Who chooses your child’s therapist in Utah if your child is the victim of abuse? As a parent, is it your choice? Or does the government decide? And can your choice to switch therapists be used as evidence that you are committing felony witness tampering?
Imagine yourself in the following scenario, as a single parent with full parental rights and full legal custody of your minor child:**
**Details presented here have been changed or omitted to protect the innocent and to maintain client confidentiality.
Government-Funded Treatment for Your Child
You learn that your child has been abused by a family member. Police are contacted and criminal charges are filed against the alleged perpetrator. The government offers to provide counseling for your child free of charge. You accept the offer and are referred to a provider who has contracted with the government to provide counseling and therapy services to victims of crime.
You schedule a counseling session for your child with the government-contracted therapist, with hopes that the therapist will be able to help your child. Since the counseling sessions are being paid for by the government, your child is only able to meet with the therapist about once per month.
A Child Still Struggling
After a few months, you observe that your child appears to be struggling in various ways. You suspect that this may be related to the alleged abuse. You have questions you would like to ask, but you have been told by police that you can be charged with felony witness tampering if you talk to your own child about the incident. You try talking with the therapist about your concerns, but the therapist will not discuss what has been happening in your child’s counseling sessions.
Accused of Pressuring Your Child
A month or so later, your child begins talking to you about what happened. Concerned by the police warning that you could be charged with witness tampering, you just listen to what your child says without commenting. You reach out to the therapist and tell the therapist what you child told you. The therapist tells you that your child has told the therapist something different, and suggests that you must be inappropriately pressuring the child.
Your Choice to Switch Therapists
You continue to be concerned that your child is still struggling. You believe that your child might benefit from having more frequent sessions with a therapist. It appears to you that your child is not making progress with the current therapist. You are also concerned that the therapist refuses to keep you informed on what is happening in your child’s therapy sessions.
Based on the information available, you make the decision to try a different therapist who is not contracted with the government. This therapist will be able to meet with your child weekly, but you will have to pay the costs out of your own pocket. After a few sessions with the new therapist, your child is showing improvement.
Police Begin to Investigate… YOU
Police who originally investigated the abuse of your child learn that you have switched therapists, and contact the original government-contracted therapist. The original therapist tells police that your child had made certain statements to the therapist that conflicted with what you said your child had said to you. Police interpret this as evidence that you have provided false information to the original therapist. The original therapist also tells the police that you are therapist “shopping” to try to get your child to tell a different version of events.
Police learn that you have received communications from the accused family member, in which the accused proclaims innocence and expresses a hope that the child will tell “the truth” with the new therapist. Because police are convinced that the accused is guilty, they interpret the stated hope that the child will tell “the truth” as being a euphemistic instruction for the child to lie about what happened.
Search Warrant and Arrest
Based in part on the communications you received from the accused family member and in part on the fact that you switched therapists (without notifying the police about the change), police form the belief that you are participating in an effort to get your own child to lie about the alleged abuse.
Police get a warrant to search your home for the communication that they believe you received from the accused. They find nothing, but they still arrest you on the spot for witness tampering — a felony charge.
Released on Bail with Felony Charges
Following your arrest, you are released from jail on bail. You are “free” but you have a pending felony case that has been filed against you. Hiring an attorney will be costly.
How to Help Your Child?
In addition to the stress of facing criminal charges yourself, you still have the original worry about finding the right help for your child. Can you still have your child meet with the new therapist who seemed to be making good progress? Do you have to return your child to the original government-contracted therapist? Can you talk to your own child about anything that has happened without risking further criminal charges?
There are no easy answers to these questions.