Any person in Indiana who suspects a child is abused or neglected is required by law to report this to the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. For children, reporters (i.e., callers) range from disgruntled parents going through a separation to teachers, therapists, and doctors. When DCS receives such a report, they may partner with law enforcement, such as if the allegation is child molesting. DCS is legally mandated to investigate every call. A standard practice with some allegations is to have the child forensically interviewed. In its most basic form, a forensic interview is done at a place where the child is made to feel at home, and a trained interviewer strikes up a rapport and finds out what, if anything, happened related to the report. This blog surveys forensic interviews, their inherent problems, and what parents should consider if they receive the call indicating their child must show up for a forensic interview.1
A good way to understand how all this fits together (report to forensic interview to potential DCS’ filing and/or criminal investigation) is by a hypothetical example. Let’s assume a 6th grader gets into trouble at school and is sent to a counselor. During the counseling session, the child reveals he has been “touched” by his sibling. This will generate a hotline call and likely a request to a parent to bring the child to a forensic interview that day. This is where a problem may begin. A given counselor may not be trained and unwittingly obtain a false or incomplete story based on what he or she thinks might have happened; a child is easily led to such conclusions or allegations because of the authority figure, the counselor, or a parent. It is then likely the child will repeat a similar story to a forensic interviewer since it will occur most likely shortly thereafter. However, the interviewer may pick up on contradictions and ultimately determine nothing worthy of a DCS or criminal investigation occurred, such as the other sibling pinched the child. But it does not always happen that way.
If not and the child tells the skewed story in the forensic interview, now the parents have one child who is a potential juvenile delinquent (committed a crime of an adult but for his age) and the other child is a victim. The parents may be directed by DCS to remove the children and sleep in different places, or in more extreme cases, the alleged perpetrator may be detained as a juvenile delinquent and will need criminal defense counsel. If the parents do not cooperate in the forensic interview and with other requests, then DCS/Law Enforcement may remove the children and have a detention hearing within twenty-four (24) hours and make the children wards of the state.2 This short timeline makes it virtually impossible for parents to obtain counsel for this key hearing because of how soon it occurs. The takeaway is parents who get the call need to immediately obtain counsel (maybe for their child or themselves if they are an alleged perpetrator) or they may lose their children or make inadvertent incriminating statements that have criminal implications for them and wind up with criminal charges.
There are numerous other scenarios where DCS/Law Enforcement could become involved in your life that may surprise you that start and spiral out of control with a forensic interview. Anecdotal evidence suggests that children are “bonded” with electronics today. Many attorneys can relay horror stories of parents who take them away for punishment, and their child reports or causes them to be reported to DCS under a variety of allegations. Because DCS must investigate every case, and there is the general notion a child would not make such a lie about parents. These cases can quickly spin out of control—as the child may go into a forensic interview and tell a tale criminally implicating their parents. At that point, the child has been given a great deal of attention and likely receives the electronics back. But the damage is done. Parents must have skilled counsel to navigate out of these cases and work with to ensure this does not occur again by obtaining the right type of counseling for the family and child to begin to work through what caused this behavior in the first place.
A vast category of DCS/Law Enforcement investigations for hotline calls come directly or indirectly from spouses involved in child custody and parenting time litigation. Reporters are immune from civil liability, and with individuals involved in hotly contested domestic issues, the psychological concept of “confirmation bias” may cause them to believe what they report. Basically, under stress, this person who is the reporter may perceive some innocuous event as abuse or neglect. This can create significant issues for the alleged perpetrator. They need to advocate their custody/parenting time case in civil court, but with a forensic interview of a brainwashed child who repeats the story, maybe criminally charged and must assert their Fifth Amendment Privilege against self-incrimination and not testify in their paternity or divorce case to their peril.
These are but a few of the thorny issues surrounding forensic interviews of children who have been alleged to have been abused or neglected. Parents who are in this situation would be wise to seek experienced counsel in CPS’ litigation as well as its overlaps with general criminal and civil law. An inadvertent misstatement in the process could result in your children becoming wards of the state, loss of your custody litigation or criminal charges, to name a few of the foreseeable consequences of a forensic interview that goes awry. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates handle complex litigation involving CPS’ matters around the State. This blog is written for general educational purposes only and is not a solicitation for legal services nor legal advice. It is an advertisement.
- For clarification, forensic interviews are necessary and protect children.
- Ind.Code 31-34-2-3.