In 2015, nearly 312,000 children were interviewed at child advocacy centers around the country. These were alleged victims of sexual or physical abuse (or neglect) or had witnessed the abuse or maltreatment of someone else.
Integral to the investigation of these cases—and to the continued safety and welfare of the vulnerable children—are multidisciplinary teams (MDTs). These special teams, composed of child protection professionals, work in tandem to explore the details of abuse allegations as well as provide necessary trauma assessments and treatment to child victims and their families. While structure and individual team protocol vary based on community needs, MDT members can include the following:
- Child advocates and child forensic interviewers
- Law enforcement officials
- Child protective services representatives
- Victim and family advocates
- Medical and mental health professionals
- School administrators and counselors
Used by nearly 800 child advocacy organizations affiliated with the National Children’s Alliance (NCA), the MDT method has proven to have tremendous positive outcomes in a variety of ways. As NCA emphasizes in its report Healing, Justice and Trust, MDTs improve the level of justice and protection for children and families involved in child maltreatment cases. “By coordinating the investigation and combining the available evidence on the child’s case, the MDT helps build a complete picture of the abuse. This helps prosecutors build stronger cases against abusers, helps courts to determine just outcomes to protect all children from the abuser, and helps child protective services (CPS) determine the best interests of the child.”
Through child advocacy centers and the MDT model, children who are involved in allegations of abuse are interviewed by trained child forensic interviewers. MDT members observe the interviews via closed circuit television in a separate room. These members can discuss the case among themselves and privately ask questions of the interviewers to gather additional details or facts from the child. This collaboration enhances the investigative process and encourages communication and information sharing among team members, reducing the need for multiple child interviews and facilitating the referral of necessary services for child victims and their families.
Also integral to the MDT process is case review. This allows those involved in child abuse investigations to meet periodically for updates on the status of various cases and to discuss ways in which additional action can be taken to further investigate or prosecute alleged perpetrators or provide additional trauma and support services to child victims and families.
This MDT collaboration and information sharing has a direct impact on caregivers’ perceptions of the process, and it also aids in the journey of healing for both child victims and families. During a presentation at the October 2016 Children’s Justice Act Conference in Indianapolis, Teresa Huizar, NCA executive director, shared that she overhead a young boy walking out of his forensic interview tell the interviewer to whom he had disclosed his abuse, “I feel safer already.” That is precisely the outcome MDTs desire for all children involved in these cases.
Though it would be ideal if they did, not all communities in the United States have ready access to child advocacy centers or utilize the MDT model in child abuse investigations. If your agency or community is interested in learning more about structuring an MDT, contact the National Children’s Alliance.
National Children’s Alliance: http://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/
National Children’s Alliance, Healing, Justice and Trust: A National Report on Outcomes for Children’s Advocacy Centers: http://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/sites/default/files/downloads/OMS-National-Report-2015.pdf
Children’s Justice Act Conference: http://www.cja-indiana.org/
BeAKidsHero™ is an initiative to educate parents, teachers and other caring adults around the globe about protecting the children in their lives from abuse and neglect. Founded by Child Advocate and Child Forensic Interviewer Ginger Kadlec, www.beakidshero.com spotlights child protection best practices and tips, as well as features a host of resources and information about issues related to child abuse awareness, prevention and intervention ranging from child sexual abuse facts and prevention to cyberbullying, sextortion and Internet safety. Parents are invited to participate in a free three-part video training series about protecting kids of all ages from sexual abuse. To enroll, visit www.sexualabusepreventionsystem.com.
The BeAKidsHero™ column on CW NEWS is released biweekly on Tuesdays.