Ethical and Legal Issues

We encourage all professionals working with youth to become familiar with the ethical issues concerning children who may be in danger.  There are also mandatory reporting laws that apply in many U.S. and some international jurisdictions.  These laws vary considerably, however, from country to country and even from state to state, so it is important to know the laws in your own jurisdiction. 

Opinions vary considerably as to the proper course of action, on both legal and ethical grounds.  It has been our experience that there are often many appropriate courses of actions.  We offer two comments here that should not be considered exhaustive or prescriptive but may be helpful in determining how your local laws and your professional ethics would apply when using the JVQ-R2.

1) Most importantly, we strongly caution against making clinical or legal judgments from an answer to a single structured item.  Even several “yes” answers are not diagnostic in and of themselves.  A single “yes” to an answer on the JVQ does not meet the reasonable belief or suspicion standard in most U.S. statutes.
A “yes” answer could also be a reporting error.  For example, a “yes” to a question about physical abuse could turn out to be legally permissible corporal punishment, or a “yes” to a question about emotional abuse could be based on a single recent argument.  A youth may not recognize these differences or fully appreciate the intent of all questions in a structured interview.  There could be other misinterpretations of questions, or even, in the case of self-administered questionnaires, accidentally marking the wrong space on the survey. 

The JVQ, like most contemporary measures, is designed to minimize mistaken answers, but it is statistically impossible to reduce the rate of errors to zero.  For large research studies, errors usually have a small effect on the overall estimates, but they become more important when dealing with individuals. 
Thus, when working with individuals or when examining one child’s answers, it is usually desirable to collect additional information about potentially serious reports before deciding how to proceed. 

2) JVQ-R2 questions vary in severity.  The Child Maltreatment and Sexual Victimization modules of the JVQ are most likely to trigger suspicions of abuse or neglect.  A few Sexual Victimization items, such as Verbal Sexual Harassment, and, depending on the jurisdiction and the age of the child, Statutory Rape/Sexual Misconduct, do not assess reportable offenses.  For some items, whether the response indicates possible abuse or neglect will depend on whether the follow-up questions on perpetrator identity are asked.  For example, Flashing/Sexual Exposure and the assault items on the Conventional Crime module could represent reportable offenses if perpetrated by a caregiver but not if perpetrated by a stranger or a peer.  Most Peer & Sibling Victimization and Witnessing & Indirect Victimization items will seldom lead to responses that might trigger mandatory reporting.  These may still be worth investigating further to address the child’s needs, however.