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He Said, She Said: Admission of Hearsay Statements Regarding Child Sexual Abuse in Custody Cases: Part 6 of 12 Parts

JACJennifer Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

In this part of our series we are reviewing a case that is unpublished, but extremely helpful for family law attorneys practicing in Guilford and surrounding counties presenting testimony by professionals from a Children’s Advocacy Center.

For those who are not familiar with Children’s Advocacy Centers, these facilities are designed to be a one stop location to assist children who are victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Most facilities implement a multi-disciplinary team approach, meaning that typically there will be representatives from law enforcement, medical, child protective services, mental health, victim advocacy and children’s advocacy center on the team. The rationale is that by consolidating all services in one location this will reduce the trauma to victims, as they will not be forced to repeat their story over and over to different agencies. In North Carolina there are 30 accredited Child Advocacy Centers and 8 Provisionally Accredited Centers.

The case of State v. Aviles is useful as it deals specifically with the admission of hearsay statements made to members of the multi-disciplinary team by a young child. State v. Aviles, No. COA12-698 (N.C. App. 2013). In Aviles the child victim was a 5 year old who told her mother about the sexual abuse. The mother then took the child to the hospital where the child was seen by a nurse practitioner. The nurse practitioner then referred the child to a Children’s Advocacy Center for interviews and treatment. At the Center the child was first interviewed by a licensed social worker, during which the interview was taped, and then the child was given a physical examination by a pediatric nurse practitioner. The video of the child’s interview with the social worker was admitted under Rule 803(4) statements made for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment, over Defendant’s objections.

The court in Aviles emphasized that the statements were deemed to be made for medical purposes in part due to the “team approach” used at the Children’s Advocacy Center. The social worker testified in great detail about the multi-disciplinary team, the training of the team members, the interviewing procedure, and giving examples of the steps of the interview process. Due to the nature of the facility and the fact that the professionals who conduct the interviews and complete the physical examinations are in the same building, and collaborating on the same case, the court determined that the statements were made for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment. The court also took into account the young age of the child and cited the language of State v. Smith regarding a young child being unable to independently seek out treatment, which we discussed in Part Two of our series.

Applying this to our fact pattern, when the attorney seeks to admit statements Aaron and Billy made to the social worker it is crucial that the social worker also testifies about the Child Advocacy Center in general, about the roles and training of other team members, the general protocol for completing the interview, and how the interview contributes to determining whether treatment is needed.

In Part 7 of our series we will review the admission of written records containing hearsay statements from the Department of Social Services and Children’s Advocacy Centers using Rule 803(6), the business records exception.