END OF AN ERROR
After fifteen years of evaluating child sexual abuse for Denver's C. Henry Kempe National Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, Clare Haynes-Seman is out of a job.
As of January 31, the contract of the 56-year-old director of the Family Evaluation Team will lapse, and no one at the Kempe Center or the University of Colorado's Department of Pediatrics (out of which Haynes-Seman taught as an associate professor) is going to renew it.
Five months after Westword detailed Haynes-Seman's controversial method of evaluating children suspected of having been victims of sexual abuse ("Do You See What I See?" August 2), the university is parting ways with the "evaluator," who holds a degree in psychology but is not a licensed psychologist. Haynes-Seman developed a method she calls the Kempe Interactional Assessment, in which she videotapes children at play alone and with family members for a few hours, then watches the tapes repeatedly to ascertain who, if anyone, is responsible for alleged molestation. According to her book Children Speak for Themselves, Haynes-Seman claims her method is both accurate and effective; other psychology professionals have called it "dangerous" and "unadulterated balderdash." Although several lawsuits have been brought against Haynes-Seman alleging negligence in her evaluations, none so far have been successful because of the governmental-immunity laws that protect the University of Colorado--under whose auspices the Kempe Center works.
"The conclusion of Ms. Haynes-Seman's contract [just months after] the Westword article is completely coincidental," says UCHSC spokeswoman Bobbi Barrow. "The Department of Pediatrics chair, Douglas Jones, told her a year ago that if she couldn't get the funding necessary to subject her work to scientific analysis, her contract would not be renewed."
Just why Haynes-Seman suddenly needed outside funding (after fifteen years of internal funding for her research)--or how she feels about the Kempe Center's swift cold shoulder--remains unanswered. Barrow claims that increasing pressure on academia to streamline is "squeezing" everyone. Haynes-Seman declines to talk with Westword, but Karen Harold, an assistant to the producer at NBC's Dateline, says when she called Haynes-Seman to indicate the network's interest in doing a story on the controversy surrounding her and her method, Haynes-Seman said she was furious at the university's action and wanted to tell her side of the story.
Barrow says Haynes-Seman refuses to confirm or deny the conversation, saying only that "that was not how she phrased that." Harold says Dateline will pursue the story in the next several weeks.
Bob Hancock, a Longmont attorney who has represented a number of families who claim they've been wrenched apart by false allegations stemming from Haynes-Seman's method, says he's relieved to hear the news of her release.
"It's a good first step toward restoring the credibility of the Kempe Center," Hancock says.
The rest of the task, Hancock says, lies in using only scientifically acceptable means of evaluating child sexual abuse. And that's a decision the Kempe Center has yet to make. "Discussions are taking place on that issue as we speak," says Barrow.
State representative Doug Friednash isn't waiting for the outcome of that discussion. He filed a bill in the opening week of the 1996 legislative session that would bar unlicensed professionals from performing child-custody evaluations and limit the reach of the state's governmental-immunity law in cases of child-abuse investigations.
"This is about protecting children and their families," Friednash explains. Told that the catalyst for his bill, Haynes-Seman, is leaving her job, Friednash wryly says, "She highlighted a lot of reasons for the bill. There goes my poster child.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.