To reduce the stress and trauma experienced by children who are victims of sexual abuse and violent crimes, Child Protective Services (CPS), law enforcement, and the District Attorney’s Office team up at the Sacramento County Special Assault Forensic Evaluation (SAFE) Center.
The Center provides a safe and comfortable place for a child to be interviewed by a specially trained social worker. The interviews are recorded and shared with law enforcement and prosecutors. If charges are filed and the case moves forward to trial, the SAFE Center interview is turned over to defense counsel in discovery. The goal of the SAFE Center is to conduct a thorough forensic interview so that the child only has to be interviewed once, instead of being questioned by several different agencies. This prevents a recurrence of trauma to the child.
“We value our partnership with law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office immensely,” said Child Protective Services Deputy Director, Michelle Callejas. “All three parties are present during interviews (although not all are seen by the child) to ensure all questions are covered during the interview, and that the child’s interview experience is the least obtrusive as possible.”
To reduce the child’s stress, only the social worker is present in the room with the child during the interview. The social worker has special training and experience talking with children about difficult subjects interviewing techniques. For example, in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation, the interviewer cannot ask questions that prompt or encourage a desired answer. The social worker also has to establish whether the child understands the difference between a truth and a lie.
Interviews are conducted in a room with a one-way mirror where law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office and CPS staff can observe the interview. During each interview, a break is scheduled so the social worker, law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office can discuss the progress of the interview and what (should still) be covered. This is to ensure all the questions that are needed for the investigation are covered.
“This partnership benefits the entire community by helping to preserve the integrity of child abuse cases,” said Anne Marie Shubert, Supervising Deputy District Attorney, Special Assault and Child Abuse Unit. “When we have a well-investigated case, which the SAFE Center helps produce, we are better able to prosecute offenders.”
Though these interviews are just the beginning of an investigation, they are core to new leads and gathering evidence in a case. The SAFE Center interviews are an efficient way to investigate child abuse cases without redundancy. Although children may still have to testify in court (because the interviews cannot be used in lieu of testimony), it greatly reduces the trauma of having to repeatedly talk about the abuse they have endured.
Several law enforcement agencies provide funding, including, Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, Sacramento Police Department, Citrus Heights Police Department, Elk Grove Police Department, Folsom Police Department, as well as CPS.