OKC Daycare Investigated Amid Allegations of Sexual Abuse

An Oklahoma City couple has refused a DHS request to voluntarily close its doors as police investigate claims that at least four children have been molested at the site. According to a police report released earlier this week, a DHS caseworker notified police of allegations of sexual abuse at the facility after the foster parents of two children who attended the day care informed her that the children had been touched inappropriately by a male owner of the facility. After interviewing the two alleged victims, the caseworker then interviewed other children in the facility, which is owned by a married couple. At least two other children said that the husband had inappropriate physical contact with them, including tickling, spanking, biting, and kissing. Because no arrests have been made, the names of the couple who own the daycare, which approximately ten children attend, have not been released. Conducting interviews with children about suspected abuse must be handled very carefully. Much research has been done on the suggestibility of children and the difficulty very young children have in distinguishing reality from fiction. The suggestibility of children varies from child to child and even varies within the details of a single child's interview. According to a doctoral thesis published by the National Institute of Justice/ National Criminal Justice Reference Service, the combined knowledge of police investigators and children's mental health experts should be carefully wielded to garner the most truthful results from an investigation. Unfortunately, the paper demonstrates that not all investigators have an appropriate understanding of child suggestibility issues. Researcher Karyl McBride writes, "There is a generalized myth that children are always highly suggestible. This issue was addressed in the training, but the officers did not appear to understand the difference in children's suggestibility with key aspects of events vs. peripheral details of events." The paper continues that children are generally less susceptible to being influenced in their recollection of key aspects of an event, but more easily suggestible in peripheral details. For example, if a child may clearly remember that he or she was tickled by an adult. However, his or her account of where, when, how, and why the tickling occurred may be more susceptible to influence. This can be a critical distinction in determining whether "tickling" was a form of ordinary play or a cover for sexual molestation. The research also determined that officers being trained to interview young children about sexual abuse had a theoretical understanding of important factors inherent in child interviews, but they did not fully understand how to implement that knowledge: "Investigators are clear what leading questions are and that they are not to use them; but in actual practice, it is difficult not to use them with children. Experience and training in how to ask a question another way if the first question is not answered would be helpful. It is true that sometimes leading questions have to be utilized with very young children. It is important to know how and when to do this and how to follow a leading question with questions that check credibility and suggestibility. This part of the training was not done in the research project because of an assumption on the part of the researcher/trainer that the officers would know this information and would be insulted by the information. Given the number of leading questions used in the mock interviews, the researcher now understands the importance of this part of the training and more focus will be applied in future training. Rapport building with children needs more focus and understanding. Fact vs. fantasy is another area that was taught, but not well understood by the trainees." Protecting children from physical and sexual abuse is vital, and prosecuting the abusers who prey on children and victimize them is essential to that protection. However, investigations must be skillfully conducted to ensure that innocent people are not prosecuted and criminals reap the consequences of their actions.

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