Jennifer Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group
In Part 5 of our series aimed at assisting attorneys practicing family law in Guilford and surrounding counties, we look at admitting hearsay statements made to social workers. It is common in cases involving allegations of abuse that a social worker will be involved at some point, whether the social worker conducts the initial interview, or they are brought in after there has been police involvement. Often the social worker will speak individually with the child and will have vital hearsay statements from the child that need to be admitted. A particularly helpful case on this point is State v. Crumbley, 519 S.E.2d 94, 135 N.C. App. 59 (1999).
In Crumbley, Social Services was contacted after the minor child’s aunt reported suspected sexual abuse to the local police department. An emergency investigator with the Department of Social Services went to the home and spoke with the minor child, who was age 7. Based on the investigator’s interview with the child it was determined that the child should be removed from the home and the case was referred to a social worker with Child Protective Services the same day. The social worker met with the child the same day and determined the child needed medical treatment. The child could not be seen by a child sexual abuse specialist for another eight days, so the child saw a pediatrician prior to the appointment with the specialist. The Defendant in Crumbley objected to the hearsay statements made to the emergency investigator and social worker being admitted.
The issue that the court in Crumbley addresses is whether the statements to the social worker and emergency investigator were properly admitted under the hearsay exception in Rule 803(4) Statements made for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment. The court holds that the factors properly considered in determining whether a statement is made for the purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment includes whether the statements actually led to the child receiving medical diagnosis or treatment, as well as the proximity in time from when the statements were made to when the actual diagnosis occurs.
Ultimately the statements to the emergency investigator and social worker were admitted. The court deemed the initial interview by the emergency investigator played a crucial part in the process of determining whether the minor child needed medical treatment. Also the court determined that the fact there was an 8 day gap between the statements to the social worker and the medical diagnosis was still close enough proximity in time for the statements to be admitted under Rule 803(4).
In our fact pattern the children Aaron and Billy spoke with the social worker at the Children’s Advocacy Center on the same day as the pediatric nurse and doctor. When presenting the testimony of social workers it is important that the attorney emphasizes how the interview with the social worker determines whether or not the child will receive medical treatment. The attorney should be sure to review the procedure the social worker follows, as well as the facts and timing of any subsequent medical examinations that are scheduled, and the ultimate diagnosis.
Part 6 of our series will review State v. Aviles, which although it is unpublished, is helpful as it discusses in detail Children’s Advocacy Centers and their procedures with regards to statements made by young children.