What to Expect at Forensic and Medical Services (FMS)
Preparing Your Child
The Investigator (Law Enforcement and/or Child Welfare Services) will coordinate with you to schedule the appointment. Do not discuss the case in your child’s presence or question your child further about the concerns. Listen if your child wants to talk and document what your child shares. Before the appointment, let your child know that they are going to a safe and friendly place to talk to someone more about what may have happened. Children frequently interpret emotion as being directed at them, so remaining emotionally neutral is important so they don’t feel as if they’ve done something wrong. Children should be reminded that they are not in trouble and should always tell the truth.
When you arrive for the forensic interview and/or medical exam, you will pull into the parking lot and be given a parking ticket. This ticket can be validated when you check in at the Chadwick Center lobby on the 5th floor.
The Forensic Interview
Forensic Interviews are conducted by professionals who have special training and experience in talking with children. The Interviewer will introduce themselves to your family and spend some time privately with the caregiver and multidisciplinary team to get more information prior to meeting with the child. Caregivers are not allowed in the interview or observation room to preserve the integrity of the investigation.
Children will be brought back to child-friendly rooms and speak 1:1 with the Interviewer. The investigative team will watch from another room through recording equipment. The caregiver has the option to speak with a Family Advocate during the interview to discuss any resource needs the family might have, including the need for therapy services. An average interview lasts about 45 minutes, but can be shorter or longer depending on the age of your child and their comfort participating in the interview.
After the interview, the investigators may be able to give you feedback about the interview and what will happen next in the investigation. You should plan to be at the Chadwick Center for approximately 2 hours for the entire forensic interview appointment.
The Medical Exam
It is recommended that all children who may have been sexually or physically abused receive a medical exam by a Child Abuse Pediatrician.
The head-to-toe exam is like a regular doctor’s check up in many ways and is not painful. Each part of the process is thoroughly explained and additional medical history is gathered. Children are never forced to undergo an examination and can stop at any point. Verbal consent (age 12 and older) or assent (under age 12) is always obtained.
Medical staff are able to answer any questions you may have, as well as provide follow up recommendations or other referrals. The caregiver has the option to speak with a Medical Team Social Worker or Family Advocate at the time of the exam to discuss any resource needs the family might have, including the need for therapy services.
Children have the right to choose their support person and can choose whether or not to have the parent in the room during the exam. If the child does not want the parent in the room, a chaperone will always be present with the medical provider in those cases. For kids ages 12 and above, medical information given to the provider is protected and cannot be released without the child’s consent.
Common Responses After a Forensic Interview or Medical Exam
Children who have experienced trauma respond to the forensic interview or medical exam in a variety of ways. Some children exhibit no/few symptoms or behaviors before or after the service, while others can appear distressed or may be relieved. Caregivers may also find it difficult to cope, not only with the traumatic event and their child’s reactions, but also with their own feelings about the trauma and the investigative process. We encourage ALL caregivers to get support from trusted family, friends and/or professional therapists so they can be better sources of support for their children.
At the time of service (and after), we can help families with referrals and resources. If your child experiences thoughts/actions of harming themselves or others, call 9-1-1 for immediate assistance or drive your child to the nearest hospital (if safe to do so). You may also call the San Diego Access and Crisis Line at 888-724-7240.
- Fear and anxiety – worry is the most common symptom and can look like hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating, separation anxiety, acting clingy, more emotional (sleep, appetite and toileting changes are also common)
- Strange or bizarre behavior – acting out of the ordinary, disconnected or zoned out, flashbacks of the traumatic event
- Avoidance – avoiding thoughts or reminders of the traumatic event (sadness, withdrawal and/or refusal to interact with others)
- Sexualized behaviors – most children show some kind of sexualized behaviors out of curiosity, but it can be problematic if it is persistent, disruptive to others and/or resistant to redirection
- Aggression – anger and physically acting out
- Difficulty relating to others – trouble with relationships and/or maintaining age-appropriate boundaries
What You Can Do to Help Manage Symptoms
- Make your home calm and free of violence, frequent arguing, etc.
- Keep a consistent routine
- Prepare kids in advance for any changes or new experiences
- Provide extra attention, comfort and encouragement
- Be flexible to the individual needs of the child
- Follow their lead and be patient
- Know your child’s triggers and help them to regulate with breathing, relaxing activities, reassurance, etc.
- TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! Your history of trauma and feelings about your child’s experience can influence how they cope. Seek support for yourself if you need it and remember that you are the expert on your child.
Phone: (858) 966-4011, press Option 1 for FMS, and option 1 again
Clinic Hours: 8AM – 5PM