About the Children’s Justice Centers
Why are the Children’s Justice Centers a Hawaiʻi State Judiciary program?
The legislature established the program in 1986 to ensure a fair and neutral process for the handling of reports of child sexual abuse. The intent was to protect the rights of all persons involved – the victims and the alleged perpetrators.
Prior to the creation of the Centers, the justice system was geared towards meeting the needs of adults, not the needs of children, although children are often victims of crime. The Judiciary established the program to open the courthouse doors to children as witnesses. Specially trained professionals conduct developmentally appropriate forensic interviews, videotapes are made instead of written statements, and a special children’s waiting room has been created in the Circuit Court, First Circuit, for children who will be testifying.
In 2001, new legislation changed the program’s name to the Hawaiʻi Children’s Justice Center from the Hawaiʻi Children’s Advocacy Center. The legislation also expanded the program’s focus to include felony serious physical abuse and children as witnesses to crime. In 2022, new legislation expanded the program’s focus to also include child sex trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and other child maltreatment.
The Children’s Justice Centers provide a warm, homelike setting where children can feel as comfortable and safe as possible while being interviewed about reports of felony (serious) child abuse, sexual abuse, commercial sexual exploitation, child sex trafficking, and as witnesses to crimes.
What are the Children’s Justice Centers?
The Children’s Justice Centers provide a warm, homelike setting where children can feel as comfortable and safe as possible while being interviewed about reports of felony (serious) child abuse, sexual abuse, and as witnesses to crimes. Working together at the Centers to coordinate efforts to help abused children and their families are:
- The Department of Human Services Child Welfare Services.
- The County Police Department.
- Offices of the Prosecuting Attorney.
- Victim Witness Assistance programs.
- The Department of the Attorney General.
- Crisis counseling and medical services.
- Treatment providers.
- Community volunteers.
- The Armed Forces.
- The Federal Bureau of Investigations.
- Homeland Security Investigations.
Why is a child brought to a Children’s Justice Center?
After a report of child abuse is made to the proper authorities, a child is brought to the Center by a protective family member, or agency staff to be interviewed by specially trained professionals. Follow-up meetings with the child and other professionals are held in the familiar surroundings of the Center.
How are these interviews conducted?
The program’s goal is to help the child feel safe, comfortable, and supported. Each interview room is designed for children of different age groups and has a viewing area to minimize the number of people in the room with the child. A videotape is made of the interview to reduce the need to re-interview the child.
The County Police Department, Federal law enforcement or the proper military authority investigates reported cases of child abuse. Department of Human Services (DHS) investigates cases that occur in the family. Trained staff from these agencies work as a team at the Center to conduct the interview.
What happens after the interview?
If the abuse has occurred within 72 hours, the child may be taken as soon as possible for a forensic medical examination with a specially trained professional. In all cases, a physical examination should be conducted to determine the child’s medical and emotional needs.
The Department of Human Services is the government agency responsible for the well-being and safety of children. They work to ensure the child is in a safe environment. They will also assist the child and family in obtaining therapy from trained professionals in the community, as therapy is important to begin the healing and helping process. Local partner agencies provide counseling and support services to children and their families.
Will the case go to Court?
The Department of Human Services may bring a case to Family Court if it appears to be in the best interest of the child. The County Police Department determines whether a case will be sent to the Prosecutor’s Office for possible criminal action. Once a case is at the Prosecutor’s Office, a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and a Victim Witness Counselor are assigned to the case. The Center is available for their meetings with the child. As with the professionals from other agencies, the prosecuting attorney and advocate are specially trained to help the child and family go through the court process in as supportive a manner as possible.