BOISE - On Tuesday, three juvenile boys took felony plea agreements following a sexual assault of a 5-year-old Twin Falls girl. The incident sparked controversy around the nation.
The boys, St. Luke's officials say, were interviewed at one of their St. Luke's Children At Risk Evaluation Services facilities following the incident. We wanted to know how programs like this handle criminal cases involving children, so we spoke with officials working at the center in Boise.
In what can be a child's most traumatic moment, physicians and social workers at St. Luke's CARES across the state use very specific training.
"The more expertise, the more comfort people have dealing with such tragic type events, the better services we can provide to a child," said Matthew Cox, medical director of the CARES program. "Kids share amazingly personal things because they have the right people talking to them."
Patty Weires is the lead social worker at St. Luke's CARES.
"Children have come here and have experienced years and years of abuse, torturous abuse at times," Weires said.
She is trained in what's called forensic interviewing, which means she specializes in how to ask children questions about their abuse in a legally sound way.
"So in that regard we are not asking suggestible, we're not asking leading questions to the child," said Weires.
She says it creates an open forum for the child to speak about what happened in their own words.
"I'll ask, so has anyone been bothering you? If they say yes, tell me everything about that," Weires said.
After the interview process, there is a medical exam. In the examination rooms you'll find specialized equipment that can provid a detailed evaluation.
"This a child-focused, child friendly-type examination," Coz said.
Everything from the paint on the walls, to how doctors speak to the children is calculated.
"We have a great clinic set up with animals painted on the wall," Coz said. "We talk to them, we see if anything's hurting, we address any complaints they may have and we check their whole body."
Cox says they try to create a comfortable environment to eliminate additional trauma.
"The child, if you approach them correctly, in my experience is they do just fine with the examination," said Cox.
Once the medical examination is done, the healing process begins.
"We try to return their life to normalcy as quickly as we can," Cox said.
When it comes to what social workers shoudl avoid during their forensic interviews, Weires says they try to avoid having a child talk to multiple people about what happened. She says not only could it re-traumatize the child, but it could also confuse them.
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