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Interviews With Abused Children May Soon Be Videotaped

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Although state Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) are supporting pending House Bill 3480, the proposal to amend Illinois’ Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act has upset some opponents.

The bill was scheduled for a hearing Wednesday, March 16 before the Human Services Committee – Billie Larkin, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Illinois, said it should have never received a hearing.

“I don’t think an amendment is needed,” said Larkin. “I don’t think it needs to come out of committee.”

The bill was referred to the Rules Committee Wednesday.

House Bill 3480 would require that all interviews of children suspected of being abused or neglected be videotaped and audio taped.

Thirty – three states including Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana have similar laws in place which allow videotapes in child abuse proceedings, according to a report by the National District Attorney’s Association.

Under current law, cases that are investigated result in child interviews but the interviews are not recorded on video.

Larkin said sometimes interviews are audio-taped and kept on a compact disc.

Billie Larkin strongly opposes the bill because she said some parents may be opposed to having their child videotaped. Also, children may withdraw and not talk if they know they are being videotaped, or their age may interfere with their decision to talk on videotape.

“It does not reflect the best interest of the children,” she said. “It doesn’t serve the benefit of the child.”

Larkin said the bill is not properly worded and leaves room for error as all interviewers can’t be video and audio taped.

Rep. Gabel said parents would have to permit the videotaped interview and children would be notified just like the other states where it’s the law.

The bill’s main supporter is the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, a non-profit organization of professionals from the Chicago Police Department, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Cook County Health and Hospitals System, and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. The center aims to ensure adequate care and treatment to abused children and could not be reached for comment.

Rep. Gabel said she’s looking more closely at the bill and is talking with the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center about its concerns, as well as finding out why others support and oppose this bill.

“There have been circumstances when children have been interviewed inappropriately, and we have to be extra cautious when we interview children because they’ve already been possibility traumatized and we don’t want to steer them in one direction or another,” Gabel said. “We want to make sure that the people who are interviewing them are sensitive and are [interviewing] in the proper manner.”

Rep. Gabel and Steve Baker, criminal defense lawyer and legislative committee chair for the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the bill would ensure that children are treated appropriately when interviewed.

Baker said there have been instances in the past where interviewers have manipulated children into saying certain things. To Baker, video and audio taping these interviews would make a difference in how interviews are conducted with children. He also said the bill would ensue a standard way of interviewing minors.

“It’s a reminder to DCFS to have standard protocols,” he said.

Baker also stressed that parents should not be opposed to this.

“People got wiggy about videotapes years ago, but it’s pretty common now,” he said.

Rory Weiler, a family law lawyer at Weiler and Lengle PC, said “I think it’s a positive development.”

Weiler said videotaping child interviews is a “key component” to having consistency within the investigation process.

The only problem Weiler foresees is the funding for the equipment needed to record the interviews.

In 2007 there were 111,742 reported cases of child abuse and neglect in Illinois and 28,516 were substantiated by interviews, according to a report by DCFS and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

In 2008, the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority reported 111,890 cases of child and abuse and neglect. According to data gathered by the Voices for Illinois Children, there were 28,000 indicated reports of child abuse and neglect in Illinois in 2009.

“There’s going to be some consternation about how we’re going to fund these,” Weiler said.

Rep. Robyn Gabel is expected to meet with the Rules Committee next week.

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