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Armstrong starts ChildFirst training

| Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 1:32 a.m.
Participants it the ChildFirst program in Armstrong County are, (from left to right), Michael Kapustik, Pennsylvania State Police; Kylie Simmons, Shelly Boback and Jackie Peters, CYF Caseworkers; Sheree Shafer, Children’s Community Pediatrics; Scott Andreassi, district attorney; Robin Davis, county detective/DA’s office; and Jo Ellen Bowman, HAVIN.

KITTANNING – Armstrong County is putting its children first when it comes to prosecuting child abusers and has joined the ranks of 21 other Pennsylvania counties as a ChildFirst County.

This fall a team of eight professionals from Armstrong County completed a forensic interview training course in Greensburg.

The ChildFirst training course is the forensic interview training program of the National Child Protection Training Center in partnership with CornerHouse, a child abuse training facility in Minneapolis.

Dennis Demangone, administrator of the county's Children, Youth and Family Services (CYF), said the training has a two-fold purpose: limiting trauma for a child during the forensic interviewing process and producing an interview with a child sexual abuse victim that can withstand challenges in court.

He said the goal was to create a team of front-line child abuse responders within the county. In the past, children believed to be victims of abuse were interviewed at either the Child Advocacy Center at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh or at A Child's Place at Mercy, Pittsburgh.

Now, said Demangone, these interviews can happen here in Armstrong County within five days of a reported incident.

Those who completed the training were Scott Andreassi, Armstrong County District Attorney; Robin Davis, county detective; Michael Kapustik, state police trooper; Jo Ellen Bowman, director of HAVIN; Sheree Shafer, Children's Community Pediatrics; Shelly Boback, Jackie Peters, and Kylie Simmons, all of CYF.

“Its title is accurate,” said Andreassi. “ChildFirst – everything we did was focused on the child.”

Bowman said the course not only included a huge amount of reading and study but it also gave participants the opportunity to engage in mock interviews with real hands-on training. All of the mock interviews were videotaped so everyone could learn from one another, she said.

“Wording is very specific to this protocol,” said Bowman. “It makes sure there is one very good interview that isn't biased and that avoids more trauma.”

The training and mock interviews included educating the team on using developmentally appropriate language so children could better understand what they were being asked.

Simmons said ChildFirst protocol stops a child from having to go through multiple interviews.

That's why mandated reporters of suspected child abuse should call ChildLine or CYF right away, said Annamarie Simpson, CYF casework supervisor.

“That's all mandated reporters have to do. They don't need to do the investigation,” said Simpson.

Bowman said the team now videotapes real interviews to help increase prosecutions and focuses on making the courtroom more child friendly.

In a situation where a child has been victimized and abused, ChildFirst reduces intimidation and trauma, said Andreassi.

Davis said she hadn't expected the training to be as pointed and focused as it was. She said the team had the equivalent work-load of a three-credit college course in one week.

She said the program's focused and structured policy and procedure “closes the loopholes and leaves very little space for outside contamination.”

“The child is foremost in everybody's mind,” said Davis. “If a child doesn't disclose, it's done. You don't push it.”

Andreassi said that although the five-day session was the most intense training he's ever been to, he has already seen firsthand how well the procedure works.

“Robin and I have used some of the techniques already. It's amazing how well it works,” he said.

Demangone said the protocol has been specifically recognized and approved by many appellate courts throughout the country. The Pennsylvania Children and Youth Solicitors Association is working collaboratively with the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association to certify Pennsylvania as a ChildFirst state.

To report suspected child abuse call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313 or Armstrong County Children, Youth and Family Services at 724-548-3466.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or

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