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Knapp Testifies before the SC Committee on Children About Child Forensic Interview Recording Protections

October 15, 2022

The South Carolina Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers Executive Director, Tom Knapp, testified before the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children during the committee’s fall hearing in Florence on September 20, 2022. Knapp spoke with the committee about forensic interviews of children during an investigative response to child abuse and the importance of protecting the evidentiary recordings of these interviews from unauthorized release.

The Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children is a consortium of appointed citizens, legislators, and agency directors charged with the critical responsibility of identifying and studying key issues facing South Carolina’s children, then promoting sound strategies for the development of children’s policy. The Committee makes recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly to use in consideration of policy, funding, and legislation to benefit our children’s future.

Summary of Tom Knapp’s Testimony

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. My name is Tom Knapp and I am the Executive Director with the South Carolina Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers. The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) model supports a compassionate, coordinated investigative response to child abuse

One of many services provided at CACs is the forensic interview, which is conducted at the CAC where the child is interviewed by a highly trained forensic interviewer. The professionals involved in the investigation convene at the CAC for the forensic interview, which provides the opportunity for all parties to be present to hear the child’s disclosure, share case information with one another, and determine next steps in the investigation.

These interviews are recorded, and it is critical that these recordings are protected as if they were evidence, because they are. The purpose of a CAC forensic interview is to obtain information from a child about abuse allegations that will support accurate and fair decision making by the Multidisciplinary Team (MDT), child protection, and service delivery systems. Recording a forensic interview allows for children to give their account of what happened to them one time and reduces trauma by limiting the reliving of a traumatic event experienced by the child. There is also then an accurate best evidence account of the entire interview which protects the rights of both victims and defendants.

There have been numerous instances across the country where forensic interview recordings have been released and caused further harm to victims and families. Interviews have appeared on social media and been released to offenders and others who should not have access. While interviews do need to be provided to law enforcement, Department of Social Services (DSS), and in some cases defense attorneys, this needs to be done in a secure way. For years DVDs have been the method of distribution, which is not secure and can be lost or inadvertently released.

Therefore, when responding to defense attorney or other professional request for copies of these interviews, we normally respond that, due to the evidentiary nature of the recording, a general authority to access records is not sufficient for disclosure without a court order signed by a judge, to include language that protects the confidentiality of the minor child’s records. We then offer for the recorded interview to be viewed via an encrypted web-based system, which is time sensitive and requires a login and password. However, there are times that court orders are being issued that still require the video to be produced in a DVD format and when the court order just requires access to the recording, some attorneys are refusing to accept the secure link and are demanding a DVD. CAC directors have been subpoenaed to “Rule to Show Cause” hearings on why they should not be held in contempt for not providing the recording without protections for the child’s sensitive information. Fortunately, our CACs have prevailed in those hearings

The child being referred for a FI trust the interviewer and discloses the most embarrassing and private events in their lives. We protect juvenile offenders by sealing their records to give them a chance to overcome their situation and prosper in society, as we should. We should also protect the privacy and future of a child referred for an interview who was allegedly abused or neglected.

Fortunately, we have a statewide forensic interview recording evidence management system that can protect these interviews. We believe legislation should be the last resort and so we are working with DSS Director Leach and his team, along with other statewide stakeholders to provide education on the SCNCAC CAC Forensic Interview Evidence Management System and how the secure digital links protect these interviews, help prevent unauthorized release, and meet rules of discovery for criminal and family courts. Our General Counsel, Candice Lively, will testify at the Columbia hearing about the rules of evidence and how this system meets those requirements.

I want to thank the committee for this hearing and ask for your support of our education efforts to protect these child disclosure recordings. We will testify next year at these hearings to let you know how our education efforts have worked and if we feel legislation to protect these interviews is needed.