Webinar presenters Roger Blevins and Frankie Grimsman answered a number of your questions after their presentation, The Prosecution of Child Neglect Cases. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Is there any information on how the infants were selected to be part of the research study? What were some of the other characteristics that they might have considered like socioeconomic status, race? Were there any other factors that were talked about in that research?
Roger Blevins: I think that those were just consecutive births as opposed to matching much. I think it was consecutive births families that they get to sign up.
Audience Question: Frankie, Casey wanted to know if you could talk a little bit about patterns of abuse and what we should be aware of?
Frankie Grimsman: So, there are a couple of different ways I could interpret that question, so I’m not quite certain. I don’t know if they mean this would be a targeted child which I can certainly talk about or if they’re talking about pattern bruising or patterned abuse from the ligature marks.
Host: Unfortunately, I had texted Casey back to get a little bit more detail, and Casey did not get back to me, so I don’t have any more information than that.
Frankie Grimsman: OK. Clearly, I think in this particular case you do have a targeted child. It seems like his sibling was not targeted by this family and that maybe because he’s developmentally delayed. Developmentally delayed children are less likely to be able to speak out to complain. He’s also probably barely verbal if he is verbal yet. Sometimes they become the targeted child in the family because they resent the extra care that that child might need or because they feel like that child can’t reach out and basically tell on them for that abuse.
Roger Blevins: Yeah. In this situation, the fact was that the relative got a court order to take over these kids because she wanted the girl and she just took Austin with the girl so she could get the girl.
Audience Question: Did those studies account for any influence that lower cognition caused increased abuse and neglect through increased parental frustration, etc.?
Roger Blevins: No, they were simply looking at outcomes of being involved with CPS or are having an adverse childhood event.
Audience Question: One of the audience members wanted to know to retrieve confidential medical records and not violate HIPAA laws, a judge would have to order them to be released, correct?
Frankie Grimsman: It depends on a couple of factors. Medical records of this particular injured child, there is a provision in HIPAA to release records for abuse. Most hospitals, just to be certain that they’re covered, will release based on a court order and they prefer that. It’s the safest route and it also ensures that you’re not going to have any issue presenting these in court. Nobody’s going to be objecting to you for obtaining those records.
Audience Question: Frankie, could you share a little bit more about what you think makes a great forensic interviewer particularly of kids?
Frankie Grimsman: In our jurisdiction, we happen to have several dedicated forensic interviewers who that is their full-time job. They do nothing all day but interview children who are victims of crime or adults who are victims of crime if there is a need for developmentally delayed adults. Sometimes, even when an adult is talking about something that happened to them as a child, we’ll bring in a dedicated forensic interviewer. These people are trained in how to phrase questions, how to approach a child, and to give them open-ended questions. Those interviews are universally, at least in my jurisdiction, recorded on video, and audio. That way, the defense can look at the interview and review the questions that were asked. That interviewer can justify why they asked a particularly pointed question and then went back to an open-ended question if they were having trouble getting a child to a topic or something. They’re trained in the best way to phrase questions. What type of vocabulary is applicable for different age groups? Because you get people who aren’t forensically trained on how to interview, and they may be asking with verbiage that a 3 or 4-year-old can’t follow. Above, below, before, after are phrases that your average young child doesn’t understand the concept yet. They’re not that big of a word. You wouldn’t normally think that’s a problem for a young child but interviewers who are trained in how to do these interviews know that. They understand the limits of a very young child.
Audience Question: Frankie, you talked about getting photos of other children in the home. This is a multipart question. I’m assuming, these are not just one static photo head-on that they should be getting multiple photos from multiple vantage points of the child. So front, back, side, side, etc.?
Frankie Grimsman: Especially of the victim. I mean, the biggest difference is, you just want to be able to show that the other children in the home, not just those who are described as healthy but were really healthy. A lot of times this targeted child will be in filthy clothing. They’ll have dirt under your fingernails. They’ll be just a dramatic difference in how they’re being cared for. It can also be very significant where they’re sleeping, where they’re being housed. As Roger said, this child was sleeping on – while we’re in the blankets on the floor. I use that one time in a trial and was told nobody in Arizona calls blankets on the floor a pallet but we do. It’s significant to know that that’s where that child was sleeping as opposed to the beds for the other children. So, yes, you want different views of the child. You want to depict the different circumstances in how they’re being kept.
Audience Question: Just as a side question, do you recommend also having the investigators taking also a look at the situation for the animals in the household since we know that so often, there are cross-linkages between animal abuse and other crimes as well and vice versa?
Frankie Grimsman: Absolutely. In this particular case, they said specifically that there weren’t any animals in the home because there was no need to have that crate. But, obviously, that’s something that needs to be looked into, especially in a circumstance where the crate may be part of the crime. You do need to look into the animals. And yes, statistically there is a high significance of animal abuse linked with domestic violence or child abuse. So that’s something that we always encourage any investigator to make sure that everyone in the house is spoken to and investigated including the four-legged friends.
Audience Question: The last question of the day goes to both of you. What role can social workers take to be of the greatest help throughout this process?
Frankie Grimsman: That’s a great question and they can be so much assistance to you. I really can’t emphasize that enough. Most of the hospitals, the larger hospitals, have social workers on staff that are helping right there with the victim and helping with facilitating, placement, and keeping the wrong people out of the room to make sure that they’re safe. They can also assist with the children that are witnesses in the home and the continuing care of both them and the victim because there’s going to be trauma to all the children in this home.
Host: Excellent. Roger, did you have anything?
Roger Blevins: Yeah. Social workers are my eyes and ears. I can’t go out to these homes and look. Sometimes I can’t even talk to the caregivers, they may have been taken into custody or they may have absconded or they’re otherwise kept from coming into the hospital. So, the social workers really, really are a great help because they can tell me where and how these kids we’re living. Also, if there’s any CPS history. Another really good place to look in the medical records is if your child who is, say, failing to thrive is in the hospital and is still in the care of the mother or other care providers, the nursing staff is going to be looking at their interaction and they’re going to be looking at the care providers’ behavior. I teach nurses to objectively document what they see in either direction. In other words, it can be encouraging or discouraging but you’ll get information like mom left at midnight, didn’t come back until five in the morning, seem to be inebriated, or other more descriptive terms. Mom won’t wake up to feed the baby. We tried. A lot of things that can be very helpful in court.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of The Prosecution of Child Neglect Cases.