This policy reviews the process of interviewing a child at school as part of conducting a child abuse investigation.
Table of Contents
- Conducting a School Interview with a Child-Basic Principles
- Seeking Parental Consent to Interview a Child at School
- Seeking a Court Order to Interview a Child at School
- Interviewing the Child at School
This policy guide was updated from the 12/23/14 version and has been revised to clarify when law enforcement (LE) can be present during an interview, when brief interviews can be conducted and the basic principles of conducting a school interview.
Conducting a School Interview with a Child-Basic Principles
School interviews are an investigative tool that may be used when investigating a child abuse referral. School interviews conducted for the purpose of investigating a referral on an open case should not be used to fulfill monthly contacts with a child. (Refer to policy #0400-503.10, Contact Requirements and Exceptions for information on monthly contact requirements).CSWs may conduct school interviews when investigating child abuse referrals if the CSW:
- Has exigency;
- Obtained a court order for a school interview; or
- Obtained parental consent.
Exigency, Court Order, Consent, Brief Interview
CSWs may interview a child at school when exigent circumstances exist.Exigent circumstances exist where:
- There is reasonable cause to believe that the child is at imminent risk of physical harm or sexual abuse; immediate medical care is needed for a serious medical condition; or the physical environment poses an immediate threat to the child's health or safety.
- The risk is imminent if the CSW has reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to experience serious bodily harm in the time it would take to obtain a court order and interview the child pursuant to the court order.
- The CSW does not need parental consent or a court order.
- The interview can be as long as necessary to protect the child.
- Law enforcement can be present.
CSWs may interview a child at school if the CSW obtains a court order.CSWs need to obtain a court order to interview a child at school when there are no exigent circumstances and any of the following circumstances exist:
- The parent objects to the child being interviewed.
- The child objects to being interviewed or feels uncomfortable being interviewed without the parent's knowledge.
- There is no parental consent and the school denies access to the child.
- There is no parental consent and the CSW needs to conduct an interview longer than 30 to 45 minutes.
- There is no parental consent and law enforcement will be present during the interview.
If, after consultation with the SCSW, the decision is made to obtain a court order, consult the Warrant Liaison at (323) 881-1303.
The Warrant Liaison and County Counsel are also available to advise if:
- The school will only allow access pursuant to parental consent or a court order; or
- The school does not adhere to Penal Code section 11174.3.
If a court order was obtained to interview the child at school, provide the school with a copy of the order.
CSWs may interview a child at school without exigency or a court order if the CSW obtains consent from a parent or legal guardian who has legal custody of the child. Consent may only be given by a parent or legal guardian who has legal custody of the child.
Consent is valid when it is given without any pressure, threats, or undue influence and it has not been withdrawn. Consent can be withdrawn at any time without any specific reason by anyone who is entitled to give consent. Permission from school officials/personnel does not constitute valid consent.
If consent is given, the CSW does not need exigency or a court order. Law enforcement may be present but the parent/legal guardian has to specifically consent to law enforcement's participation.
If consent is sought and the parent/legal guardian objects to the CSW interviewing his/her child, absent exigent circumstances, the CSW must obtain a court order for a school interview.
CSWs should first consult with their SCSWs to determine whether it is appropriate to obtain parental consent.Parental consent should not be sought if it would present a risk to the child or compromise the integrity of the investigative interview. Caution should be taken in the following scenarios:
- The referral involves allegations of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or domestic violence, and the parent whose consent is sought is either the perpetrator or is "failing to protect."
- The child's or the child's sibling(s)'s physical safety would be in danger if consent were sought.
- There is reasonable cause to believe the child may be concealed or abducted if consent were sought prior to the interview.
- There is reasonable cause to believe that the integrity of the interview would be jeopardized if consent were sought.
If consent was not sought due to the presence of one or more of the circumstances above, the school interview may only take place if the CSW has exigency or a court order, or if under limited circumstances CSW conducts a brief interview without law enforcement present (see Brief Interview section below).
A CSW may conduct a brief interview of no more than thirty (30) to forty-five (45) minutes when appropriate without having exigent circumstances, a court order, or parental consent.A brief interview is appropriate when:
- The CSW has reasonable suspicion that the child is a victim of abuse/neglect.
- The CSW has reasonable suspicion that the child is a sibling at risk of abuse or neglect.
- The parent or legal guardian has not objected or otherwise specified to the CSW that the child may not be interviewed alone.
- Law enforcement is not present.
Absent consent and exigency, CSW should NOT conduct subsequent interviews at school unless the interviews are based upon a reasonable suspicion of abuse.Special Procedures must be followed when conducting a brief interview:
- Choose a neutral setting at the school—avoid offices of the principal or anyone else who may be an intimidating figure to the child.
- Inform the child that a school staff member of the child's choosing may be present during the interview.
- Tell the child that they do not have to answer the CSW’s questions.
- Tell the child that if they decide to answer questions, they may stop the interview at any time and ask questions at any time.
- Tell the child that they may leave the interview at any time and that they do not need permission to leave.
Joint Interviews with Law EnforcementCSWs may conduct joint interviews with law enforcement under the following circumstances:
- Both the CSW and the law enforcement officer determine that there are exigent circumstances.
- The parent/legal guardian consents to both DCFS and law enforcement interviewing the child.
- There is a court order for the interview and it is clear that the order applies to both DCFS and the applicable law enforcement agency.
Seeking Parental Consent to Interview a Child at School
ER CSW Responsibilities
- If exigent circumstances do not exist, consult with SCSW to determine if it is appropriate to obtain consent from the parent/legal guardian or from a child twelve (12) years of age or older to interview the child at school.
- If it is determined that parental/legal guardian consent will be sought, obtain parental/legal guardian consent via telephone or in person and complete the (verbal) or (in-person).
- If consent was obtained from the parent/legal guardian, proceed to interview the child at school. Follow the steps outlined in the section titled Interviewing the Child at School.
- If consent was not obtained or it is not appropriate to seek consent from the parent/legal guardian AND it has been determined that a brief interview is appropriate, conduct a brief interview of 30 to 45 minutes and follow the steps outlined in the section Interviewing the Child at School.
Seeking a Court Order to Interview a Child at School
ER CSW Responsibilities
If exigent circumstances do not exist or a parent objects and other circumstances are present which necessitate the need for a court order, request a court order through dependency court to interview a child at school:
- Contact the Warrant Liaison at (323) 881-1303.
- Provide the Liaison with all the details of the referral, efforts to obtain consent, why it is not appropriate to seek consent from a parent/legal guardian, and if law enforcement should be included in the request.
- Complete and submit the following documents to the Warrant Liaison/County Counsel:
- DCFS 4381, Warrant Fact Sheet; DCFS 4385-A, School Interview Order Application (refer to DCFS 4385-B, School Interview Order Instruction Sheet); and
- Any other documentation/form(s) requested.
- If the court order is granted, obtain a copy of the court order and follow the steps outlined in Interviewing the Child at School.
- If the court order is not granted, consult with County Counsel and/or the Warrant Liaison on how to proceed with the investigation.
Warrant Liaison Responsibilities
- Consult with the CSW regarding the court order to request a school interview. If appropriate, advise the CSW to complete and send the , Warrant Fact Sheet and DCFS 4385-A, School Interview Order Application (refer to DCFS 4385-B, School Interview Order Instruction Sheet).
- Advise the CSW of any additional information required to obtain the court order (e.g. signing and faxing the Application and Declaration in Support of Interview of Child at School).
- Review the DCFS 4381 DCFS 4385-A and forward it to County Counsel to process the court order request for the school interview.
- Contact the CSW to inform them the court order was/was not granted. If the court order was not granted, provide the CSW with a copy of the court order. If the court order was not granted, advise the CSW on how to proceed with the investigation.
Interviewing the Child at School
ER CSW Responsibilities
- Identify yourself to school officials.
- Inform school officials that the purpose of the visit is to interview a child regarding a child abuse referral, and that one of the following authorizes the interview:
- Exigent circumstances;
- A court order for a school interview.
- Parental consent (provide a copy of DCFS 67A or DCFS 67B to confirm parental consent).
- Circumstances that allow for a brief interview of thirty (30) to forty-five (45) minutes or less (law enforcement may be present so long as the parent and child do not object and give consent to interview).
- If applicable, provide the school with a copy of the DCFS 67A, DCFS 67B, or court order. Do not discuss the allegations of the referral with school officials.
- Inform the school official the child has the right to request a school employee to be present for the interview.
- Request to have the child retrieved from the classroom and to be directed to a neutral and private setting where interruptions will be minimal. The principal or vice-principal's offices are not neutral settings.
- Greet the child and introduce yourself.
- Inform the child of your role in language that is developmentally appropriate.
- Before conducting the interview, inform the child of the following:
- Child does not have to talk to CSW or law enforcement;
- Child is free to leave at anytime during the interview;
- If the child decides to answer questions he/she is free to stop talking at any time; he/she is free to leave whenever he/she wants to leave; and the child does not need to ask for permission to end the interview.
- Child may go to the restroom or get water at anytime during the interview.
- Inform the child that he/she has the right to have a school staff member present during the interview and may talk privately to that person and that her/his right may be exercised at any time during the interview.
- Explain the limits of the staff member's role to the child in language that is developmentally appropriate.
- If the child does not want a staff member present, conduct the interview with the child.
- If the child wants a staff member present, suspend the interview and inform the selected staff person that he/she:
- May decline to be present for the interview
- Must not participate in the interview
- Must not discuss the content of the interview with the child
- Must maintain confidentiality of the interview
- May be asked by the school to hold the interview at a time during school hours when it does not involve an expense to the school.
- Keep the interview brief, taking into account the child's age, maturity and demeanor, and the circumstances of the referral. Interviews should be no longer than 30 to 45 minutes.
- If Law enforcement is present, law enforcement is to make every effort possible to not be an intimidating presence. Suggestions to reduce intimidation: conceal uniform and weapons, if possible.
- Interview school personnel e.g. teacher, school nurse, principal, etc. regarding the child's attendance, behavior, appearance, and any other information regarding the child and his/her family.
- Document the following in the Contact Notebook:
- Location of interview;
- Participants (include name and work address of the person present for the interview);
- Name and job title of the school personnel that granted or denied access to the child;
- Name and title of the school personnel interviewed as collateral;
- Any documents provided to the school and;
- Contents of the interviews conducted.
DCFS 67A, Consent to Interview a Child (verbal)
DCFS 67B, Consent to Interview a Child (in-person)
DCFS 4381, Warrant Fact Sheet
DCFS 4385-A, School Interview Order Application
DCFS 4385-B, School Interview Order Instruction Sheet
Referenced Policy Guides
0070-547.13, Concurrent Investigations with Law Enforcement
0070-570.10, Obtaining Warrants and/or Removal Orders
0400-503.10, Contact Requirements and Exceptions
Greene v. Camreta, (9th Cir.) 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 26891
Penal Code Section 11174.3 – states that whenever a representative of a government agency investigating suspected child abuse or neglect or the State Department of Social Services deems it necessary, a suspected victim of child abuse or neglect may be interviewed during school hours, on school premises, concerning a report of suspected child abuse or neglect that occurred within the child's home or out-of-home care facility.