A forensic interview is an interview conducted by a trained professional with a child or adolescent that has alleged abuse, sexual assault, witnessed a violent crime, or where abuse is suspected. Developmentally disabled adults or adults who have experienced extreme trauma may also receive this form of interview. The purpose of a forensic interview is to gather a child’s statement about the allegation in a neutral, non-leading, non-suggestive manner while also considering the child’s emotional needs, developmental level, and safety. A forensic interview allows for the investigative agencies (law enforcement, child protective services, District Attorney’s Office) to assess for safety issues, service needs, and possible criminal acts. All forensic interviews conducted at The Treehouse are audio and video recorded and can be used as evidence in court cases, or for medical and mental health treatment purposes.
In some cases, an expanded forensic interview may be needed. The expanded forensic interview was developed in order for a trained professional to gather further information or clarification after an initial forensic interview. Children may be referred for this type of interview by law enforcement, child protective services, or the District Attorney’s Office after an initial forensic interview has been completed. An expanded forensic interview is similar to a forensic interview, but can allow for multiple sessions. There can be many circumstances in which a child, adolescent, or developmentally disabled adult may need an expanded session. Some circumstances include, but are not limited to anxiety, fear, limited verbal or cognitive skills, or if there is an increased amount of information to discuss. All expanded forensic interviews conducted at The Treehouse are audio and video recorded.
Forensic Medical Exams
A forensic medical exam is sometimes referred to as a sexual assault exam. These examinations are conducted by medical professionals trained in evidence collection, documentation, and preservation. The forensic medical examiner, or SANE Nurse, assesses for injury and other physical evidence through a thorough exam. Any sign of injury is photographed, documented, and the patient may be referred for treatment. Any other forms of physical evidence are photographed, documented, collected, and released to law enforcement. Testing for sexually transmitted diseases is also provided. Forensic Medical Exams are conducted at The Treehouse in a private, comfortable setting suitable for children and adults. If a patient has other significant medical issues or concerns, an exam may be performed at an alternate medical facility.
Advocacy is an important part of the investigative, referral, and healing process. Our client advocates are committed to helping each family step-by-step during these processes. When a child and family arrives at the center, a client advocate is there to greet them and explain the visit. Assistance with questions regarding the legal system, mental health services, and other resources is provided by the client advocate. Families receive ongoing support even after their visit to the center.
While referrals can be made for a variety of services, mental health referrals are the most common. One of the best ways to begin the healing process is through therapy. Our community has many local providers who specialize in a variety of therapy approaches including trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). Because the trauma of abuse affects the whole family, our advocates can also provide counseling referrals for non-offending caregivers and siblings. Advocacy includes working with each family to determine the best treatment options through assessment and collaboration with the multi-disciplinary team.
The Treehouse coordinates a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) approach in response to allegations of child abuse. Our staff facilitates a comprehensive, coordinated approach that not only results in a more successful investigation and prosecution outcome, but also provides a better, less traumatic response for child victims and their families. The MDT is coordinated by The Treehouse and consists of forensic interviewers, forensic medical examiners (SANE Nurses), advocates, law enforcement, child protection workers, prosecutors, mental health providers, school social workers, behavioral health workers, juvenile justice officers, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and community supervision officers. These professionals communicate and work together to reduce additional trauma on the child and family.
Part of our staff’s role in serving children is to provide court testimony, when needed. The extensive and specialized training completed by our forensic interviewers and forensic medical team qualifies them to testify as experts in court proceedings. This testimony does not take the place of a child having to testify, but it can relieve the burden when adult questions are asked about protocols, procedures, and general information in the field of child abuse.