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Sanford Health Dakota Children's Advocacy Center:

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The forensic interview

The forensic interview process is unique because specially trained forensic interviewers work with the multidisciplinary team to ensure children only have to tell their story one time. The forensic interview is conducted in a child-friendly, legally sound and neutral setting. The goal of the forensic interview is to gather as many facts as possible about the allegation of abuse in an unbiased, non-threatening, non-leading and developmentally appropriate manner that causes no further trauma to the child or adolescent victim.

Making a referral

Referrals must be made by a law enforcement or social services agency by calling the Sanford Health Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center (DCAC) at 323.5626 or 800.932.8758. Both law enforcement and social services representatives must be present during the interview process. If local law enforcement is unable to attend the interview, they can request assistance from BCI to attend the interview. Child Protection Services is required to participate in the process, even in non-caretaker situations. Their expertise in assessing family safety and their ability to answer questions for non-offending caregivers is critical to the investigation. Appointments will be made for the earliest opening for an interview, medical evaluation or both. Please be prepared to provide demographic information of the child, caregivers and alleged offender as well as insurance information and the child’s Social Security number. Reimbursement for services is accessed through third-party payers, grants and crime victim’s compensation funds. Families are never billed for services. Alleged offenders are not allowed at the DCAC and cannot participate in the forensic interview.

Where will the interview occur?

Interviews are conducted at the DCAC, located at 200 E. Main Suite 301, Bismarck, N.D. The child is interviewed in a child-friendly room with one professional.

How are interviews conducted?

The forensic interviewer will talk with the child while the remaining team members observe the interview via closed-circuit television. Team members contribute to the interview process by talking to the interviewer through an earpiece and directing the interviewer to ask certain questions. All interviews are recorded. Recording helps eliminate the need for additional interviews. All recordings of interviews will be in the possession of the Law Enforcement. The DCAC does not keep recordings of interviews on site. Only investigative professionals are allowed to observe the interview; interviews usually last 30 minutes to one hour.

What do I tell my child?

It is OK to tell your child why they are coming to the center. You might say, “We are going to a safe place where kids go to talk. The person you will be seeing talks to lots of kids about all kinds of things and it is OK for you to talk with them. It is important that you tell the truth, you are not in any kind of trouble.” It is better if you do not question your child prior to the interview. If your child wants to talk about what happened, listen and be supportive. Assure your child that you will be nearby during the interview.

Who will my child talk to?

Your child will talk to a forensic interviewer. The interviewer is specially trained in talking with children about difficult subjects. Questions are asked in a non-threatening and non-leading manner. The interviewer moves at a pace that is comfortable with your child and never forces a child to talk to them.

What a caregiver should know before the interview

The child’s parent and/or caregiver should be prepared to spend between one and a half to two hours at the DCAC. Additional time may be required depending on the number of children interviewed or additional services have been scheduled, such as a medical evaluation. Prior to the interview, a staff member will show you the interview room and team members will meet with the child and family to answer any questions you may about the process. Any pertinent information regarding the child’s feelings, emotional/ mental development, language skills or special needs (including medication) can be shared with the interviewer at this time.

Can I watch the interview?

No, only those who are directly involved in the investigation are allowed to observe the interview. This is done to reduce the possible stress that can be placed on a child and to provide a neutral setting for the child and the investigation. During the child’s interview the parent or caregiver will have an opportunity to meet with a family advocate. The advocate focuses on the needs of the child and family. They can offer support, a listening ear, make referrals and help answer questions.

What happens after the interview?

Team members will meet with the parent or caregiver after the interview to discuss what will happen next and ensure the child’s safety and well-being. The DCAC provides ongoing advocacy and counseling services for children and their families. Staff and team members also review cases on a regular basis to ensure effective communication, share information and provide the best possible outcome for the child and family.

Assisted animal therapy

The DCAC has a registered therapy dog onsite. When available, Maggie greets families, spends time with children in the waiting room, sits in on forensic interviews, and joins in on individual therapy sessions. Maggie can also provide a welcome distraction while children undergo physical or sexual assault examinations. Staff will meet with the parent/caregiver to get consent prior to the children partaking in an interview with her.

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