In many custody disputes, allegations of abuse against children are thrown around. Sometimes, people use this simply as a means of mudslinging to gain an upper hand in the court’s eyes against the opposing party. However, other times, even the slightest indication of abuse can reveal a Pandora’s Box, leading to a full blow investigation to ensure a child’s safety. In DuPage County, allegations of abuse against children are taken very seriously, and the County specifically set up an investigative body to handle such allegations.
In 1987, Illinois’ first (and the country’s fifth) Children’s Center was opened in DuPage County. In 2001, it was incorporated into the DuPage County Office of the State’s Attorney. The DuPage Children’s Center is distinct from schools and local police departments, and it aims to uncover and collect evidence regarding abuse of children to find the truth. Once the DuPage Children’s Center has corroborating evidence, it will present a case to the Assistant State’s Attorney for review and possible charges.
The DuPage Children’s Center investigates and presents felony cases to the Assistant State’s Attorney, who will decide if charges will be brought. Because the DuPage Children’s Center knows what is required to prove a case in court, they work to slow down the process so that they can establish the truth in each case before an arrest is made.
The DuPage Children’s Center has a mission to:
- Minimize the trauma experienced by the child victim of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse during the investigation;
- Seek justice, not just convictions, of those responsible for the commission of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse;
- Provide support and facilitate treatment to the child victim and non-offending caregivers throughout the criminal justice process;
- Promote prevention of child victimization through community education.
In 2014, the DuPage Children’s Center took on 425 cases with 461 victims, of which 378 were victims of sexual abuse and 47 were victims of physical abuse. Of these, 108 victims were between 0 and age 6, 123 victims were ages 7 to 12, and 230 victims were age 13 and over.
The DuPage Children’s Center is committed to “victim-sensitive” practices in a child-friendly atmosphere to cut down on the number of interviews a victim must give to a limited number of professionals. The Center also aims to protect victims by keeping a child with family and friends when possible, rather than a place them in a foster home.
The types of cases specifically investigated by the Center include any sexual abuse or assault cases to a child under age 13, cases of sexual abuse or assault to a child under 13 by a family member or person in a position of authority, cases of sexual abuse or assault to a child between 13 and 16 years old by a non-family member where there is an element of force and the alleged perpetrator is more than 5 years older than the victim, and any cases of severe physical abuse or assault to a victim under 18 years old by a family member, caretaker, or authority figure. The Deputy Chief can also accept other cases when it is determined that such a case should be handled in a “child-sensitive manner.” Because little or no evidence of sexual abuse is present in many cases, the Center utilizes the skills and experience of qualified investigators in conjunction with DCFS and law enforcement.
For other cases, such as where a child is a witness to domestic violence or another type of violent crime, the Center can provide forensic victim sensitive interviews and case management services. While the Center does not handle cases where alleged sexual activity occurs between children ages 10 and under, it can provide necessary referrals.
The Center provides several services, including: case management, physical examinations, and sexual abuse investigations. Of the cases investigated by the Center in 2014, the alleged perpetrator was a non-relative of the victim in 48 percent of cases, while the alleged perpetrator was a relative, paramour or babysitter in 52 percent of cases.
The DuPage Children’s Center is uniquely trained at conducting children interviews. The investigators know that the statements of young children do not have a great tendency to purposefully deceive or lie to police so they do not dismiss statements of even very young children. In fact, even though young children are at risk for suggestibility, they often give very useful information.
Interviewers are highly experienced, as they conduct interviews on a daily basis, and so they understand the best practices to get accurate and important information from a child in that setting; they understand child development and the way children hear and see things differently than adults. They work to establish the competency or aptitude of the child. They also focus on the information that will assist in getting a prosecution of a perpetrator. Children’s statements are video recorded in a neutral child-friendly environment by a neutral interviewer, to reduce suggestibility in the child. The interviewers seek to obtain a reliable statement from a child by conducting a one-time interview at each child’s individual developmental level. They interview is not conducted as a counseling session, but is aimed to elicit details about a specific incident or event.
Because this work is so sensitive, it must be handled with extreme care and professionalism. The DuPage Children’s Center uses highly trained and experienced interviewers in their investigation. They also work in conjunction with DCFS, child protective services, and also provide links to mental health providers.
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