The approach investigators use in talking with possible victims of child abuse can make all the difference in whether the case makes it to court, Harrisburg attorney Jason Kutulakis said.
Take the wrong tack, and the child “will probably shut down,” the founder of the nonprofit ChildFirst Pennsylvania program told about 40 professionals from throughout the region gathered at the state police Southwest Regional Training Center on Wednesday in Unity.
Those attending, ranging from police officers and prosecutors to child abuse caseworkers and forensic interviewers, are taking part in a weeklong ChildFirst Pennsylvania workshop offering training to first-responders in cases of suspected child abuse.
Kutulakis said the program was popular long before the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal broke in State College last year.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the response we’ve had since we started in 2009 —and that was long before the most-publicized cases. We’re already booked into 2013,” Kutulakis said.
Child welfare advocates are using the workshops to institute standard methods for dealing with these cases.
“It’s a very specialized field. And these type of issues are very sensitive and also very difficult. This type of training is really beneficial,” state police spokesman Steve Limani said.
Derry Police Chief Randy Glick brought in the department’s canine named Blade, who interacted with a group of about 20 children between the ages of 4 and 8 from throughout Westmoreland County.
Later in the day, workshop participants conducted interviews with the children to practice what they learned.
“It’s part of the rapport building … trying to get the kid to trust them so they’ll open up,” Kutulakis said.
The program e_SEmD offered in 17 states nationwide e_SEmD promotes conducting “team interviews” using a forensic interviewer to perform a single recorded interviews so the child will only have to tell the story one time instead of talking to police, then a child services investigator, then the prosecutor.
Later in the week, professional actors playing teenage victims will interviewed.
Participants will be schooled in the art of testifying in court and preparing young victims to testify.
The program is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Solicitors Association in concert with the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the state Department of Public Welfare. State police are providing training facilities at various locations throughout the state.
More information is available at www.childfirstpa.com
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.