An offender among us

In Chicago, hundreds of child sex offenders are violating a state law by living within 500 feet of a child care facility, playground or school. And law enforcement agencies are failing to enforce the law.

Safe at home?

In investigating allegations of child sexual abuse, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services often causes trauma, and black children and families are affected most.

Safe at home? (En Español)

Parada en la puerta principal de su hogar de dos pisos en una calle tranquila y residencial de Oak Park, Kimberly Stevens dio un beso de despedida a cada uno de sus tres niños de adopción temporal en una mañana soleada de abril 2006, diciendo que los verí­a más tarde. Stevens no sabí­a que “más tarde” terminarí­a siendo más de dos años y medio para su hijo y más de tres para sus dos hijas. No sabí­a que el niño pasarí­a tiempo en un hospital psiquiátrico y regresarí­a a su cuidado siendo ni la sombra de la exuberancia de antes. No sabí­a que estaba entrando a un proceso legal que le costarí­a miles de dólares y consumirí­a casi todo su tiempo y energí­a. Lo único que sabí­a Stevens era que habí­a sido una mañana tí­pica de despertar a los niños, vestirlos, darles de comer y prepararles para la escuela.

An unclear connection

In its procedures about how to handle child sexual abuse, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has unambiguous language about the role poverty should play in determining whether abuse has occurred. None. A Chicago Reporter analysis of allegations of child sexual abuse made to the DCFS Child Abuse Hotline paints a different picture.

Fighting trauma in the system

Responses vary about how best to reduce the trauma caused to children and families during sexual abuse investigations–”particularly ones facing the disproportionate number of black families. Raelene Freitag, director of the Children’s Research Center in Madison, Wis., advocates an approach called “structured decision-making.” The approach acknowledges the tendency of people’s brains to make snap and emotional judgments that could be biased and provides a set of clearly defined, observable and research-based items to make a decision that the investigator’s supervisor can verify. “Nobody’s a bad person because your brain works a certain way,” she said. “An emotional response is not truth.