Kids Caught in the Middle, Part 2
Published November 15th, 2013
GAINESVILLE -- When a child is suspected of being abused, one of the most important steps in the investigation is the forensic interview.
Here in Alachua County, the two agencies that provide the interviews are in the middle of a disagreement, forcing those that rely on their services to take a side.
TV20's Trent Kelly shows us how the rift is affecting kids in Alachua County.
As the state attorney, Bill Cervone has many needs when it comes to proving alleged cases of child abuse. With more than 4,000 cases reported in Alachua County every year, it's Cervone's job to determine which ones go to trial -- a decision partially based on the strength of the forensic interviews conducted with the children.
To reduce the potential trauma on kids, Cervone says his office relies on recorded interviews conducted by community agencies. "As a community, we decided that it would be more beneficial to the kids, to have a single interview that everyone could use," says Cervone.
For years, most interviews in Alachua County were done by officials at the Child Advocacy Center, who utilize an earpiece to involve live input from the team while the interviews are taking place. "The CAC process, which allows us to participate more directly by being in direct communication through an earplug during the interviewer and suggest things that need to be followed up on -- that facilitates us being more involved," said Cervone.
But in the wake of a recent directive by the sheriff, a majority of the interviews are now being done by staff at the UF Child Protection Team, which Cervone says does not utilize an earpiece, and can lead to his attorneys playing more of a passive role in the interview.
Cervone says in those cases, the child is normally re-interviewed by a prosecutor, a process that reverts back to the old system. "We hope not to do that, because again, it's getting back to the old-fashioned way of subjecting a child to repeated interviews," said Cervone.
In a letter sent out to each member of the multi-disciplinary team in September, Cervone says that for years, CAC interviews have "best met the needs of his office" while protocols at the CPT ensure some of their interviews do not, causing him to no longer rely on the CPT's forensic interviews.
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell calls Cervone's stance "disingenuous" as some cases from the CAC may be subjected to re-interviews as well. "There may be instances where the child would need to be re-interviewed, but I don't think you can attach that to just the Child Protection Team," said Darnell.
Darnell says there have been cases where the use of an earpiece during forensic interviews has been legally challenged. "The Child Protection Team has made the very prudent decision to not use the earpiece method to avoid that possible legal challenge," said Darnell.
Cervone disagrees with Darnell's earpiece assessment, and says people can challenge anything in court, including the use of an earpiece.
The CAC says the growing rift is causing the system in Alachua County to move backwards, and as a result, hurt the children.
Cervone says he has made CPT aware he wants an earpiece in the interview room, but so far they have not taken any action.
Members of the CPT declined an interview with TV20, but did send a statement saying they are committed to working with the rest of the team to ensure children are best served.
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