When psychologist Earl B.H. Sutherland Jr., Ph.D, decided he didn’t like the way forensic interviews in child abuse cases on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations were being conducted, he didn’t complain. He took action.
Forensic investigators would interview children as a way of gathering evidence for prosecuting perpetrators. But once they were finished, that was often that: The children wouldn’t necessarily get treatment, explains Sutherland, behavioral health director at the Crow/Northern Cheyenne Indian Health Service Hospital in Montana.
“I felt we were opening children up through the forensic process — for a very good reason — but then we were walking away,” he says.
When Sutherland realized that he needed the same information to treat children as the forensic investigators needed to prosecute abusers, he came up with an alternative model. After getting an OK from the assistant U.S. attorney and FBI in the area, he sought training and certification in forensic interviewing. In 2007, he established the Child and Adolescent Referral and Evaluation Center at the hospital.
When an abused child comes to the center, Sutherland interviews him or her in a way that satisfies the need to gather evidence and the need to diagnose the child and come up with an effective treatment plan. Law enforcement and child protective services representatives observe the interviews in real time through closed-circuit TV, and Sutherland also records the interview for the forensic team.
The model does more than just ensure that children get the treatment they need, says Sutherland, adding that pediatrician Caitlin Hall, MD, performs a full medical evaluation at the same time. It also means children don’t have to tell traumatic stories more than once. “And,” says Sutherland, “if a child has an acute anxiety attack in the process of describing what happened, I can intervene directly.”
It’s often not just the child who needs treatment, he adds. “We often find out that the mother or even the grandmother was herself a victim of sexual abuse and no one ever did anything about it,” he says. “We can take the time to work with them and do crisis intervention at the same appointment with the child.” Sometimes entire families get involved,” he says.
Those on the forensic side are happy, too, says Sutherland. In fact, the Indian Country units of the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys Office have identified the model as a best practice. In 2010, the FBI’s Salt Lake City Field Office gave Sutherland a Director’s Community Leadership Award for what FBI Special Agent in Charge James S. McTighe called “his life-changing contributions to Native American children traumatized by sexual abuse and violence.”
Source: American Psychological Association
Author: Rebecca A. Clay