits of enforcing minimum protocols, noted by the Lieb Report, are meaningless if the agencies that conduct a large number of the interviews refuse to abide by such protocols.

The 1997 Legislature required the Criminal Justice Training Commission to provide an intensive training session on the investigation of child abuse and neglect cases. The availability of this training may provide the opportunity to assure that all child abuse interviewers statewide, whether employed by DSHS or the police or another governmental agency, adhere to certain minimum training and interview- protocol standards. Agencies must not be permitted to conduct such interviews with sub-minimal training and standards so that Washington children are at risk of suffering the harm that is done in these situations. Compliance with RCW 26.44.063 would seem to require that DSHS work with police agencies to remedy this problem. Federal assistance may be available to achieve this compliance.(8)

The statutory protections of RCW 26.44.030(10) regarding child abuse interviews also need to be enforced against all governmental agencies conducting such interviews. Third-party presence at such interviews is supposed to be the rule, not the exception as it apparently was in Wenatchee. Along with the documentation requirements discussed above in Part V, records of child witness interviews should show that a third party was present or explain the exceptional circumstances justifying the absence of such persons.

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CLARIFY ROLES OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND CPS CASEWORKERS IN MULTIPLE-PARTY CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE INVESTIGATIONS Factual allegations
The importance of a good working relationship between DSHS personnel and the police in child sexual abuse cases should be apparent from the above-described factual allegations. In the Wenatchee cases, the police and DSHS staff may feel they had a good working relationship, but it is not clear that the children’s best interests were served by the nature of that relationship. For example, it is troubling that DSHS caseworkers responsible for protecting the children’s best interests allegedly knew about and did nothing to stop the alleged coercive tactics used in child interviews or the intervention by police in matters of children’s health care and treatment or the destruction of records.

Current policy and practice
RCW 26.44.030(4) and (5) and RCW 74.13.031(3)(9) authorize a role for both CPS and the police in investigating allegations of child abuse. The purposes of the two agencies are different, however. DCFS Practices and Procedures Guide(p. 2000-2) describes CPS’ primary purpose as assessing the risk of child maltreatment rather than substantiating specific allegations of child abuse or neglect. The Guide (p. 2000-1) describes the overriding goal of CPS as protecting children from child abuse or neglect while preserving family integrity to the maximum extent possible consistent with the safety and permanency needs of the children.

DSHS policies do not clearly set forth how duties in child abuse investigations are to be allocated between CPS and the police. The DCFS Guide (p. 2000-20 and p. 2000-51 to 2000-53) discusses the relationship of CPS with the police but provides little specific guidance.

The January 1997 State of Washington Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee Report (p. 20-21) addressed the issue of overlap between CPS and law enforcement duties in child abuse investigations. The report noted that the roles of CPS and police were very different: CPS investigates to determine the risk to a child, quick response is required, and the investigation may not meet the same test as criminal court evidence. Police, on the other hand, investigate to determine if a crime that can be prosecuted was committed. The Audit Report (p. 20-21) stated:

Transferring responsibility for investigations of child abuse and neglect away from CPS to law enforcement would mean that law enforcement would need to operate two separate sets of investigation procedures in order to provide child safety. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs believes the process would cost more and many CPS cases would be of low priority …. Law enforcement and CPS investigations differ tremendously, although one can work to support the other.

Recommendation
The Office of Family and Children’s Ombudsman should ensure that each DCFS office adopts written agreements with local police specifying the duties of CPS and the police in child sexual abuse cases.

In the absence of clear assignment of responsibilities between CPS and the police, the risk of one agency acting contrary to the goals of the other, with resulting harm to children, remains high.

The DCFS Guide (p. 2000-49) recognizes that DCFS personnel are expected to take the time to develop and maintain written operating agreements and collaborative working relationships with law enforcement agencies. The Guide (p. 2000-54) also requires that each DCFS office have a written agreement with law enforcement. The agreements should include discussion of the following subjects:

•minimum training requirements for interviewers and an agreement to abide by certain minimum protocol rules; also, designation of a supervisor to monitor and document compliance with these requirements;

•description of special protocols for sexual abuse cases(10);

•a statement of purpose, a discussion of joint and respective missions and organizational responsibilities, the types of cases covered, the procedures for handling cases including special investigative techniques, the criteria for a child’s removal and a suspect’s arrest, the criteria for CPS referral to the police and vice versa, procedures to assist CPS, criteria and procedures for joint CPS/police investigations, including timing, who has primary decision-making authority, provisions for joint training, provisions for multidisciplinary consults, and procedures for coordinating the agencies.(11)

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ESTABLISHING ADDITIONAL MECHANISMS FOR QUALITY CONTROL AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN CHILD ABUSE INVESTIGATIONS Factual allegations
All of the above factual allegations illustrate the need for quality control and accountability mechanisms in Washington’s child abuse system. A striking feature of the Wenatchee child sexual abuse cases is that no governmental agency — DSHS, police, prosecutors, legislative bodies, or schools — assumed responsibility for investigating whether children were being harmed by the child protection system itself, despite repeated allegations from many sources about such harm. There were no “checks and balances” within the system to assure that if harm was being done, it was noticed and corrected in time to prevent damage to children.

Current policy and practice
The DCFS Case Services Policy Manual (p. 1000-4) affirms a belief in open communication, teamwork, and a shared decision-making process with an emphasis on accountability.

RCW 13.70.003 et seq. authorizes community review boards to review DCFS case plans in some communities in the place of court reviews (DCFS Guide, p. 4000-157). Multidisciplinary child protection teams also exist at the present time (DCFS Practices and Procedures Guide, p. 2000-50 to 50d). These boards and teams maintain confidentiality of child abuse records and may include law enforcement representatives.

Recommendation
Designate a member of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman’s staff as a child sexual abuse “auditor” to respond to complaints about child sexual abuse cases.

Lawsuits should not be the primary means for assuring quality control and accountability in the child protection system. The establishment of the ombudsman’s office is a significant step toward quality control and accountability in the child protection system. The ombudsman office’s role would be significantly enhanced if one member of the ombudsman’s staff was designated a child sexual abuse case “auditor.” This suggestion is based on the need for a person to develop expertise in this specialized area. Moreover, if one person were responsible for evaluating such cases statewide, deviations from minimum standards are more likely to be noticed and corrected. The auditor should assure that the best interests of children are protected in child sexual abuse investigations, particularly multiple-party cases like Wenatchee. The auditor also could monitor compliance with record-keeping and interview-method minimum protocols and assist in enforcement of the policies recommended above.

If the Ombudsman’s Office declines to address some or all of the issues raised in this report, a useful function would be served by indicating to whom such issues should be addressed to obtain remedial action. The issues raised here present too great a risk of harm to children in the future to continue “business as usual.”

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FOOTNOTES/REFERENCES
[1] RCW 71.34.010 et seq.

[2] RCW 26.44..030(12) states:

The department shall maintain investigation records and conduct timely and periodic reviews of all cases constituting abuse and neglect. The department shall maintain a log of screened-out nonabusive cases.

[3] See, for example, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy Report, by Lieb, Berliner and Toth, entitled “Protocols and Training Standards: Investigating Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse” (Jan. 1997), p. 55-72

[4] RCW 26.44.030(10) states:

Upon receiving reports of abuse or neglect, the department or law enforcement agency may interview children. The interviews may be conducted on school premises, at day-care facilities, at the child’s home, or at other suitable locations outside of the presence of parents. Parental notification of the interview shall occur at the earliest possible point in the investigation that will not jeopardize the safety or protection of the child or the course of the investigation. Prior to commencing the interview the department or law enforcement agency shall determine whether the child wishes a third party to be present for the interview and, if so, shall make reasonable efforts to accommodate the child’s wishes. Unless the child objects, the department or law enforcement agency shall make reasonable efforts to include a third party in any interview so long as the presence of the third party will not jeopardize the course of the investigation.

[5] Washington State Institute for Public Policy Report, by Lieb, Berliner and Toth, entitled “Protocols and Training Standards: Investigating Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse” (Jan. 1997), p. 12-23.

[6] Lieb Report, p. 15.

[7] Lieb Report, p. 18-19. The Report at p. 18-22 gives several choices of good protocols for child witness interviews which might serve as appropriate minimum standards for all governmental agencies conducting child witness interviews in multiple party sexual abuse cases in Washington.

[8] 42 U.S.C. 5105(b)(2); 42 U.S.C. 5016a(a)(2); 42 U.S.C. 5106c(c). 42 U.S.C. 5106c(c) requires that a state have a task force on children’s justice composed of professionals knowledgeable about child sexual abuse. It is not known whether such a task force has been formed in Washington.

[9] These statutes state:

•RCW 26.44.030(4) The department, upon receiving a report of an incident of abuse or neglect pursuant to this chapter, involving a child or adult dependent or developmentally disabled person who has died or has had physical injury or injuries inflicted upon him or her other than by accidental means or who has been subjected to sexual abuse, shall report such incident to the proper law enforcement agency. In emergency cases, where the child, adult dependent, or developmentally disabled person’s welfare is endangered, the department shall notify the proper law enforcement agency within twenty-four hours after a report is received by the department. In all other cases, the department shall notify the law enforcement agency within seventy-two hours after a report is received by the department. If the department makes an oral report, a written report shall also be made to the proper law enforcement agency within five days thereafter.

•RCW 26.44.030(5) Any law enforcement agency receiving a report of an incident of abuse or neglect pursuant to this chapter, involving a child or adult dependent or developmentally disabled person who has died or has had physical injury or injuries inflicted upon him or her other than by accidental means, or who has been subjected to sexual abuse, shall report such incident in writing as provided in RCW 26.44.040 to the proper county prosecutor or city attorney for appropriate action whenever the law enforcement agency’s investigation reveals that a crime may have been committed. The law enforcement agency shall also notify the department of all reports received and the law enforcement agency’s disposition of them. In emergency cases, where the child, adult dependent, or developmentally disabled person’s welfare is endangered, the law enforcement agency shall notify the department within twenty-four hours. In all other cases, the law enforcement agency shall notify the department within seventy-two hours after a report is received by the law enforcement agency.

•RCW 74.13.031(3) Investigate complaints of neglect, abuse, or abandonment of children, and on the basis of the findings of such investigation, offer child welfare services in relation to the problem to such parents, legal custodians, or persons serving in loco parentis, and/or bring the situation to the attention of an appropriate court, or another community agency: Provided, That an investigation is not required of nonaccidental injuries which are clearly not the result of a lack of care or supervision by the child’s parents, legal custodians, or persons serving in loco parentis. If the investigation reveals that a crime may have been committed, the department shall notify the appropriate law enforcement agency.

[10] Described in the Lieb Report, p. 31 and 75-76.

[11] Recommended by a 1992 Report by Pence and Wilson, published for the United States Health and Human Services Department.

http://www.aclu-wa.org/detail.cfm?id=393

About yvonnemason

Background:  The eldest of five children, Yvonne was born May 17, 1951 in Atlanta, Georgia. Raised in East Point, Georgia, she moved to Jackson County, Ga. until 2006 then moved to Port St. Lucie, Florida where she currently makes her home.  Licensed bounty hunter for the state of Georgia. Education:  After a 34 year absence, returned to college in 2004. Graduated with honors in Criminal Justice with an Associate’s degree from Lanier Technical College in 2006. Awards:  Nominated for the prestigious GOAL award in 2005 which encompasses all of the technical colleges. This award is based not only on excellence in academics but also leadership, positive attitude and the willingness to excel in one’s major. Affiliations:  Beta Sigma Phi Sorority  Member of The Florida Writer’s Association – Group Leader for St Lucie County The Dream:  Since learning to write at the age of five, Yvonne has wanted to be an author. She wrote her first novel Stan’s Story beginning in 1974 and completed it in 2006. Publication seemed impossible as rejections grew to 10 years. Determined, she continued adding to the story until her dream came true in 2006. The Inspiration:  Yvonne’s brother Stan has been her inspiration and hero in every facet of her life. He was stricken with Encephalitis at the tender age of nine months. He has defied every roadblock placed in his way and has been the driving force in every one of her accomplishments. He is the one who taught her never to give up The Author: Yvonne is currently the author of several novels, including:  Stan’s Story- the true story of her brother’s accomplishments, it has been compared to the style of Capote, and is currently being rewritten with new information for re-release.  Tangled Minds - a riveting story about a young girl’s bad decision and how it taints everyone’s life around her yet still manages to show that hope is always possible. This novel has been compared to the writing of Steinbeck and is currently being written as a screenplay. This novel will be re-released by Kerlak Publishing in 2009  Brilliant Insanity – released by Kerlak Publishing October 2008  Silent Scream – Released by Lulu.com October 2008- Slated to be made into a movie Yvonne’s Philosophy in Life - “Pay it Forward”: “In this life we all have been helped by others to attain our dreams and goals. We cannot pay it back but what we can do is ‘pay it forward’. It is a simple
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One Response to When Child Protection Investigations Harm Children

  1. Pingback: When Child Protection Investigations Harm Children « How Child … Children Me

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