Initial Reporting
 
A report of abuse is usually made to Child Protective Services (CPS) or law enforcement. In Texas, CPS only investigates matters involving family members. Police only investigate criminal matters. Depending on the situation, it is possible for CPS to investigate alone or with the police, and vice versa. Early on, a decision is made on the make-up of the investigative team.
After receiving the report, CPS decides on the priority of the situation. The highest priority (based on risk to the child) is a priority one. This must be investigated in less than 24 hours. Other cases are assigned a priority two. This gives CPS 72 hours to investigate. Police do not have limits on when they will investigate a case. Their limits are usually mandated by the case situation.
 

Removal

The first priority in any abuse case involving a child is the child's safety. Arrangements will be made to ensure the child's protection. Sometimes this will mean that the suspected party might have to live away from the reported victim until the case can be fully investigated. On rare occasions, it may be necessary to remove the child to foster care until the investigation is complete.


Interview

Early on in the investigation, your child will be interviewed. Most will be conducted at Bridgehaven. The interviews are conducted by persons with specific training on how to interview child victims. Most interviews last from about 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on the child’s age. Children are interviewed on a one-on-one basis and others are not permitted to be in the room while the child is interviewed. All interviews are DVD recorded. Parents are not allowed to watch the interview.



Medical Examination

In some cases involving sexual or physical abuse, a medical examination may be necessary. Sexual assault examinations are conducted by a nurse who has had specialized training on these type of exams. Exams are conducted at local hospitals, not at Bridgehaven.



CPS Case Determination

After a complete investigation, CPS will make a decision on the reported abuse to the child. They will rule the case in one of the following ways:

  • Reason to believe - CPS believes the allegations to be founded
  • Unable to determine - CPS can not draw a conclusion from the evidence
  • Ruled out - CPS does not believe the allegations to be founded

 

Law Enforcement Case Determination

After a complete investigation, police will make a decision on the reported criminal abuse to the child. The case may be handled as follows:

  • Filed - police believe probable cause exists that the abuse took place and the person responsible can be identified; a warrant is usually issued.
  • Suspended - police do not think there is sufficient evidence to support the filing of criminal charges.
  • Unfounded - police do not think a crime occurred.
  • Investigation - police feel like the case needs to be heard by a Grand Jury before a warrant should be issued; the Grand Jury can order a warrant or decided not to have further prosecution of the matter.



CPS Civil Hearings

If a child is taken into emergency protective care and placed in a foster home, a court must have a hearing into their actions within 14 days. At this hearing, a judge will decide the further custody status of the child.



Grand Jury Indictment

Whether a warrant is issued initially or only after Grand Jury review, all felony cases (most child abuse cases are felonies) must be indicted. In this process, a Grand Jury hears the evidence in the criminal case and decides if the case needs to be prosecuted. They can either true bill (indict) or no bill a case. A true bill means that the case will go to trial. A no bill means that there is not enough evidence to take the case to trial.



Trial

Most cases never make it to trial. Most are handled through some type of plea arrangement. However, victims and their non-offending relatives do have an input on what happens to the accused. In prosecuting a case, all parties must be ready to go to trial even though one is unlikely. During the legal process and at trial, the District Attorney's Office has a person assisting the victim and non-offending family members. This person is called the Victim Assistance Coordinator. It is their job to ensure that the feelings of the victim and non-offending family members are known to the prosecuting attorney and that they are kept up to date on all legal proceedings.



Testimony

As noted above, most cases do not go to trial. However, all cases can end up in a trial. The Constitution of the United States and of Texas require that suspects be confronted with witnesses against them. This means that your child could have to ultimately testify. The courts recognize that this is a difficult process for children and measures have been taken to minimize the emotional impact on your child. In extreme cases, there are provisions for closed circuit testimony.