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Court Rules DCS Can Bypass Parents To Interview Children

interview room at Susie's Place

Photo: Courtesy of Susie's Place

An interview room at Susie's Place in Bloomington.

The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled the Department of Child Services can, without parental permission, interview children who are witnesses to cases of sexual abuse. Two out of three appeals judges ruled the DCS could interview a 9-year-old girl who was witness to a sexual abuse case involving her 12-year-old sister and their stepfather.

In 2011, the girl alleged that her stepfather sexually abused her. Then during an interview at a child advocacy center in Bloomington the girl recanted her statements, saying she made them up because she was angry with her mother.

That prompted the DCS to file a court order, asking that the parents be forced to make the 9-year-old available for an interview. The parents refused and appealed the case to a higher court. That appeal was struck down Wednesday.

Brown Circuit Court Judge Terry Crone, who wrote the majority opinion, says the welfare of the 9-year-old, referred to as G.W., must also be taken into consideration.

“Simply because no allegations have been made regarding G.W. and Mother has vouched for her safety does not mean that DCS’s and the trial court’s concerns are unwarranted,” Crone writes in his opinion.

One of the appeals court judges, Patricia Riley, dissented. The DCS “wants to subject G.W. to an intrusive forensic interview in a strange environment by unknown interviewers merely to clarify some inconsistencies in how her sister originally reported the alleged abuse,” Riley writes.

Michael Auger, the lawyer for the children’s mother, says the ruling will have long-term consequences.

“I think that this ruling can have a very large effect upon the Department of Child Services’ ability to subject children in my mind to interviews and very invasive interviews at that against the will and consent of their parents,” he says.

Department of Child Services officials declined to comment on specifics of the case because of ongoing litigation Auger says he and his client are still deciding whether to ask the state Supreme Court to take up the case.

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