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Child Abuse: Working With Non-Offending Caregivers. Roger A Canaff, Fellow National District Attorneys Assoc. National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse. Roadmap. Non-Offending Cargivers : Who they are, what they do

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child abuse working with non offending caregivers

Child Abuse: Working With Non-Offending Caregivers

Roger A Canaff, Fellow

National District Attorneys Assoc.

National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse

  • Non-Offending Cargivers: Who they are, what they do
  • Where is the Power? How to determine who pulls the strings within the family.
  • Cultivating the relationship: When the NOC is on your side
  • Strategies: Working with Non-supportive NOCs
child sexual v physical abuse
Child Sexual v Physical Abuse
  • Some dynamics are similar, some are not
  • In child physical abuse cases, higher likelihood that non-offending caregivers (NOCs) are being physically abused as well (but can happen in child sexual abuse cases also)
  • Physical abuse cases might be more objectively obvious to the NOC
  • Sexual abuse cases: NOC’s often unaware
child abuse and non offending caregivers nocs
Child Abuse and Non-Offending Caregivers (NOCs)
  • NOTE: CSA exists in literally every possible circumstance
    • A connection between physical abuse and poverty is arguable; not so with sexual abuse
  • Almost always perpetrated by a person known to the child and trusted by the family
  • Non-offending caregivers may display a wide range of reactions and motives
first who noc s are
First: Who NOC’s Are
  • Anyone responsible for the child’s wellbeing who is not directly responsible for the victimization
  • Usually, although not always, innocent of wrongdoing
  • Often, although not always, unaware of the abuse
identity of noc s
Identity of NOC’s
  • Not always obvious; some powerful NOC’s are behind the scenes within the family
  • Prosecutor must understand family dynamics
  • Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc
  • Think broadly and keep your inferences out of it!
the noc s role in the case
The NOC’s Role in the Case
  • Similar to their role in the child’s life: authoritarian, protective, boundary-setting, influential
  • How they will play the role depends on how they view the case, the child and the victimization
  • First step for prosecutor is to determine who they are and where they stand
powerful noc s pulling the strings in the family
Powerful NOC’s: Pulling the Strings in the Family
  • A first good question to ask is “who in the family wields power?”
  • Power takes many forms, some inter-connected:
    • Financial
    • Emotional
    • Physical
    • Other authoritarian (cultural, religious)
gather information before first meeting
Gather Information Before First Meeting
  • Utilize all sources and prepare to prepare
    • Civil investigating authorities (child protective services, etc)
    • Criminal investigators and first responders
    • Teachers, school officials, counselors if already involved and able to share information
    • Community leaders, neighbors (but observe confidentiality and boundaries)
where is the power
Where is the Power?
  • When first meeting with the child and family, watch for cues:
    • Who does the child look to before or after speaking?
    • Who do others in the family group look to?
    • Who leads discussions?
    • Who is/was the first to greet you?
    • Is there non-verbal contact between family members?
is the power on the child s side
Is the Power on the Child’s Side?
  • Powerful and supportive NOC’s are valuable to your case!
  • Supportive NOC’s who have influence can:
    • Neutralize resentment toward the child
    • Help to focus the child for testimony and keep her spirits up and anxiety level down
    • Eliminate conflict within the family over the case
    • Protect child from non-supportive members
supportive or not supportive
Supportive or Not Supportive?
  • Again, not always obvious, particularly at first
  • May seem agreeable and cooperative, but then react with passive-aggressiveness, evasive behavior, etc
  • Non supportive NOCs can:
    • Block access to child for prep, etc
    • Not provide counseling and support
    • Feed/exacerbate conflicts resentment
if supportive
If Supportive
  • Cultivate the relationship
  • Be informative, honest and straightforward
  • Maintain easy and open lines of communication
  • Ask what you can do to help them
  • Involve the NOC in your decisions (they are yours, but accept input)
cultural issues
Cultural Issues
  • Supportive NOC’s come in all shapes, sizes, and may not completely share your values
  • Some cultures might (outwardly) value and express only the opinions of:
    • The oldest family member
    • Male family members
    • Family members who can comfortably speak English
your judgments must remain neutral
Your Judgments Must Remain Neutral!
  • Even if your values are different, do not let that show
    • Might seem unfair that the oldest male of the family is the only one who can speak or interact with your office, but if that’s the rhythm, it must be respected for the sake of the child and the case
  • An attitude of respect for cultural considerations and traditions goes a long way
noc s can help develop
NOC’s Can Help Develop…
  • Themes and theories for use in the case
  • Direct testimony
    • Their own
    • Other witnesses
    • The victim(s)
  • Good relationships with other sources of knowledge, insight and info
    • Teachers, community leaders, coaches, etc
protect the relationship noc and child
Protect the Relationship: NOC and Child
  • If supportive, assess whether the primary NOC is well supported and if you can help
    • Other NOC’s who are supportive?
    • Financial needs (if appropriate for your office or coordinating offices to address)
    • Emotional needs
      • Has counseling been set up?
      • Who can assist in your network?
supportive or not don t assume
Supportive or Not? Don’t Assume
  • “Supportive v Non-supportive” is not necessarily binary or unchanging
  • Be patient with NOCs who initially appear hostile, conflicted, equivocal or evasive
  • Some NOCs simply need time to digest the reality of the abuse of their child
  • Ask for help, consider your own ability to work with a particular NOC, engage others
if noc is clearly not supportive
If NOC is Clearly Not Supportive
  • Remember above all: CHILD FIRST DOCTRINE
  • Important to consider the strength/health of the case, but more important to consider the child’s fate
    • She will be dealing with the NOC much longer than you will
    • Patience, respect, politeness, professionalism must never waiver
why unsupportive
Why Unsupportive?
  • Investigate what can be done to turn the NOC around
    • What is the need that must be met?
    • How can your office or allied professionals offer?
      • Emotional support/counseling?
      • Financial/Logistical support?
      • ‘Cover’ from other, non-supportive family or community members?
shame fear probably both
Shame? Fear? Probably Both
  • Child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, is a difficult concept to accept, let alone in one’s own family
  • Consider the source!!!!!
  • Even if the NOC cannot be ‘brought around’ to assist with the case, remember what they are likely going through, consider their limitations, and go forward as best you can
strategies the non supportive noc
Strategies: The Non-Supportive NOC
  • Seek to ‘recruit’ others in the child’s life who can assist in playing the important roles
  • Can they also ‘neutralize’ the non-supportive NOC?
  • If not, plan for how the case can survive and the child can be served without them
working around a non supportive noc
Working Around a Non-Supportive NOC
  • Maintain professionalism, but be firm
    • The law is the law and you are doing your job
    • You can respect and understand differences of opinion, but you expect NOC to care for their child and not make things worse
      • Do not accept missed appointments, unreturned phone calls, etc
      • Employ investigators to track down NOC’s and make sure they meet basic obligations
what does the child want or need
What Does the Child Want or Need?
  • If the child can communicate with you, ask
  • Make no promises, but work to get them what they need
    • They want the NOC to NOT be present at testimony?
      • Play the heavy and explain this to the NOC so they don’t have to
      • Consider a subpoena and a ‘rule on witnesses’ so that the NOC cannot be in court for child’s testimony
u se of civil authority to separate non supportive nocs
Use of civil authority to separate non-supportive NOCs?
  • Tempting for prosecutor to say “if you don’t cooperate, I’ll have your child taken away”
  • Can be justifiable in extreme cases, but comes with great risks
    • NOC could abscond with child
    • NOC can punish child outside of your knowledge
    • NOC can turn the child against your office and the investigation
the better part of valor
The Better Part of Valor
  • Witha non-supportive NOC, the best route is usually to work around them
  • Utilize investigators, victim-witness professionals, others in your office to ‘fill the gap’
  • Do NOT be afraid to utilize subpoenas or court rules to keep non-supportive NOCs away from victim at crucial testimony times
always leave the door open
Always Leave the Door Open
  • Any non-supportive NOC might come around after time, pressure, reflection, etc
  • Professional, kind manner always allows for roads to be paved ahead (not bridges burned)
  • Child benefits in the long run (almost always) when prosecutor and her office are not at odds with the NOC
national center for prosecution of child abuse
National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse
  • Technical Assistance
  • National Conferences (Equal Justice, Child Fatalities, Childproof,, SafetyNet, Unsafe Havens 1 & 2, Strategies for Justice etc)
  • Local conferences
  • Publications (Manual, Update, etc)
  • Expert witness file
  • (703)549-4253