There are few scenes more emotionally charged than that of child abuse or death. Children are helpless and easy to victimize. As a result, we get pretty upset if they are injured or killed by the very people responsible for their care. Children may also be poor witnesses, unable to adequately explain how they were injured because of their age or fear of the suspect(s). Sometimes, no one is at fault for a child’s injury (bruise) or death (SIDS) but CSIs must investigate the scene to make sure there is no foul play or neglect that may have contributed to the child’s injuries or death. So what do CSIs look for at a crime scene in cases of child abuse and neglect?
Neglect or abuse can be an isolated incident but oftentimes children suffer poor living conditions over a long period of time. I’ve been in hundreds of homes and it’s pretty easy to see which parents take care of their children. Good parents will often go without modern luxuries to ensure their children have the best life possible. Bad parents on the other hand, often put their own priorities and needs ahead of their children. It’s pretty easy to spot too. That’s not to say that appearances are everything. Even a parent who provides a “good home” can commit an isolated act of abuse or infanticide, but the conditions of the crime scene are an important factor to assess.
Children are completely dependent on adults for their care. This includes personal hygiene, health/diet, clothing, education, and general welfare. All of these things cost money. Children may require cribs, clothing, diapers, formula, baby food, car seats, and various medicines in addition to luxuries like toys, books, movies, or games. A good parent will have all of these things in quantities and in good working order. I’ve seen plenty of “poor” parents keep a neat and tidy room for their children, stocked with diapers, clean clothing, and toys.
In contrast, a neglectful parent may provide very little for their children. I remember one case of child abuse I investigated several years ago. I found a large (body sized) depression in the hallway wall. It was obvious he was forcibly thrown into it. When the father returned home he was all attitude. I documented the fact that the refrigerator was basically empty of food as were the cupboards. No milk, no peanut butter, you get the point. The house was also very messy but that doesn’t necessarily speak of neglect (kids can get messy). There were some things that really stood out to me relating to their income. The family lived in government housing which was heavily subsidized but they still had money for a very large flat screen television, expensive stereo system, smart phone, and other luxuries. Dad was wearing a chest full of gold jewelry and had $1500.00 worth of rims on his car. All of this “wealth” at the expense of his child’s welfare. Now poor living conditions are not corollary of abuse but they are supportive.
So when you are developing a story involving child abuse, abduction, or any other child crime where a parent or babysitter is suspect, you should consider how you describe the conditions of the child’s home.