1. Cdn Writer

    Cdn Writer Senior Member

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    Technological methods of discovering child abuse?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Cdn Writer, Aug 12, 2019.

    Greetings all!

    I am a social worker by training. For a really, really long time I have wanted to write a non-fiction method that social workers can used to discover child abuse. I have read tons of first hand accounts of the abuse that they experienced posted by survivors all over the internet at various forums.

    I would like to use such a technological advance in a fiction book which if read by the "right" people will hopefully assist in locating victims and helping them to escape from the abuse and start the healing process.

    I have noticed some similarities during my research:

    1. The abuse is usually hidden in the family home, away from neutral eyes and further hidden in the home by occurring in "private" places like the bedroom or the bathroom as opposed to the dining room. That said, I did find some references online where a child was acting up in a McDonalds and his/her pants were taken down in the middle of the restaurant and a spanking was administered and unfortunately it seemed the reason was to humiliate the child being punished and put on a show for the audience. I could not find any reference to this type of incident being reported to law enforcement - it may have been, I just did not find any references to it anywhere online.

    2. The abuser usually knows his/her victim and exercises a great deal of control over them. For example, the abuser can refuse permission for the victim to do things like go out with her/his friends UNLESS the victim submits to the abuser's demands.

    3. The abuse usually comes to light when the victim discloses to someone, or someone notices something amiss such as a broken bone without a legitimate reason such as playing football or a teenage pregnancy.

    Specifically regarding #3, it has been approximately 30 years since I learned about this issue. I did a book report in grade 8 on the topic. The same methods that were being used in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, etc are still being used today. The major technological advances that lead to the discovery of child abuse seem to occur when the abuser takes child sexual abuse photographs (child pornography) and shares those images on the internet.

    So, I started to wonder. We have all this technology out there. The internet, smart phones, facial recognition, so, so much else. Where exactly is the innovation in locating child abuse?

    The only thing I could come up with after watching "Border Security" is that schools could have some type of scanner at the entrances/exits that would scan the students with X-Rays (?) and discover whether or not that student had unexplained injuries like fractures, broken bones, and bruising on a regular basis and that same student did not play sports like football or hockey. In the show, customs officers at an airport suspected passengers of smuggling drugs and sent them through a full body scanner. It did not seem invasive to me, all they had to do was remove their shoes and jackets, they were fully clothed otherwise. The scanner detected the drugs inside the stomach cavity of one man and he was detained.

    Some schools already have metal detectors at their entrances and exits to detect weapons like knives and guns. This seems like it would work, however I do not know of any school that uses this technology in North America and google searches of things like "use of technology to discover child abuse" usually just turns up how abusers take photos and share them on the internet.

    I do NOT want a technological advance that relies on the abuser doing something like sharing photos of the abuse s/he is engaging in.

    I am looking for some type of PASSIVE technological tool that will locate potential victims and allow social workers and child abuse investigators to focus on them. Preferably before the abuse escalates. Like, when it is in the touching stages and not the full on sexual assault/rape stage.

    Questions I hope people can answer or provide guidance on:

    Is there *ANY* technology out there right now that either does this or shows the promise of being able to do this?

    If such technology exists, why is it not being used? For example, I could seen the scanners used at airports not being used if people are worried about the health risks of subjecting children to radiation.

    If, god forbid, anyone has first hand knowledge of issues like sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, the types of abuse that does not necessarily leave visible scars, what physical indication do you think people would have seen if they looked at you? What would have indicated that something was "off" about you? I don't mean emotionally like uncontrolled crying or a depressed demeanor but more something physical. The one thing that I have heard at times is children wearing multiple layers of clothing in order to prevent the abuser from having easy access to their body. How could technology have caught this indicator that something abusive may have been happening?

    Apologies for the long first post. It is something that I have been really, really passionate about for a long time. It's why I got a degree in social work.
     
  2. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think you'd run into too many legal issues regarding child protection if you were to "scan" pupils in school for injuries. It would also cause issues with parents, get their heckles up - essentially everyone would be treated as if they're guilty until proven innocent and you'd end up with a lot of defensive parents on your hands, none of which helps the situation. Also, it's the exact reverse of what is culturally acceptable, which is: innocent until proven guilty. Medical confidentiality would also be an issue.

    You'd need parental consent to their child's medical records being collected, esp at preschool and primary school levels, which are also arguably at the most vulnerable levels. Which goes right back to putting power straight into the abuser's hands because, well, maybe I'm being cynical here.

    It also requires the school to give a damn. Many schools don't. I'm interested though - what are the signs of child abuse? Would you care to PM me on what to look out for, barring the obvious signs of bruises and broken ribs? Disclosure: I work as a primary school assistant.

    I'd love to see a way of discovering child abuse without relying on the abuser to slip up, or the child to confide in someone. I'd love to see how you can gather evidence without relying on the kindness of family members who are in the know. Because without that sort of private information, all you got is the child's word against the abuser's. The child is powerless whereas the abuser can sue the school for false reports, pull the child from school, kick up a fuss in media and do a host of damage that upper management simply don't care for. In the case of private/international schools, you could be losing a well-paying customer who may have more than one child at your school. Money's money eh.
     
  3. Cdn Writer

    Cdn Writer Senior Member

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    My background is in social work but I do not work in child welfare. I can only give you general answers to your questions. One of the reasons I want to write this book and have a "new" interpretation of finding child abuse is that I want social workers and stakeholders like government funding bodies that are in the field to look at my work and go, "Hey, that's an idea we haven't tried! Maybe we can give it a shot and see what happens....?"

    Some resources that are already available on the internet:

    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/child-abuse/symptoms-causes/syc-20370864

    https://www.webmd.com/children/child-abuse-signs#1

    https://www.child-abuse-effects.com/

    https://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect.htm


    The problem with all of them is that they are subjective. There is a science to locating child abuse but the interpretation of what you see seems to be almost art at times. And it seems that by the time someone develops that intuition or spidey-sense, they quit. The salaries are not very high for the amount of work and the stress involved. There are never enough resources - trained child abuse investigators, money for flights to remote communities to interview people, manageable caseloads...when you read that the child welfare league recommends a caseload of 17 per social worker that does not mean 17 children. It means 17 cases which can include immediate/extended family, honorary uncles/aunts, foster families, foster siblings, the wider community (for example on an aboriginal reserve where everyone knows everyone), the educational and possibly the justice system. That's just off the top of my head. See: https://www.afscme.org/news/publications/workplace-health-and-safety/double-jeopardy-caseworkers-at-risk-helping-at-risk-kids/caseloads

    The best book I have ever seen on the topic is "Tender Mercies: Inside the World of a Child Abuse Investigator" by Keith Richards (the social worker, not the Rolling Stone) and it was published in 1992.

    https://www.amazon.ca/Tender-Mercies-Inside-World-Investigator/dp/0878687386

    The summary is: This first-person, emotional account of a child protection service worker in New York State gives the reader an intimate look at all aspects of handling child abuse cases: interviewing parents who have been accused of abusing their children, talking to abused children removed from their parents' guardianship, working with an uncaring system ironically designed with the best of intentions, and keeping up with the mounds of paperwork each case generates. Lucid and disturbing, eloquent and passionate, Tender Mercies is a must-read.

    I'm sure there have been other books since but none "jump out" at me. I think the reason I remember "Tender Mercies" is because it was recommended reading in my class.

    Usually what happens is that someone who suspects abuse in Canada will report it to the police who will forward it to a child welfare agency unless a child is in imminent danger or if they know how to, to child protective services and a file will be opened. The intake process will collect the basics - names, ages, how you know the child, what you suspect and why. The more details you are able to provide, the greater the chances the report will be taken seriously.

    Unfortunately, some people *do* report their neighbors or their ex-partners or co-workers they hate to child welfare so that person will get into hot water. Imagine if you had kids and someone from child welfare showed up to ask questions about you at your kids school, at your work, etc, etc. You haven't done anything wrong but does it really matter? Your co-workers, your child's teachers, your boss.....they'll all be wondering at least for a while.

    Once the information is collected, it should be assigned to an investigator who will then start to test the information. Basic details are easy to check out: Call the school, "Hi, this is Eddy from child welfare. I'm investigating a report. Can you tell me if you have a student by the name of Jane Doe enrolled, aged 10 years old, I think?" Once you confirm the basic details you start investigating in detail. This can include interviews with the possible victim(s), the possible abuser(s), significant people in their lives like their doctors and teachers. You might use tools like anatomically detailed dolls and art therapy (Drawings may contain the effects of the abuse, details of situational factors contributing to the abuse, the content of the abuse, depicting who, what, when, where and how, provide details, participants, observers, and other victims.) as a supplement to an interview with a SKILLED investigator in child abuse cases. It unfortunately takes a lot of training to be able to interview a child appropriately without leading them. You have to be able to ask questions and get clear answers, ensure that the child can tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and somehow keep your cool when someone is describing a vicious crime even though you may feel like vomiting or putting your fist through the wall. As you can see from the link below, the tools are not perfect as well, they are subjective and require on the interviewers interpretation.

    See: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01044375


    Once all the evidence is gathered and analyzed the investigator has to make a determination if the allegation is founded (likely true) or unfounded (likely not true) and then take the appropriate steps. Removal of the child from the family home and placement in a safe placement like a group or foster home. Report to law enforcement so they can arrest and charge the offender. Referrals to counselling for the victim and other members of the family like the non-offending parent for example.

    The social worker may have to testify in court as to what s/he determined about the allegation and how s/he got to that interpretation. The victim may testify in court via video chat or in the actual court room but behind a privacy screen so that s/he will not have to see the offender and so the offender cannot see him/her. If the child is too traumatized to testify, a videotape of the interview with the investigator may be played for the court at the judge's discretion - this is touchy because one principle of the justice system is that the accused has the right to confront his/her accuser. It will depend on the judge and the ability of the accused's lawyer to argue against this being shown.

    Then eventually it will go to the jury. If the verdict is guilty, off to jail with the offender hopefully. If the verdict is not guilty, it can get complicated. Usually the accused individual will have supervised visits with the child and they will be observed. If nothing is found, the child may eventually be returned to the family home. However someone who is found "not guilty" and has a good lawyer may insist the child be returned immediately. Child welfare may have no choice but to return the child. And...if the jury got it wrong...well, guess who gets the blame when the child is hurt again?


    I had not considered the privacy issue. I have a difficult time believing that parents would be opposed to anything that would help to protect their children - unless they are an abuser themselves. However this is going to be in a fictionalized setting so I am not very concerned about the privacy aspect. I'll write it and throw the idea out there, then the stakeholders in the field of child abuse can read it and decide whether or not to use the idea - I'll send them a copy of the book. They'll have to take the initiative to read it and implement it.

    I know the biggest issue is going to be cost. I doubt installing X-Ray scanners in every school in North America is realistic from a financial stand point but considering private businesses have mega millions to make movies like "Titanic" why not? Why couldn't a tax on every good or service sold be dedicated to this issue?

    Wow....I didn't mean to write that much! I hope it helps....
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2019
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  4. The Mink

    The Mink Member

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    If the internet/technology would stop changing so quickly then you could use internet traffic of known victims to train a neural net. I think you would have to accept a "false positive" rate that was ridiculously high (ie of all the victims that the program flagged, only 3% are actually being abused). However as a filter that brought a list of "at risk" children that the protagonist (/police/teacher/social worker/child services) can then actually investigate it seems reasonable.

    (PEDANTRY) You mentioned that you wanted to write a "non-fiction" method. The above is possible with current technology, however (hopefully) anything you write would be fiction unless you actually built such a system. (/PEDANTRY)

    The lead time on development of the system is quite long. pulling numbers out of the air, you would have to have approximately 1,000 actual positives (ie abused children) and more than 1,000 actual negatives - and access to the internet usage (or medical data or whatever dataset) . If the usage pattern has changed in the …. 4 years since the data was collected (what is the lag between the data and the time that we can actually confirm that abuse has happened) then it would get worse as a predictive model.

    What it would be good for is to identify abuse survivors. Others in the same phalanx as the group that created the data could be identified and (hopefully) helped to recover (I doubt there would be enough evidence left to prosecute)

    I would be very hesitant about using the results of legal cases as criteria for positives in the training data - in corrupt legal systems, rich people are less likely to be convicted. Unless you were careful, the trained program would have a bias to identify poor people as more likely culprits/victims

    The neural net would also be unable to be "deconstructed". That is - it would be unable to tell you why it flagged a certain child as a possible victim. It would be very much a black box that points the finger.

    It would be easy for the data to be biased in a way that means that the net had a bias against race/social background etc etc and there would be no way to fix that.

    %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%
    I came across a technology in early adoption recently. You stand on a plate and it was intended to detect hydration states in athletes. The data was not very reliable as it was strongly affected by health metrics - that is they are now developing it as an early diagnostic tool for illness. It might be a reasonable public health measure to set that up on school gates, so that if you are coming down with an illness, you have to go home. It isn't a big step to have it also detect bruises (well - it is a big step, but for the purposes of a story it is fine) and flag the child to be brought to the attention of the teachers.
    Something like this would only work in first world countries. ie those with a health care system and have a sensible student/teacher ratio.
    It probably saves money for everyone in the long run, however it would not be practicable in a user pays system.
     
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  5. Mish

    Mish Senior Member

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    I can see a number of issues with the X-Ray approach. First of all radiation exposure. I know it is minimal, but if we are talking about children being exposed on daily basis then there is bound to be a backlash against it. Second, the cost of deploying such an expensive technology across multiple school infrastructures and the right training or hiring of consultants would likely be very prohibitive and therefore impractical.

    I remember reading that the vast majority of abuse victims develop some form of PTSD. Perhaps a compulsory PTSD test in schools could be a way to narrow down the victims? This could be put in practice very quickly with today's technology.
     
  6. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    There is also the danger of a repeat of the false memory child abuse witch hunts of the 60s and 70s in which a large number of children were taken into care when they were not in fact being abused - technology is not perfect and absent a sort of Minority report Panoptic society the scope for mistakes is and false positives is probably too high.
     
  7. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    In my last post I sorta forgot this was meant as research for writing. So, considering this is all fiction anyway, what's stopping you from simply saying "This tech exists and can detect child abuse"? It sounds like you're writing a semi sci-fi sort of book, such as a book like this: https://www.amazon.com/Lock-Novel-Future-John-Scalzi/dp/076538132X

    It's precisely on the premise of an as yet non-existent technology on modern society, except that one's on health and crime it seems.

    What's the purpose of your book? I'm getting confused if this is fiction or non-fiction now. You said it's fiction, right? So the tech is the least of your problems unless you're writing hardcore sci-fi, which it doesn't sound like yours would be. Make it up. It's easy enough. Say, X company came up with a prototype of a machine that scans for signs of child abuse and needed to test the tech in a range of schools for effectiveness. Say it uses medical and chemical profiles of adult individuals known to have suffered abuse who had consented to their records being used for research and the machine uses these to then identify possible cases in other individuals. (or the records could be a child's with the non-offending parent's consent or whatever) A handful of schools managed to get approval from their board of stakeholders of the school. Say it was a city-wide experiment where every school is to implement this machine for a period of 1 year and the machine would be supplied for free.

    If this is going in the sci-fi direction, again, make it up. It doesn't have to be X-ray at all. Make it something else without radiation. What if it not only takes an anatomical map but scans cells for anomalies, structural damage? Maybe the idea wasn't to detect child abuse at all but to detect early signs of treatable illnesses, which parents are probably less likely to kick up a fuss about because there's no guilt or blame assumed. Tech is often created for one purpose and ends up being used for another purpose, after all. Maybe it scans the brain for erratic neurological signals, or other hormonal changes and brain chemistry that allows the machine to detect possible signs of mental illness. Maybe safeguarding is in place where only the doctor, nurse and headteacher get access to these medical records, so basically records are still kept on a semi-confidential basis.

    Maybe if you're going for dystopian, than have the machine malfunction and give a false positive data. But it sounds like you're trying to convey the virtues of such technology, and it's not interesting if the machine simply flags up child abuse cases without error. Not for fiction anyway. Unless you're writing a speculative scientific non-fiction that explores the idea of the use of tech in detecting child-abuse.

    So what's your question really? Is it realistic? Potentially but I don't see it happening with all the legal, medical and emotional barriers around. If it's how to make your tech work - well honestly, just make it up. You need to get around the confidentiality concerns and legality of the situation to make it realistic, but like I said, if you made the scan not for the purposes of detecting child abuse but that child abuse was simply something it happened to flag up, I think you'd have a lot more room to play with.
     
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  8. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I thought it was non fiction - its confusing because the OP says non fiction in line 1 but fiction in line 3
     
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  9. Cdn Writer

    Cdn Writer Senior Member

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    Sorry for the confusion.

    I am going for a fictional novel in which the characters could discuss a method of uncovering child abuse which I want to be plausible, if only the technology existed.

    As an example:

    "So, why didn't anyone see this before," asked Eddy. "Don't you have a whatyacallmit, a scanner in your school to catch these things?"

    "Ummm....no. But what do you mean by a scanner?" the principal inquired.

    "Ya know, like they have at the airport, before you get on a plane to see if you have drugs or weapons?" Eddy thrust his jaw towards the distant airplane overhead.

    "No...we don't have those. I'm still not entirely clear, Eddy, what do you think this scanner would do?"

    "Look Doc, you've got a dead kid here with multiple unhealed and healed fractures. I get he's not walking around naked so you wouldn't have seen the bruises on his body but a scanner would have caught that he was a walking bag of broken bones," waving his hand at the school entrance, "He came through those doors every morning. You have metal detectors to find weapons, right? What about *THIS*?"

    The principal stood there silently. There was nothing to say.


    Then my hope is if I was to write something along those lines a stakeholder in the area of child welfare could read it and go, "Hmm....that might work." Yes, there would be challenges but just pointing them in that direction would be a tremendous step forward.

    So perhaps I should have worded it differently. I'm looking for a plausible technological advancement which could be used in a fictional book to encourage child welfare to explore that avenue. Think of how you have fictional murders but non fictional investigative tools like fingerprints, blood splatter analysis, and ballistics.

    I hope that's a bit more clear. Sorry for the confusion!
     

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