Some Investigations of Child Abuse Fail

Posted by Patricia on Jun 14th 2018

Example of a Child Abuse Investigation (Child’s name is changed to protect her identity.)

Four-year-old Sarah was taken by her mother to the emergency room of a children’s hospital with burns on her head, shoulder and face. Her mother stated that Sarah sprayed herself with bathroom cleaner four days earlier. The burns were painful and blistered. Mother was accompanied by her boyfriend.
Hospital personnel had concerns regarding the history provided by Sarah’s mother and that she had waited four days to get treatment for extremely painful injuries. They expressed doubt that the burns could have occurred in the manner and time-frame described and filed a report with child protective services. Sarah was admitted to the hospital for treatment. Sarah’s burns required multiple treatments including skin replacement.

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Children Should Be Loved

Why Do Some Investigations of Child Abuse Fail?

Child protective services, hereinafter referred to as, CPS, contacted the Child Advocacy Center, hereinafter referred to as CAC, regarding the report. The CPS caseworker stated that a forensic interview would be needed at the CAC as soon as possible. The CPS worker indicated the child had stated at the hospital that she did this to herself.

CAC Team at Work

While Sarah was still hospitalized, CAC staff convened a meeting of CPS, law enforcement, an assistant district attorney, CAC advocates, and CAC medical personnel to review the case and plan continued aspects of investigations and responses. CAC medical personnel reviewed the hospital records and discussed them with the team. Areas of inquiry included whether it was possible that the injuries could be self-inflicted, the time-frame that the injury may have occurred
and who was the child’s caregiver at the time of the injury. After consultation with medical personnel, it was difficult to determine a specific timeline. Both the child’s mother and boyfriend denied that they had anything to do with Sarah’s burns during the investigations.

Sarah’s Foster Care Placement

Child protective services indicated that they would conduct an emergency removal when the child was ready to be discharged from the hospital. CAC medical staff and CPS coordinated with hospital personnel to assure that Sarah was not discharged to her mother prior to arrangement of the alternative placement. Sarah was placed in foster care.

Forensic Interview

The CAC’s forensic interviewer conducted a forensic interview of Sarah at the CAC. She did not disclose details about the burn. CAC staff continue to provide follow-up contact with the child’s guardian and coordination with the team. Sarah’s guardian indicates that Sarah is acting out at school. She is aggressive with other children and disruptive. She is also excessively clingy with adults. Sarah was enrolled in trauma therapy at the CAC and continues to attend.

Who Inflicted Sarah’s Burns?

The CPS report has been indicated. To date, no charges have been filed by law enforcement due to the inability to determine if mother or her boyfriend inflicted Sarah’s burns.

Thank you for reading this. We hope you gain insight how steps can be taken to better protect children from abuse.

Hope for Children Foundation

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