Youth Services Law

Showing 10 posts from January 2019.

Pitfalls of Internal Investigations

Serious man sitting in dark lighting

I ran across this article describing more fallout from the investigation of Larry Nassar, the U.S.A. Gymnastics (USAG) doctor convicted of molesting female gymnasts. Rhonda Faehn, who was in charge of the women’s program during Nassar’s tenure, lasted less than one week as a consulting coach with the University of Michigan. UM fired her after backlash over her role in the internal investigation of the doctor.

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Internal Investigations and #MeToo: Interviewing Witnesses

Adult conducting difficult interview with teenager who looks uncomfortable

This post is part of a continuing series about responding to reports by a now-adult of past abuse at a youth-serving organization. The first few posts discussed general principles, first steps, and what not to say at the beginning of an investigation. This post discusses principles for interviewing the people involved.

The most difficult and perhaps the most important part of an internal investigation is interviewing the accuser, the accused, and other potential witnesses. There are some principles that will help you obtain information from people with as little trauma as possible.

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Internal Investigations: What Not To Say

Man zoning out people bombarding him with questions and suggestions

By now, most people have heard about the students from Covington Catholic High School, initially accused of harassing a Native American protestor at the end of the March for Life in Washington, D.C. A short clip of the encounter went viral, and a wave of criticism descended on the students. The school administration and the local Diocese issued a joint statement condemning the students and threatening expulsion. The area Archbishop issued his own statement “condemning shameful actions of Covington Catholic students.” These two statements are good case studies in what NOT to say at the beginning of an investigation.

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Internal Investigations and #MeToo: First Steps

Group of professionals working together at a table

This post is part of a continuing series about responding to reports by a now-adult of past abuse at a youth-serving organization. The first post discussed general principles, and this one discusses first steps in an internal investigation.

In many ways, the first 48 hours after you receive a report of historic abuse are the most important. While you are putting your team together, you also need to address several important and immediate issues.

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Internal Investigations and #MeToo: General Principles

Magnifying glass on a laptop

One side effect of the #MeToo awareness has been an uptick in belated claims of child abuse. I have had numerous clients call me with reports that an adult has claimed sexual abuse at the organization many years ago when he or she was a child. Sometimes the claim comes as part of a new lawsuit, in which case the lawyers and court system handle the allegation. Many times, however, the disclosure comes before any suit, or long after the statute of limitations has expired, in which case my clients simply want to know the right thing to do.

There are many issues to consider and each situation is different. There are some general principles, however, that apply to every historic claim of abuse.

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Mandated Reporting: Unsupervised Children

Three happy children running outside

One vexing question in the mandated reporter area is when to report children who appear to have no adults supervising them. It is more difficult than most situations of abuse or neglect because there is a growing body of research that children need unsupervised time to develop into psychologically healthy adults.

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Mandated Reporting: Risks of Ignoring A Child

Child yelling through megaphone

From Connecticut comes this story of a former high school teacher charged with failing to make a mandated report of child sexual abuse two years ago. According to the warrant, a student told him that she had been forced into sex at a party in 2016, but he failed to relay the report to any authorities. His explanation to the investigating officer was that the girl’s report “was vague.”

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Sexting and Horseplay and Sex, Oh My! — Teens and Mandated Reporting

Group of teenagers texting.

Organizations that work with teenagers face questions of sexual behavior in several different situations. The most common issues that I see are (1) “sexting,” or sending sexually explicit photos to each other, (2) horseplay that turns sexual, and (3) consensual sex. Whether these require a report to authorities or only an internal response depends on several different circumstances.

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“No-Touch” Policies Harm Children

Child crying next to teacher

I have heard many cautious lawyers and more than one self-proclaimed expert claim that elementary school teachers and child care workers should never touch their students. These “no-touch” policies have gone so far as to prevent kids from hugging one another on campuses, and even made adults afraid to help kids apply sunscreen or band-aids for fear that they could be accused of inappropriate touching. These policies actually harm children, because they ignore the fact that appropriate human touch is a healthy and necessary part of growth and development.

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Childhood Play and Mandated Reporting

Children playing outside

One question that I often hear from child care centers is how to respond to sexual play between children. As usual, the question is “it depends.” Some types of sexual play are normal and developmentally appropriate, and warrant nothing more than redirection and teaching about social norms. Other types can be signals of sexual abuse and require more formal intervention. We don’t want to miss signals of abuse, but neither do we want to overreact to normal child development.

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