Monday, June 16, 2008

Day-care probe rife with errors: Rogers Park case "learning experience"

State officials and Chicago police made a series of errors investigating alleged sexual abuse at a North Side day-care center, making it unlikely that the year-old inquiry will determine the scope of inquiry will determine the scope of inquiry will determine the scope of the abuse or whether it occurred it all.

The mistakes in the case of the Rogers Park Day Care Center, a case that made headlines last April with the arrest of a janitor, reflect weaknesses in state and local efforts to handle inquiries into sexual abuse cases that may involve more than one adult.

The weaknesses--which include outdated policies, insufficient training of investigators and a reluctance on the part of some investigators to believe that this type of abuse occurs--persist despite national recognition of child sexual exploitation as a growing problem.

The case, the first recorded in Illinois to involve accusations of sexual abuse by a group of adults, consists of 246 allegations that staff members abused children enrolled at the center, according to the Illinois Department of children and Family Services (DCFS).

Only the janitor has been charged, and additional allegations have not resulted in charges in the continuing investigation.

The DCFS, which is responsible for regulating day-care centers and employees, also investigated the case and found insufficient evidence to support allegations against other staff.
Police and DCFS officials describe the day-care case as a "learning experience." They acknowledge that their investigators made errors but say the mistakes had little impact on the outcome of the case.

DCFS Director, Gordon Johnson said he has asked Jon Conte of the University of Chicago, an expert on child sexual abuse, and Jeremy Margolis, Illinois' inspector general, to review all aspects of the investigation "so we don't repeat our mistakes.

The case involved the following apparent errors:

  • The children were initially screened in cursory, ineffective interviews that lasted an average of only 15 minutes. In most cases, they were never re-interviewed by police or DCFS investigators.

  • One of the key interviewers brought in by the state to question the children had little formal training and misrepresented his credentials in his resume and during recent court testimony.

  • Based on the cursory screening interviews, investigators decided which children had been abused. Many child sexual-abuse experts say that determination can be made only after extensive interviews.

  • Despite the existence of a special child sexual-abuse police unit, the chief investigator in the Rogers Park Day Care Center was a regular violent-crimes detective who had no formal training in child sexual abuse. Burdened with the customary heavy workload, the detective said he was forced to investigate much of the case on his own time.

  • During the crucial early interviews, investigators did not act immediately when one child accused seven day-care center staff members of sexually abusing her. "This was not our finest moment," said Belmont Area Detective Scott Keenan. "We had one simple case with one offender, and we felt uncomfortable with the nature of her allegations".

  • Weeks later when DCFS and police began to examine allegations of wider abuse, they created a reporting system in which parents relayed their children's accusations to investigators. Many child sexual-abuse experts described this procedure as "ridiculous."

  • The DCFS concluded its investigation partly on the basis of reports by a criminal psychologist and a child analyst who were asked by the agency to review the investigation but who were never asked to interview the children or parents.

  • An outdated state law imposed a 90-day limit on the DCFS investigation, forcing the agency to make its concussions over the objections of the children's therapists, who said their young patients had only began to talk about the alleged abuse. Read more here.

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