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Bridging Boundaries to Keep Children Safe

As the only child advocacy center in Alameda County, CALICO works with twenty-nine partner agencie

s to facilitate a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to child-abuse investigations within the county. Though most of CALICO’s work is local, growing awareness of our successful model has led to requests for guidance from across the state, the country, and even the world. Whenever and wherever help is needed, CALICO strives to promote best practices in forensic interviewing, multi-disciplinary team (MDT) work, family support and training to ensure that children are safe and families have the tools for healing.

Statewide Reach CALICO facilitates and participates in services that assist other child advocacy centers throughout California. Spanish-Speaking Peer Review, for example, was launched to address a common challenge to effective child-abuse investigations. In centers with only one Spanish-speaking interviewer, that interviewer has no opportunity to obtain feedback from coworkers regarding technique and protocol. Bertha Nevarez and Amparo Ozuna, both bilingual interviewers at CALICO, began organizing a regional peer-review meeting in 2009 that would fulfill those needs. Now, Spanish-speaking interviewers meet once a quarter to critique each others’ interviews and address cultural concerns. One attendee commented, “The feedback is valuable because I get constructive criticism from my peers in the same unique position, and it gives me tools to improve my skills.” CALICO also participates in Child Forensic Interview Training (CFIT), which provides instruction for new and emerging MDTs across the state. CALICO’s Training Coordinator and Child Interview Specialist Kristy Brodeur Dermody serves as a training consultant for the CFIT sessions, and she and Bertha facilitate mock interviews so attendees can practice what they’ve learned.

National Connections CALICO’s reach occasionally extends beyond the border of California. Investigations take place in the jurisdiction where the abuse occurred, but children sometimes wait months or years to share what happened due to fear or shame. By the time the report is made, a child may live in another city or state. When a child living in Alameda County reports abuse that occurred in another state, CALICO conducts courtesy interviews as needed. Having the interview conducted close to home allows the child’s wellbeing to remain the priority while still obtaining vital information. After a detective in Alaska watched an interview CALICO conducted on his behalf, he praised Kristy's interviewing technique and added, “I plan on adopting some of your language in my own interviews.”

International Scope

From time to time, CALICO collaborates across even greater distances to serve abused children. CALICO, along with other Bay Area agencies, has been partnering with the Georgian Foundation (which improves the health and welfare of residents in developing nations) to strengthen child-abuse investigations in Zambia. Three Zambian physicians visited CALICO in March and three police investigators arrived in June to attend our case review and program advisory committee meetings, consult with CALICO staff and participate in MDT and Child Forensic Interviewer Trainings. According to Oakland Police Department Criminalist Laura Silva, who attends CALICO’s monthly case review and also serves as a Georgian Foundation forensic team leader, “The openness of CALICO staff to share their time and ideas has helped to catapult top-notch training of medical, laboratory and police professionals from Zambia to a new level.”

CALICO knows firsthand that perfecting the child advocacy center model takes time, effort, and guidance. Sixteen years ago, agencies in Alameda County came together to create CALICO, and in 1997 the center’s reach was quite different from today’s. With help from others, CALICO has grown to become an efficient hub for a team that works together to serve abused children in the best manner possible. We are always honored to help other agencies and organizations in need do the same. Sharing information across geographic boundaries lets us learn from each other and leads to a strengthened response to child abuse and increased safety for children.

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