12.07.2006

The Grand Jury Report on CAST

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The Grand Jury Report on CAST

Grand Jury Report #2005-LJ-01
A Review of the Humboldt County Child Abuse Services Team
Executive Summary:

A child who may have been sexually molested or physically abused may be seen by the Child Abuse Services Team (CAST). Team members, who are from the District Attorney’s office, law enforcement, and social service agencies, observe from behind one-way glass as a trained interviewer talks with the child. Team members can tell the interviewer to ask particular questions through an ear microphone. The child, whose answers are video- and audio-taped, sees only the interviewer in a bright room filled with toys. Everyone agrees that CAST is valuable in increasing successful prosecution of child abusers,
reducing trauma to abused children, and helping support families. Money is available for CAST.

However, the program is faltering. Fewer cases are referred to CAST by law enforcement. The District Attorney has diminished CAST’s effectiveness by failing to attend Governing Board meetings, failing to send Deputy District Attorneys to child interviews, and reducing staff.

The Grand Jury recommends that the District Attorney make CAST a priority by attending the Governing Board meetings, appointing a Deputy District Attorney to the leadership position, and restoring staff levels to ensure that a qualified Deputy District Attorney is present at all child interviews. The Grand Jury also recommends that law enforcement agencies provide training in CAST procedures to new hires with regular “refreshers” to long-term employees.

Who Shall Respond:
Pursuant to California Penal Code Sections 933 and 933.05, responses to the Findings and Recommendations of the GRAND JURY REPORT #2005-LJ-01 shall be provided as follows:

• The District Attorney shall respond to Findings 1, 2, and 3 and Recommendations 1a, 1b, 2, and 3
• The CAST Governing Board shall respond to Finding 1 and Recommendations 1a and 1b
• The Department of Health & Human Services shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 3
• Humboldt County Sheriff shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Arcata Police Department shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Arcata City Council shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Blue Lake Police Department shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Blue Lake City Council shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Eureka Police Department shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Eureka City Council shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Ferndale Police Department shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Ferndale City Council shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Fortuna Police Department shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Fortuna City Council shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Hoopa Tribal Police Department shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Hoopa Tribal Council shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Rio Dell Police Department shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Rio Dell City Council shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Trinidad Police Department shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4
• Trinidad City Council shall respond to Finding and Recommendation 4

Report

CAST began in Humboldt County in 1997, and was recently re-accredited by the National Children’s Alliance. CAST is a multi-disciplinary team consisting of 29 separate agencies involved in the investigation and prosecution of offenders against children. Law enforcement agencies, the District Attorney, the Department of Health & Human Services, Native American organizations, and community based organizations are partners in the CAST process. Written guidelines and by-laws are available from CAST to explain the local team process and the roles that the various agencies play.

CAST has several purposes:

• For law enforcement agencies, CAST provides forensic interviews that may enable a complete report to be forwarded to the District Attorney for possible prosecution.
• For the District Attorney, CAST delivers an audio- and videotaped interview of the child victim by an expert in child forensic interviews, allowing more informed decisions to be made as to what charges to file against the alleged perpetrator.
• For the Public Defender, the audio and videotaped interview may lead to an acceptance of a plea bargain, once the alleged perpetrator realizes the weight of the evidence against him or her.
• For Mental Health and Child Welfare Services, CAST minimizes the trauma to child victims of physical or sexual abuse by having the child undergo fewer interviews, and by conducting the interviews in a child-friendly environment where the child can feel safe in disclosing what has happened.

All CAST interviews are audio- and videotaped and are conducted by a Child Welfare Social Worker, specially trained in forensic interviewing of child victims. Other team members - including a Deputy District Attorney, a District Attorney Investigator, a representative from the law enforcement agency involved in the investigation, a Mental Health clinician, and a victim’s advocate - may be present in an adjacent room with a one-way mirror into the interview room. Ideally, each forensic interview would include all of the team members listed above. If the evidence gained in the forensic interview supports the
allegation of abuse, the Deputy District Attorney assigned to CAST prosecutes the case with CAST team support.

Law enforcement makes referrals to CAST, sometimes at the behest of child welfare agencies, medical facilities, and other mandated reporters. Funding for CAST comes from the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) and is set at a maximum of $280,000 annually. This funding provides for two Deputy District Attorneys, a District Attorney Investigator, and a Senior Legal Office Assistant as well as overhead costs such as rent and supplies. DHHS also provides a social worker trained as a specialist in child forensic interviewing and a half-time Mental Health clinician. In addition, the District Attorney's
Office receives a grant to partially fund a Deputy District Attorney to vertically prosecute child abuse cases. Vertical prosecution means the same attorney follows the case from referral to prosecution and sentencing.

Two strongly committed and experienced Deputy District Attorneys who were assigned to CAST have left the District Attorney’s Office in the past year. Witnesses interviewed by the Grand Jury indicated the loss of these attorneys negatively impacted the CAST program. Current vacancies include one Deputy District Attorney position (vacant since June 2004) and a Senior Legal Office Assistant (vacant since March 2005). Top administrators of DHHS said they are committed to CAST and do not anticipate any changes in funding at this time. However, there is no contract or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
for the funding which DHHS provides the District Attorney’s Office. With only one Deputy District Attorney assigned to CAST at this time, it is very difficult for the Deputy District Attorney to be at all CAST interviews and to follow each case using vertical prosecution. Often, other Deputy District Attorneys have to fill in on child abuse cases with little time to prepare.

The Grand Jury conducted over 20 interviews relevant to CAST. Support for CAST and its mandate to vigorously prosecute offenders is overwhelming among all individuals and agencies involved. The law enforcement agencies said that CAST is one of the best programs they have seen and it has their whole-hearted backing. Four law enforcement agencies stated that their new officers need more training from the CAST child interview specialist. College of the Redwoods also offers law enforcement training in child abuse in the police academy program. In the past, detectives or officers from law enforcement
agencies were specifically assigned to child abuse or molestation cases, a luxury not presently afforded in these budget-crunch years. At this time, any law enforcement officer, trained or not, may have to respond to reports of child abuse and molestation. An untrained officer may inadvertently make prosecution difficult or impossible. Although the number of referrals to CAST has dropped during the past two years, no specific reasons were given to account for this decline by the various law enforcement agencies.

Statistics from 2002-2004 by witnesses revealed:

• CAST cases dropped from 98 in 2002 to 58 in 2004, a 40 percent drop.
• Prosecution of CAST cases declined from 2002 to 2004.
• Except in 2004, when both a Deputy District Attorney and a DA investigator were present during the interviews, the number of cases in which prosecution resulted is significantly higher than when only one representative from the DA’s office is present. This suggests that is it important for both a prosecutor and an investigator from the DA’s office to participate in CAST interviews.
• Deputy District Attorney attendance at CAST interviews dropped precipitously from 85 percent in 2002, to 46 percent in 2003, and to 25 percent in 2004.

During its recent compliance review of CAST, the National Alliance for Children recommended that a leadership person be named to improve communication and to oversee all CAST operations and decisions. At present, CAST has an Executive Board, a Governing Board, and an Advisory Board. The District Attorney, who is a member of the Governing Board, has failed to regularly attend meetings as documented by testimony, statistics, and meeting minutes. In the past, a Deputy District Attorney filled the leadership position by virtue of his commitment to the program. His departure in July 2004 left a leadership void detrimental to the effective operation of the program. The compliance review was generally favorable, and Humboldt County’s CAST program was again certified and the $10,000 annual grant was continued.

Findings and Recommendations:

Finding 1: There is a consensus within the CAST organization, augmented by a recommendation of the National Children’s Alliance, that a leadership person is needed to coordinate and make decisions about CAST with recommendations from the Executive, Governing, and Advisory Boards.

Recommendation 1a: The Grand Jury recommends that the Cast Boards create a leadership position

Recommendation 1b: The Grand Jury recommends that a Deputy District Attorney with experience in and a commitment to CAST fill the leadership position.

Finding 2: Members of the CAST organization have identified a need for two Deputy District Attorneys and a Senior Legal Office Assistant. Current funding provides for these positions and is incorporated in the guidelines for CAST.

Recommendation 2: The Grand Jury recommends that two Deputy District Attorneys and a Senior Legal Office Assistant be assigned or hired and that CAST cases be the priority caseload for the attorneys assigned to CAST.

Finding 3: There is no Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for funding or time –tracking between the District Attorney’s Office and DHHS for CAST.

Recommendation 3: The Grand Jury recommends that the District Attorney’s Office and DHHS arrive at a MOU for funding CAST. This MOU must include a method of tracking of CAST cases so that the DA’s Office can properly bill DHHS for the costs of staffing CAST. A simple time study format - already a standard practice of DHHS - could provide this information.

Finding 4: Law Enforcement officials cited the need for continuing and timely training in forensic interviewing of child abuse victims by the Child Forensic interview specialist assigned to CAST.

Furthermore, law enforcement agencies prefer to assign a trained and experienced officer to investigate child abuse cases and participate in CAST.

Recommendation 4: The Grand Jury recommends that training occur at least yearly and more often as needed for new officers, and that a trained and experienced officer from each law enforcement agency be assigned to child abuse cases.

Commendation: The Grand Jury would like to commend all members of the team for their outstanding service and support for all of our child victims. CAST has truly created a network of collaborating agencies whose focus is on protecting children and preventing future harm. Participating agencies include:

Arcata Police Dept. Karuk Tribe of California
Bear River Band of the Rhonerville Rancheria North Coast Rape Crisis Team
Big Lagoon Rancheria Rio Dell Police Dept.
Blue Lake Police Dept. Sexual Assault Response Team
Blue Lake Rancheria Trinidad Police Dept.
Court Appointed Special Advocates Trinidad Rancheria
Dept. of Health and Human Services Two Feathers Indian Child Welfare
Eureka Police Dept. Victim Witness Office
Ferndale Police Dept. Yurok Council
Fortuna Police Dept.
Hoopa Health Services
Hoopa Tribal Council
Hoopa Tribal Police Dept.
Humboldt County District Attorney
Humboldt County Probation Dept.
Humboldt County Sheriff’s Dept.
HSU Police Dept.

Related:
Related:
TS - Grand Jury Findings and Recommendations
ER - 2004-05 Humboldt County Grand Jury Report 6/29/2005
TS - Grand jury issues scathing DA critique June 29, 2005
"However, the informed, well-organized, diligent leadership essential during difficult times is missing," the grand jury report said. "Operations are neither as efficient nor as effective as they must be."

McK Press - Grand Jury Report: D.A. guilty of 'weak leadership'
ER - 2004-05 Humboldt County grand jury releases its final report
NCJ - GRAND JURY REPORT IN


The Grand Jury Report on the DA's office
The Grand Jury Report on CAST
TS - Gallegos responds to grand jury findings
CAST Response/Grand Jury Report

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ask around, you'll be surprised at what is going on at CAST. No CIS, and aside from the backup, all social workers who interviewed for the main position, do not have training in forensic interviewing and have never conducted a CAST interview. The backup has been told that the psoition will go to one of the inexperienced applicants.