Finding the right words in a difficult situation can be challenging for anyone. Finding the right words to allow a child to disclose abuse takes training.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Crime Victim Section offers that instruction, which is aptly named Finding Words.
A five-day course — Interviewing and Preparing Children for Court — helps law enforcement, prosecutors, child protection workers, and forensic interviewers learn best practices for investigating and prosecuting child abuse. Taught by experienced practitioners in the field, it is set for July 16–20 at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) in London.
A more advanced three-day course — The Forensic Interviewer at Trial — is being offered for the first time in Ohio to help prosecutors and forensic interviewers prepare children for trial and prosecute cases. Set for Oct. 29–31 at OPOTA’s London campus, it will be led by experts from the National Child Protection Training Center.
Putting the child first
“The whole premise behind Finding Words is to put the child first,” said Ursel McElroy, who coordinates the courses. “That is true in every aspect of the training.”
In addition to always considering the child’s best interests, that approach means conducting an age-appropriate interview, learning to overcome varied linguistic abilities, and knowing how to avoid leading questions.
Finding Words also stresses the importance of a team approach involving law enforcement, prosecutors, child protection workers, and forensic interviewers.
“You want the most qualified person conducting the interview so the child doesn’t have to go through it more than one time,” McElroy said.
BCI supervisor appreciates training’s depth
Savalas Kidd of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation oversees special agents involved with the Attorney General’s Crimes Against Children Initiative. He is a strong advocate for Finding Words.
“I think all law enforcement officers involved in investigating these types of crimes should take this training,” he said. “It stresses the importance of making the child the first priority and not losing sight of that. And it walked us through a case from beginning to end — from interviewing the child to prosecution and courtroom testimony.”
Kidd appreciated the depth of the training and the knowledge he gained of various professionals’ roles in the process. Noting the collaboration that’s necessary between law enforcement, advocates, prosecutors, and others, he added, “That rapport is so important to ensure the integrity of the investigation can always be maintained.”