It’s 0600 hours and a LEO is dispatched to a sexual assault of a four year old child. As the officer arrives on scene to begin the initial investigation, the officer’s training and experience takes over and proper procedures are followed. The child is interviewed, witnesses are interviewed, and crime scene evidence is properly collected.  What happens next? What procedures and protocols are in place to ensure this child who has just been traumatized by a sexual assault is not re-victimized by the criminal justice system? The criminal justice system, whose members have sworn by oath to protect and serve this child has a duty “to get this right.” Utilizing a multi-disciplinary team approach to the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse can help fulfill this obligation.

In my jurisdiction, the multi-disciplinary team approach is used to investigate all aspects of child abuse. This approach combines several pieces of a large puzzle that come together for one very specific reason and that is, for the child victim. This approach offers the best chance for the child to begin not only the legal process, but the healing process.

Our multi disciplinary team consists of the law enforcement officer or detective, the child protective investigator (social worker), the Child Protection Team (sexual assault, medical exams and counseling services), the Children’s Advocacy Center (forensic interviews, depositions) and our state prosecutors. Each of these independent agencies are responsible for some aspect of the investigation, however when they are placed together on one team, their function is as one unit, not unlike any other “team” approach.

Using our scenario above, the team approach would begin as soon as the LEO had completed the initial victim interview. Law enforcement (the initial officer or assigned follow up detective) have become the first member of this “team”. In our jurisdiction any victim of a sexual assault having occurred less than 120 hours from the time of the initial investigation is subject to an immediate sexual assault exam.

In this instance because the child victim is four years of age this child would be taken to the Child Protection Team for an immediate sexual assault exam. If the assault occurred outside the 120 hour time frame it is a decision made by the investigating officer or the detective and the Child Protection Team to schedule that child for a delayed sexual abuse exam. In either scenario the child is assigned a case coordinator from the Child Protection Team who is now the second member to join this “team.”

Perhaps this child victim is too young to effectively communicate in great detail what happened during the assault. The responding LEO was able to ascertain the “who” and “what” happened, but unable to ascertain any other details. It becomes the responsibility of the latent investigator or detective who is assigned to follow up the investigation to schedule the child for a forensic interview.

In my jurisdiction these interviews take place at the Children’s Advocacy Center. Once an interview is scheduled the child is assigned an interviewer and a case coordinator from the Advocacy Center, the third member of our “team” has now joined. During the interview the state prosecutor is invited to watch from the interview viewing room, where the prosecutor can evaluate the child as a witness and ask any questions of the interviewer that may be necessary to ensure a successful prosecution. Our prosecutor is now the fourth member of the “team.”

In our jurisdiction a state agency is assigned to the protection and welfare of Children and Families. In some jurisdictions, including ours, these child protective investigators are assigned to the county sheriff’s office. Any time the child victim is in need of services due to the act or neglect of a caretaker the state agency is notified and a local child protective investigator is assigned. In our scenario a child protective investigator would be assigned and would respond to the initial scene with the first responding LEO, only if the suspect in this case was a caretaker. If the suspect was not in a caretaker role an investigator would not respond. This child protective investigator is the fifth member of the “team.”

In order for this multi disciplinary approach to be effective and work in the best interest of the child, all members of the “team” must COMMUNICATE with one another. The detective assigned the follow up investigation would in effect be the “team leader.” The detective can request a “staffing” where all members of the team meet to discuss the case and learn what each member needs in order to fulfill their obligations and responsibilities, all the while keeping in focus the needs of the child and ultimately to complete a thorough investigation and obtain a successful prosecution. This communication must be open to all ideas and must be freely exchanged.

In my jurisdiction one central location, a two-story building is used to ensure that all members of the team can meet and discuss the case. This central location is a child friendly building that houses the Child protection Team, The Children’s Advocacy Center, offices for our prosecutors and public defenders as well as offices for local law enforcement.

The mental health counseling offices are located on the first floor so the child can begin the process of healing. This concept has been a long work in progress for my jurisdiction. This idea of a “one stop shopping” is completely designed around the needs of the victim. The team concept was taken to the next level with this particular building, which is child friendly and completely designed around our team concept.

How do the pieces of the puzzle come together in this team approach?   Each team member has an individual responsibility. The detective assigned the case has the ultimate goal of completing a thorough investigation, which ultimately may lead to the suspect being charged or arrested for the crime. The detective is responsible for providing the prosecutor with the necessary information and evidence to ensure a successful prosecution. The prosecutor and the detective must communicate and the prosecutor should address any needs in the case and make them known to the detective. The detective must utilize the resources of the Child Protection Team for any and all medical evaluations or medial opinions.

There must be open communication from the detective to the case coordinator of the Child Protection Team and vice versa. If the Children’s Advocacy Center needs to be used for forensic interviews the case coordinator can communicate with the Child Protection Team and the Child Protective Investigator, to coordinate the scheduled appointments and coordinate follow up counseling for the victim. Notifying all team members of the pending interview can eliminate multiple interviews of the child victim and give members an opportunity to meet and discuss the case. Coordinating these aspects of the investigation with the Child Protective Investigator is crucial as it is ultimately their responsibility to ensure the safety and well being of the child. The Child Protective Investigator also communicates with the other case coordinators for any follow up services that may be necessary for the victim.

The multi-disciplinary team approach is effective in the investigation and prosecution of all aspects of child abuse when properly implemented. Communication is the key that unlocks this door and once this door is opened, the team concept requires all members to check their ego at the door. For the team approach to be successful the focus of the team and the investigation should be done in a manner that puts the needs of the child victim first. While each team member does have his or her own responsibilities to fulfill, they ultimately are responsible to their oath they took to protect and serve the children of their communities.

Lee Raschke has served as an LEO since 1993, working in Patrol Division, Field Training Program, School Resource Section, and CID.   Since 2001, he has served as a Master Detective assigned to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Criminal Investigations Division, Crimes Against Children Unit.  Raschke is responsible for latent investigations involving physical and sexual child abuse, child exploitation, and child death.  He is a founding and current member of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Child Abduction Response Team.  Raschke is a certified instructor for CJSTC and instructs general topics in the Law Enforcement Academy at Hillsborough Community College Tampa, FL. He is also an instructor at The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and instructs “in-service” classes, introductory criminal investigation and advanced criminal investigation classes.  Rascke is certified in Police Bike Patrol and a member of the RNC Bike Response Team.   He was graduated magna cum laude from St. Leo University with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice.