Hazel ParkFebruary 19, 2014
Hazel Park officer awarded for work on child abuse cases
By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer
HAZEL PARK — Safe in a secure location, the child victim looks at the wall and sees only their reflection in a mirror. But hidden on the other side of the one-way glass are authority figures like Hazel Park Police Detective Janeen Gielniak, observing the interview from another room.
Such is how Gielniak describes a key phase of the investigative work she conducts as a member of the Special Victims Unit at the Hazel Park Police Department.
“A trained interviewer speaks with the children and gives them a chance to remove the burden of whatever abuse they’re suffering,” Gielniak said. “I then go from there, seeking warrants or working with Child Protective Services.”
She acknowledged that it sounds like heartbreaking work, hearing a kid unspool the worst things that ever happened to them. But Gielniak looks at it in a different way.
“It’s challenging, and it can be difficult, but I try to focus on the positive aspect of it. I’m making a difference, changing the situation, doing whatever I can to help these victims to get through this,” Gielniak said. “I also work with a great group of people, from CARE House (of Oakland County), to Child Protective Services, to the prosecutors and victim advocates of the Oakland County Circuit Court.”
Recently, Gielniak and 16 other officers from across Oakland County were recognized for their work on child abuse cases at the annual Circle of Friends luncheon, held by CARE House of Oakland County.
Gov. Rick Snyder presented each of them with a Certificate of Excellence.
“I think it’s wonderful that CARE House took the time and effort to put together this wonderful event to acknowledge those of us in law enforcement working on this,” Gielniak said. “It’s very much appreciated.”
CARE House of Oakland County, in Pontiac, is an extension of the Child Abuse and Neglect Council of Oakland County. Established in 1977, the council was, and continues to be, a collaborative effort between law enforcement agencies, Child Protective Services, the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, and more.
CARE House aims to address child abuse and neglect in several ways: Prevention through education, intervention efforts and treatment, and support services for victims and their nonoffending family members. Services are provided free of charge.
The problem should not be understated, but often is, according to Carol Furlong, executive director of CARE House.
“Sexual abuse (of children) is really an epidemic,” Furlong said. “It is estimated by the National Children’s Alliance that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually molested before they’re adults. People just aren’t aware. It is a huge problem.”
For children who have been neglected, CARE House sends home visitors to check on them once a week and make sure they’re receiving proper care. This includes making sure their medical needs are being met and that they’re on a proper feeding schedule.
To prevent abuse from occurring in the first place, CARE House has education efforts in the schools and within the mandated reporter community, teaching doctors, teachers and other individuals who may be in contact with kids to recognize behaviors that are telltale indicators of abuse, and how to report them.
“And we teach the children the appropriate boundaries for interacting with adults, teaching them when they should say ‘no,’” Furlong said. “We also teach them it’s OK to tell someone if something does happen.”
And then there is the treatment and support for those who have suffered abuse, in the form of therapy that’s available as long as they need it.
“That’s just the first step,” Furlong said. “The emotional recovery takes a long time, but it’s worth it. Statistically, children are very resilient, if they receive treatment in the way of counseling. And our staff is trained in child trauma and very well-equipped to handle those processes. It is a problem that is solvable.”
And solve it, they must. Furlong notes the cyclical nature of child abuse: If victims are left untreated, they themselves may abuse others when they’re adults, or they may be more prone to let themselves suffer abuse again.
“The only way to stop the cycle is for more people to report kids being abused,” Furlong said.
Gielniak said there are a number of warning signs people can watch for that may indicate something bad is happening in a child’s life.
“One of the key indicators is a change in behavior,” Gielniak said. “If this child originally really liked to do sports or really liked this teacher, and now they don’t, or if they’re afraid to go to certain places, like grandma’s or uncle’s, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s abuse going on, but parents should ask questions — open-ended questions so as not to suggest any specific act, which encourages them to tell what really happens.
“Kids are easily influenced, and part of forensic interviewing is to let the kid talk, rather than answering specific questions,” she said. “And the key thing is to let that kid know that they’re really safe.”
Furlong said that Gielniak has a deep understanding of all of this and truly deserves to be recognized for her work helping those who are most helpless in society.
“She’s a very engaged and very passionate officer,” Furlong said. “I think her commitment to the kids is clear in everything that she does.”