What is Stepping Stones:
Each year, many children have their lives altered by the devastating effects of child abuse. Stepping Stones, a Family & Children’s Center program, is a safe and comfortable place where children are interviewed about possible abuse and neglect. The experienced staff will work to put the children at ease and make them feel comfortable, all while significantly reducing the trauma and stress experienced by the children and their families during the investigative phase.
For more information on Child Advocacy Centers, view the short video click on the below link:
Stepping Stones’ mission is to serve children who are reported to be victims of maltreatment. As part of a regional, multidisciplinary collaborative team that investigated these reports, Stepping Stones will strive to preserve the dignity and spirit of the child by assisting, supporting and educating families and the community.
What happens at Stepping Stones?
Families and children are referred to Stepping Stones by either law enforcement or child protective services due to allegations of child abuse or neglect. The children and caregiver(s) will be greeted by Stepping Stones staff and guide them into the family room.
Our trained forensic interviewer will greet the child and caregiver before the interview takes place. Then the forensic interviewer will bring the child into the forensic interview room to start the interview.
During the interview, it will be the interviewer and child ONLY. In the room next door will be the additional Multi Disciplinary Team (MDT) members watching the interview at the same time.
(MDT) members sit in an adjacent room to the Interview Room allowing them the opportunity to provide real-time feedback during the interview process.
Hand Print Hallway
After the forensic interview your child will be brought back into the family room and given the opportunity to put their hand print on the boards in the hallway.
During the forensic interview, the caregiver will meet with a family advocate in either the family room or in the conference room.
A forensic interview uses the ChildFirst Protocol to obtain detailed information about a possible event that the child may have experienced or witnessed. This information is gathered at Stepping Stones as part of an investigation in collaboration with law enforcement, child protective services, district attorneys, and medical staff. This reduces the number of times a child will be asked questions and provides sufficient evidence to the investigation. The forensic interviewer is trained on how to talk to children about difficult situations and acts in the best interest of the child. The interview is child-sensitive, non-threatening, and structured to help the child talk about what may have happened to them. The forensic interviewer screens for all types of maltreatment within each interview.
A family advocate is a compassionate specially trained professional, who provides support to families in a way that fits every family’s needs. They are there to help support and answer any questions a caregiver may have. The family advocate helps a caregiver understand more about the process of the forensic interview and assessed needs of the family first hand. The family advocate will provide information about abuse, how it may affect the child and family, how to support a child who has been abused, and how to help yourself and family members. The family advocate works with many different individuals in the community and is able to make referrals for children and family members as well. This individual can be as involved or uninvolved as a non-offending caregiver wants.
Some common tasks a family advocate does with a family:
- Help fill our paperwork
- Assess child’s safety
- Help the caregiver understand the process of the investigation
- Provide referrals to therapist or other community resources
- Provide advocacy during court trials
- Update families on the investigation
- Find resources that apply to the family’s needs
- Help set up needed medical appointments pertaining to the investigation
How Do I prepare my child for a forensic interview?
- Tell your child they will be visiting a safe, comfortable place to speak with a person whose job it is to talk with kids/teenagers
- Give your child permission to talk with the interviewer
- Tell your child it is okay to talk about anything, even if they have never told you before
- Have your child be well rested
- Ask your child questions about the allegations
- Tell your child what to say
- Promise treats or rewards to your child for talking
- Try to answer questions for which you don’t know the answers
What is a Multidisciplinary (MDT) team?
Stepping Stones works in collaboration with other professionals to help, guide, and protect children and their families from abuse. This team includes:
- Law enforcement investigators
- Child protective service/ social workers
- Medical professions
- Mental health professionals
Can I sit in on the interview?
Unfortunately, Stepping Stones policy does not allow for caregivers to sit in during the interview, we assure you that the forensic interviewer is a trained professional, whose primary goal is to ensure a child’s safety.
What if something actually happened and my child doesn’t disclose anything?
Stepping Stones staff will never force a child to talk if they do not want to. Your child is talking to a new person about a significant event which is not an easy process. Our biggest suggestion is to get them into therapy and let them disclose when they feel the time is right.
Why is the interview being recorded?
This limits the number of times a child has to talk about the significant incident that happened to them which can decrease the potential trauma associated with multiple interviews. If the case were to follow up and go to court, this recording limits the amount of information a child needs to tell if they are subpoenaed for court. The video also shows the child’s age at the time of the disclosure. Every interview Stepping Stones performs will be recorded which are preserved in a digital archive. The only individuals who receive a copy of the forensic interview are the investigators, social workers and the district attorney’s office.
Can I get a copy of the Forensic interview?
If you would like a copy of the forensic interview, you need to contact law enforcement. It is up to them if they are willing to share that information during the investigation.
What if my child starts talking to me about the situation before the interview?
- Stay calm and neutral when talking to your child
- Pay close attention to your words and actions. Show interest in what your child says and do not react with shock, horror, or indifference.
- Don’t offer names of possible offenders or possible acts of abuse.
- Listen to the information, but don’t ask for all of the details
- Allow your child to tell in his/her own way and in his/her own time
- Let your child know that you believe what he/she is telling you.
- Tell your child that it is not his/her fault and that he/she is not in trouble.
Additional Resources (click on any of the below links):
If you have any questions or wish to speak to someone at Family and Children’s Center’s Stepping Stones – 608-791-3882