Dear Parent or Caregiver
We understand that this is a very difficult time for you. Any hint or suspicion of abuse of your child causes many strong and confusing emotions. The process of determining what happened to your child and how to proceed from there may seem quite overwhelming. It is our job to work together to reduce the number of times your child will have to be interviewed and to ensure that your family receives prompt, necessary support.
- Do the best job possible in finding out what happened.
- Work with the legal system to help the child.
- Help you understand the child protective and legal systems.
- Help make the process as comfortable as possible for you.
- Help the children and family begin to heal.
The following are the basic steps in an investigation of child sexual abuse:
The CAC understands that child abuse is an extremely difficult subject to talk about. Your child is brave for sharing their story and helping other children escape abuse. Any hint or suspicion of abuse of your child causes many strong and confusing emotions. The process of determining what happened to your child and how to proceed from there may seem quite overwhelming. It is our job to work together to reduce the number of times your child will have to be interviewed and to ensure that your family receives swift, necessary support.
- Someone reports suspicions of abuse to authorities, either law enforcement or the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
- Interviews are conducted with the child at the Children’s Advocacy Center.
- Medical exams are conducted, if necessary.
- Law enforcement and DCFS will continue the investigation, which will include an interview with the alleged offender, if possible.
- A team of professionals will meet to discuss the case and decide how to manage it. The team consists of State’s Attorneys (prosecutors), law enforcement officers, DCFS investigators, social workers, medical practitioners, and mental health professionals.
- The case may be referred to Criminal Court or Juvenile Court, or some other plan may be made for managing the case.
Facts About The Investigation:
The investigation of the abuse will take place by a team of professionals, which typically includes a State’s Attorney, DCFS investigator, police detective, and Advocacy Center staff. The team approach to these cases keeps the process as simple as possible. At times, you may be asked to wait while your child is being interviewed. Being left out of some of the proceedings can make you feel uncomfortable and worried. Our Protocol requires that parents not be present during the interview because it is felt that more accurate information will be obtained if you are not there. In your presence, your child may be unwilling to tell important details because she wants to spare you from hearing them. Sometimes parents cannot control their emotions because of what they hear, or they may place pressure on the child to tell in a way that can complicate the legal process.
The interviewer will take time to make sure your child is comfortable with them and will make sure your child knows you are available if they need you. Your child will know where you are while they are being interviewed. The legal process moves at its own pace, which is different from your child’s need to heal. Emotional wounds may be reopened by the various proceedings, which can take place over several months. The court date may be delayed over and over again. You have no control over this, so try to be patient. Remember that people are working to gain the best outcome for you and your child. The legal system was not designed with the needs of the victim in mind. The system is designed primarily to protect the rights of the accused, not the victim. The rights of the victim are far less defined than the rights of the accused. However, efforts are being made to improve the legal system’s response to child abuse cases.
- Professionals in these cases are specially trained on a variety of topics regarding child abuse.
- The number of times the child has to tell about the abuse is being reduced.
- Community agencies involved in these cases are making efforts to coordinate their services.
- Legislation is being sponsored to change the law and provide more protection for child victims, both in and out of the courtroom.
Your Team of Professionals
- The State’s Attorney: The State’s Attorney has the final decision as to whether charges will be filed. Consideration is given to many factors that will affect the likelihood of success in court. Some of the factors considered are: age and maturity of the child, the child’s ability to testify, whether or not the suspect has confessed, presence of medical evidence, and whether or not there are other witnesses.
- The Law Enforcement Officer: All major police departments in Champaign and Ford Counties have investigators on the team. They interview children, non-offending parents, suspects and other witnesses, and gather evidence from the scene of the alleged event.
- The DCFS Investigator: The role of the DCFS Investigator is to help protect your child. They investigate all reports of child abuse and neglect, conduct interviews, and develop safety plans.
- The Medical Professional: Your child may be referred to a physician or other medical professional with specialized training in child sexual and physical abuse cases. The medical professional will examine your child, perform certain tests, and complete a report that may be used as evidence in court. If your child has been injured in any way, the medical staff will tell you how to care for them. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions. If you are not sure you understand what you have been told, ask more questions. It may be necessary to schedule a second appointment for follow-up care. Please follow the instructions of your medical professional.
- The Case Manager: The Children’s Advocacy Center’s Case Manager is a trained paraprofessional who helps the parent or other caretaker when abuse is reported. The Case Manager helps the caretaker connect with services in the community and provides support as the caretaker protects the child in the aftermath of the abuse report.
- The Family Advocate: The Children’s Advocacy Center‘s Family Advocate is a trained professional who helps the non-offending parent or other caretaker when abuse is reported. The Family Advocate helps the caregiver with services in the community and provides support as the caretaker cares for the child in the aftermath of the abuse.
- The Crisis Intervention Counselor: The Crisis Intervention Counselor provides short-term counseling designed to address the immediate effects of the crisis in the aftermath of the abuse report and to reduce the severity of the crisis, both for the child and their non-offending family members. The Crisis Intervention Counselor also provides short-term emotional support and works with Family Advocate to ensure that the child and their non-offending family members are linked with all necessary and appropriate services. Crisis intervention counseling services are provided free of charge.
What Happens in Court?
- Using evidence discovered through the investigation and the input received from the team, the State’s Attorney’s Office determines if there is enough evidence to file criminal charges.
- If criminal charges are filed, the person accused of abusing the child may be arrested (or he may receive a summons) and must go to court for an arraignment.
- The arraignment is when the person accused of abusing the child (called the defendant) appears before the judge and pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges. If the defendant pleads guilty, sentencing will be scheduled for a later date (note: defendants almost never plead guilty at arraignment). If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case will continue through the court process. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the judge will appoint an attorney to represent him. Also at this stage, bond is set by a judge. If the defendant cannot post bond, he will remain in custody while the case is pending.
- There are two types of hearings that may occur before trial: a Preliminary Hearing or a Grand Jury Hearing . The Preliminary Hearing will take place before a judge in open court and the judge will review the evidence and testimony and decide if there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to a trial. A Grand Jury Hearing is held in private before a jury. The defendant and defense attorney do not attend. The Grand Jury reviews the evidence and decides if there is enough evidence to hold the defendant over for a possible trial.
- The defendant will have an attorney; this is the defense attorney. This lawyer may want to talk to your child or you before the trial date. It is your choice whether or not you talk to this person. You do not have to talk to the defendant’s attorney.
- If there is a Trial, the defense chooses if they want a Bench Trial or a Jury Trial. A bench trial is held before a judge. A jury trial is held before a judge and 12 jurors. During the trial, you and your child might have to testify. The defendant does not have to testify. It may take several months from the time charges are filed until you go to court for trial. When you do go to court with your child, take along a quiet toy, coloring book, or something to keep your child busy for what might be a long wait.
- Once all the evidence and testimony is presented, there will be a Verdict of guilty or not guilty. If found not guilty, the defendant will be released if he has no other pending charges. If found guilty, the defendant will be sentenced at a later date (Sentencing Hearing). Prior to the Sentencing Hearing, you will be contacted by a Victim Witness Advocate from from the State’s Attorney’s Office and asked to complete a Victim Impact Statement. Please note, either you or your child, or both, may complete a Victim Impact Statement. The judge will read the Victim Impact Statement before he decides what sentence to impose upon the defendant. You and/or your child will also have the opportunity, if you choose, to read your Victim Impact Statement to the Court at the Sentencing Hearing. The State’s Attorney’s Office will help you prepare your Victim Impact Statement.
- The case can also be settled by agreement without a trial. This is called a Plea Bargain. A plea bargain may take place between the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney at any time and is reached when the attorneys agree on a charge and a sentence. If the judge accepts the plea bargain, there will not be a trial. Although a plea bargain insures that the defendant will be convicted, oftentimes it results in a lesser sentence. As a result of a plea bargain, a conviction will appear on the offender’s record and he/she may have to register as a sex offender. Many times, a defendant will plead guilty but there is no agreement between the attorneys about what sentence to recommend. In that event, the case may be continued for a Sentencing Hearing, at which time a judge will decide the sentence to be imposed. If that happens, you will be contacted by the State’s Attorney’s Office and asked to complete a Victim Impact Statement (see above).
Always remember that the well being of your child should be your objective. Don’t lose yourself in the legal system, because it is only one step in the process, and it is not essential to your child’s recovery.
The best advice is to enter the legal system without expectations, because the more you expect from the system, the harder the experience is likely to be. Also, remember to celebrate when it is over. No matter what the outcome, conviction or not, tell your child it is over. You and your child did your best, worked hard, and put in a lot of time and courage. Celebrate a job well done!