32 minutes | Apr 22nd 2020

Believe them, listen to them: advocating for child safety, even during a pandemic

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Child abuse and neglect is already a tough but important issue for our community to tackle, and JACY House is on the front lines of providing prevention and advocacy services, as well as forensic interviews when an allegation of abuse is made. The current public health situation, where children may not have the usual safe spaces available to them, creates a particular risk and the potential need for even more advocacy and related services. In this conversation I talk with Amanda Wilson, Executive Director of JACY House, about the amazing work they do, how a forensic interview works, the ways COVID-19 is affecting those programs, and how all of us can be a part of protecting and advocating for our children. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call the Indiana Department of Child Services’ Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline today: 1-800-800-5556. Disclosure: I am a donor to JACY House. Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: Amanda Wilson, thank you so much for joining me today. Amanda Wilson: Thank you for having me. Chris: For anyone who’s not familiar with JACY House, can you give us a little bit of an overview of what it is, sort of how it came to be and some of the programs and services that you offer there. Amanda: Okay. JACY House is a child advocacy center that was developed back in 2003 after a group got together late 2002 realizing that we needed better services for children when there were allegations of primarily sexual abuse, but it has grown over the years as we’ve been through the process. We, like I said, opened up originally to do forensic interviews for children here in Wayne County but then expanded in 2006 when DCS regionalized to do forensic interviews for six different counties and we’ve added services over the years. In 2007, we added body safety programs to our program list and through the years have expanded that 2012, ’13 started use a new curriculum and then it’s slowly expanded to cover pre-K through 12th grade and we just, this school year began using an even more expanded curriculum that is really awesome with kids, lots of interactive kind of things for kids to learn about body safety. And then we added just a few years ago added advocacy services to help follow the families through the process after their forensic interview is complete. And so those are the main programs that we offer at our centers. Chris: Wow. I mean that sounds like a lot and I heard you say you went from one county to six if I’m understanding right. I mean that sounds like a huge amount of work that you all do. How do you do that? What kind of staff do you have? How are you able to keep up? Amanda: When I came on board eight years ago, we had a staff of myself and one other part-time person doing the body safety program. That has expanded over the last eight years. We now have three full-time staff members and actually three part-time staff members. We have a position right now open that we haven’t filled, so we have six staff members. We went from doing 150 to 200 forensic interviews a year to, we’re on target this year to hit over 500 forensic interviews, partly because we’re serving more counties. We’ve actually been doing some interviews for Randolph County over the last year, which adds that seventh county. They are in the process of working to get a center opened just for their County. And then we’ve actually started talking to a county, another adjacent county, so that would add us seven another to then eight counties that we are serving through our forensic interview process. Chris: It’s just amazing and I know that you know, you talk a little bit about your process and programs and services on your website and sometimes we’ll see in the media that an interview has happened through like facilitated by or through JACY House. But I wonder if you could walk us through a little bit of how that process works. Sort of how that interview comes to be, and I know it’s obviously a really sensitive topic and I just want to help people understand what kind of care and intention and the professional services that go into making that happen. Amanda: Absolutely. In the state of Indiana, we are all mandated reporters, so it doesn’t matter what our professional status is. Anyone that is a legal adult is a mandated reporter. So if you witness child abuse in any way, if a child discloses any type of abuse or if you have reason to suspect that something’s going on with that child, you’re mandated to report to the Child Abuse Hotline. And that’s where all of our forensic interviews come from is the hotline and or law enforcement agencies, they sometimes will call us as well. And so it’s all starts there. And when that report is made, it’s not that the individual is making an allegation that something has happened, they’re just concerned. They’ve witnessed something like I said. The child’s told them something that’s concerning or they just have some general concerns, kind of a gut instinct that something might not be right. Then those reports are made to the Department of Child Services and then they will then call us to set up that forensic interview for the child. Like I said, when we opened up the covered Wayne County and we did primarily just sexual abuse allegations, we did interviews with children ages two to 18. We are still interviewing children ages two to 18 but we’re interviewing for all types of reasons. Children that are witnesses to crimes, children that are alleged to have been a victim of any type of maltreatment, whether that be sexual abuse or physical abuse or drug exposure or witnessed domestic violence, any of those kinds of things. We’re interviewing children for all different kinds of reasons now. Chris: We’ll talk in just a minute about how our current public health situation has affected this work. But I wanted to again, give you a chance to emphasize the sort of the role that that interview plays or maybe to ask the question, why is that forensic interview so important in the way that it happens, the kind of controlled setting that you use and what value does that interview process play in sort of the broader process of addressing child abuse and neglect? Amanda: Okay. In the mid-80s was the first child advocacy center that was developed and they recognize the process being very difficult for children. Children were interviewed in multiple different places by multiple different people with different types of training. And so children’s stories seem to be very inconsistent and it was decided then that it would be much more, and the research shows that it’s much easier on children when they talk about their information as few times as possible, cuts down on the trauma to the child and it gets the information gathered in a way that the child can then be protected. And so the forensic interview process that we use is called ChildFirst Indiana and it is owned by the Zero Abuse Project. The protocol that we use and what it is, it’s as a way of gathering information from children in a way is developmentally appropriate and allows the child to kind of lead through their experiences. It’s non-leading non-suggestive. The child just gives us their information in a way that they’ve experienced it. And by doing that forensic interview with our we use what we call a Multi-Disciplinary Team approach or an MDT approach and that allows all of those people that have a vested interest in that child safety from the Department of Child Services to law enforcement, to prosecutors offices, to mental health, medical professionals, all of those that are trained to make sure that the children are safe. They’re all involved in that forensic interview process. So they will, typically it’s the law enforcement and DCS case manager that will observe the interviews and be able to gather all of their information without the child having to talk to all of those different people about their experiences. And our interviewers are trained just in this type of interviewing so that they can gather that information from the child. Chris: It sounds like really important work and really hard work to do. I wonder what kinds of trends you’ve seen in recent years when it comes to Wayne County and the surrounding region through all the prevention and advocacy and interview and support work that you do. Are there trends that that can be identified in cases and then sort of how we’re doing as a community in that regard? Amanda: I think you can see some trends. I think one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that when we hear that child abuse report numbers are going up or that there’s more families being involved with the Department of Child Service, those of things. We have to remember is that, like I said before, we’re all mandated reporters, so when those reports are made, they may be screened out. They may be assessed and determined that what was happened there was a reasonable explanation to what was going on and it wasn’t maltreatment or abuse. But sometimes it’s because there is something going on and I really feel like a lot of those things are happening because we’re very good at reporting and recognizing sites. We’re doing lots of training with school staff, with individuals in the community, and then the children receive those body safety programs in all of the schools in Wayne, Union and Randolph County now. We cover all of the grades and all of the schools in those counties. Amanda: We actually, a couple of years ago, there was a law enacted in Indiana called Erin’s Law. Erin was a victim herself an
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