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Standard 2 Planning and Conducting a Child Protection Investigation

Overview

This standard outlines the expectations for CASs when planning for and conducting child protection investigations in response to a referral that a child may be in need of protection. In particular, it includes requirements with respect to the following:

Intent

The requirements in the standard are designed to ensure that investigations are thorough and that all reasonable efforts are made to collect information/evidence that is relevant to the investigation. In keeping with the Differential Response model, the standard allows investigations to be customized depending on the severity, chronicity, risk and complexity of the situation. The investigation ensures the safety of the child while being as family-centred and strengths-based as possible to facilitate a satisfactory worker – client relationship. This approach promotes the engagement of the family in order to facilitate an understanding of the child and family’s needs/challenges and strengths beyond just those related to the reported incident or condition. It is intended that information gathering during an investigation is only as intrusive as is required to assess the safety of and protect the child, and is to be proportionate to the severity, chronicity, risk and complexity of the situation.

Standard #2 Planning and Conducting a Child Protection Investigation

Standard

When it has been determined that the most appropriate response to a referral that a child may be in need of protection is an investigation, the investigation plan is developed by the child protection worker who will conduct the investigation, following a thorough review of all current and historical information known about the child and family. The investigation plan is developed prior to the commencement of an investigation.

It is within the supervisor’s discretion whether they will review the worker’s investigation plan based on the level of knowledge and skill of the worker and the risk/complexity of the case. An investigation plan can be presented verbally to a supervisor in consultation6 .

6 Note that a separate written investigation plan is not required.

As part of the investigative plan a decision is made regarding which investigative approach is appropriate:

If the information received by a CAS alleges that a criminal offence has been perpetrated against a child, the child protection worker will immediately inform the police, and will work with the police according to the established protocols for investigation.

Every CAS will have protocols with the society’s local Police Departments related to the investigation of allegations that a criminal act has been perpetrated against a child.

Both investigative approaches utilize a family-centred, strengths-based orientation and require that:

Every CAS will have written policies and procedures related to worker safety when providing child protection service which outlines strategies to minimize risks to workers.

A family-based investigation (traditional or customized) includes the following investigative steps (note: steps 1-5 in family-based investigations are always completed):

  1. face-to-face contact with the child alleged to be the victim and an interview using methods consistent with the child’s developmental stage and ability to communicate;
  2. interviews of other children being cared for in the home, except if the child cannot be interviewed based on their developmental level or ability to communicate, in which case direct observation is required;
  3. interview of the child’s non-abusing caregiver;
  4. direct observation of the child’s living situation. If information is obtained that the child’s living conditions are hazardous and/or that is suggestive of neglect, the entire home is seen and in particular the child’s sleeping area;
  5. interview of the alleged perpetrator of the maltreatment by the CAS and/or the police as appropriate;
  6. direct observation of the interaction between the referred child and his/her parent/caregiver;
  7. interviews with witnesses in person or by phone;
  8. use of the Eligibility Spectrum to assist in determining who else may be at risk if prior interviews indicated that there may be other potential victims of maltreatment such as siblings or children in other families;
  9. interviews of all other adults living in the home;
  10. gathering evidence from other professionals involved with the child and/or family (e.g. medical, law enforcement, legal, educational); and
  11. consideration about the need to seek a warrant/telewarrant for access to records.

An institutional investigation includes the following investigation steps (Note: steps 1-2 in institutional investigations are always completed):

  1. interviews with the alleged victim(s), staff witnesses (current and former), child witnesses, facility administrator, supervisor of the alleged perpetrator and the alleged perpetrator;
  2. examination of the physical layout of the setting;
  3. examination of facility files and logs such as:
    • daily logs on the activities of children,
    • a log on medications administered,
    • a record of restraints and serious occurrences,
    • an individual file on each child;
  4. examination of information about the alleged victim(s), which may include the following:
    • characteristics of the victim(s) including their primary language and problems which might affect their ability to be interviewed (e.g. deafness, speech difficulties),
    • length of stay in setting,
    • prior allegations of abuse in any setting,
    • prior allegations of abuse related to the current incident, perpetrator or setting,
    • prior abuse or exposure to abuse in another setting,
    • child’s relationship to and feelings for the alleged perpetrator, and
    • any other information relevant to the investigation;
  5. examination of facility policy and procedures, staffing level and shift patterns, staff training and qualifications, daily routine, programming; and
  6. examination of records to determine if there have been allegations of abuse in the past connected with the setting.

Community caregiver investigations are to be conducted by child protection workers who have specialized knowledge and skills related to these investigations7 .

7 See Appendix A for further information on Community Caregiver investigations.

The investigative steps taken as part of the investigation plan and the information obtained throughout the investigation are documented in contemporaneous case notes in the case record.

All cases are reviewed with a supervisor at least once during an investigation. Cases with a higher degree of risk or complexity are reviewed more frequently.

Practice Notes
Interviews during the Investigation

All family members should be interviewed privately and individually so that:

Consideration should be given to the ethnic origin, first language, culture or Aboriginal heritage of the child and family and the need for an interpreter. Great care should be taken in choosing an interpreter if one is needed. It is best practice that the interpreter not be connected to the family of the alleged victim or of the alleged offender. In the case of an allegation involving a hearing impaired person, it is important to use a qualified interpreter.

The child victim is interviewed in order to:

Siblings or other children living in the home are interviewed in order to:

All of the non-offending adults in the home are interviewed in order to:

The alleged maltreating parent/caregiver is interviewed in order to:

Forensic Interviewing Techniques

Forensic interviewing techniques are used whenever discussing child protection concerns with the interviewee. These techniques are designed to elicit a valid, unbiased and complete statement in relation to allegations or sources of abuse or neglect. Children are to be interviewed in a developmentally sensitive manner taking into account their developmental level with respect to memory and language.

Forensic interviews:

Additional training resources with respect to forensic interviewing are available through the OACAS. (Also see References section (Lamb and Poole, 1998)).

Obtaining Additional Information and Evidence

Obtaining information and gathering evidence from other professionals involved with the child and/or family is beneficial in establishing the credibility of the referral that a child may be in need of protection and of the other information obtained during investigative interviews. This information may also be helpful to inform assessments of the child/family and case planning/decision making.

The CAS may consider obtaining information with the consent of the subject(s) of the information.

The CAS may also consider how to obtain relevant records in consultation with legal counsel, including whether information may be obtained under the following sections of the CFSA:

Traditional Approach

It is appropriate to use the traditional investigative approach when:

For referrals requiring the traditional approach, the investigative process is more structured and generally follows the following sequence:

  1. face-to-face contact with the child alleged to be the victim and an interview using methods consistent with the child’s developmental level and ability to communicate inside or outside the child’s home and with or without parent/caregiver’s knowledge/consent, depending on the circumstances;
  2. interviews of other children being cared for in the home, except if the child cannot be interviewed based on their developmental level or ability to communicate, in which case the child is directly observed;
  3. interviews with the non-offending parent or caregiver;
  4. interviews with witnesses (typically in person but if this is not possible, by phone);
  5. gathering of information from collateral contacts; and
  6. interviews with the person who is alleged to have harmed the child or subjected the child to a risk of harm.

While the traditional approach is more structured and often determined by CAS/Police protocols, it should be customized as much as possible without impacting on the safety of the child and the integrity of the evidence. Efforts should be made to make the traditional investigation as family-centred as possible.

In cases where a joint investigation will be conducted with the police, and a parent/primary caregiver is the alleged abuser, parents/caregivers are generally not contacted prior to the interviews. Mandated CAS Protocols with local Police Departments may specify the location of interviews.

Customized Approach

The customized approach is used whenever possible in less severe cases, to facilitate client engagement and a worker-client relationship that will result in improved child safety. Research on Differential Response Models indicates that it is a more effective approach for engaging children and families.

The customized approach emphasizes a more flexible and individualized approach when entering the family system. The protection of the child is ensured through an ongoing assessment of safety and risk, and is customized throughout the life of a case. The customized investigation plan involves decisions regarding the following components:

The Sequence of Interviews during an Investigation

It is important to work collaboratively with the family wherever possible and is preferable to obtain the parents’ agreement, or to provide them with notice, that the CAS will interview the child if the safety of the child is not compromised as a result. The primary focus is always the safety and protection of the child. When determining the sequence of investigative interviews, it is important to consider the following:

Scheduled vs. Unannounced Visits

The decision regarding scheduled/unannounced interviews during an investigation will be based on a consideration of the following:

Scheduled visits are recommended in the customized approach unless it is assessed that this is not the best way to secure a child’s immediate safety. Scheduled visits may be experienced by the family as being more respectful and may maximize the potential to engage parent/caregiver in a discussion regarding the alleged concerns and possible solutions.

Unannounced visits may be necessary when:

Determining the Location of Interviews

Initial face-to-face contact with the child’s parent/caregiver can occur inside or outside the child’s home depending on the circumstances. The choice of interview location will be based on a consideration of the following:

Interviews with other witnesses may take place in person or by phone (if practical and appropriate based on the situation).

Determining the Safety of the Child Protection Worker

While difficulties may occur at any point in the provision of protection services, threats and volatile situations are more likely to occur during the investigation and during crisis situations. The first step in ensuring a child protection worker’s safety is to assess the risk level of the situation before the initial face-to-face contact, which occurs on the basis of information gathered by the referral screener. The second step involves planning to minimize risks to worker safety while delivering child protection services in accordance with individual CAS policies on worker safety.

Changing the Approach Decision

The child protection worker continues to assess throughout the investigation whether the investigative approach initially chosen continues to be the most appropriate one.

The approach should be either adjusted or entirely changed when it is no longer appropriate. Criteria outlined in Standard #2 are used to make this determination. The ability of the child protection worker to continually shift between the two approaches is critical. The child protection worker needs to be equally comfortable with both the supportive and the authoritative role inherent in child protection practice.

If a “customized” approach is initially planned, but in the course of the investigation it is disclosed that a criminal offence has been perpetrated against a child, the worker will immediately inform the police and the approach changes to a traditional one. Similarly, if a “customized” approach is initially planned but attempts to intervene are proving unsuccessful and the worker is unable to engage the family in a level of cooperation that would allow the worker to determine what if any protection concerns exist, then the investigation moves toward a more traditional approach.

If the “traditional” approach is initially chosen and during the investigation with the police it is concluded that no criminal offence has been perpetrated against a child and the family is cooperative, the approach should be altered to a “customized” approach as soon as possible. In general, once the worker has successfully obtained sufficient evidence and information to be able to ascertain the child’s safety, the intervention should move toward a “customized” approach in order to engage the family in collaboratively developing solutions and moving toward positive change.

Safeguards for the Child during the Investigation

Throughout the investigation, the worker considers all appropriate means to ensure the child’s safety including:

Investigations Involving More Than One CAS

Sometimes an investigation may involve more than one CAS. In these situations, the CASs jointly determine who will lead the investigation and develop the investigation plan. Decisions are also made regarding which CAS will be responsible for completing which investigative steps outlined in Standard #2.

The following is an example of how the investigative steps might be shared between two CASs: In a case where the child victim(s) are currently located in the jurisdiction of CAS “A,” and where CAS “B” is leading the investigation, it may be more practical for CAS “A” to conduct interviews with the child victim(s) if requested by CAS “B.” Similarly, if the non-abusing caregiver is currently located in the jurisdiction of CAS “A,” it may be more practical for CAS “A” to conduct these interviews. If the perpetrator is currently located in the jurisdiction of CAS “B” it may be appropriate for CAS “B” to interview the alleged perpetrator, and to notify and work with the local police (e.g. if it is alleged that a criminal offence has been perpetrated against a child).

Domestic Violence Case Considerations

Conducting investigations in situations where domestic violence may be a concern may require additional attention to safety planning with the adult and child victims of violence. Additional practice guidance on this issue may be found in training resources available through OACAS (see References section).

Investigations in situations of domestic violence should also be consistent with local CAS/Violence Against Women Collaboration Agreements.