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CHILDREN’S ADVOCACY CENTER CELEBRATES NATIONAL FORENSIC INTERVIEWER WEEK JULY 8-12

CAC Forensic Interviewers protect the well-being of the child while eliciting the facts of alleged physical or sexual violence.


From July 8-12, 2024, Children's Advocacy Center of North and Northwest Cook County (CAC) invites the community to honor our Forensic Interviewers, who do the difficult, delicate and emotionally draining work of eliciting the facts about alleged sexual or physical violence from young survivors ages three to seventeen.


“What keeps me going on the hard days is, first of all, my team,” explained CAC Director of Forensic and Advocacy Services Jessica Montgomery, LSW. “They are resilient, passionate and dedicated to showing up for each other and the families we serve. And second, it is an honor to hold space for a child to share their story however they need to, sometimes for the first time ever, in that interview room.”


“Often times, a huge weight is lifted from children who feel comfortable disclosing in the forensic interview, as secrecy plays a part in the dynamics of abuse and its impact on the child,” added CAC CEO Melanie Pignotti, LCPC, veteran Forensic Interviewer and Child First Illinois Faculty member.


SPECIALIZED TRAINING REQUIRED

CAC Forensic Interviewers must successfully complete a 40-hour forensic interviewing training in a nationally recognized protocol (i.e. Child First, APSAC, NCAC, etc.). The training includes having to pass a mock forensic interview (FI) and written exam, Pignotti said. Following training, ongoing Peer Review is required, at minimum, twice a year. Forensic Interviewers must also participate in at least eight hours of professional development training every two years. CAC’s interviewers routinely exceed that minimum.


PASSION DRIVES PURPOSE

Wendy Diaz is CAC’s Lead Forensic Interviewer and handles the majority of the Spanish-language cases. “Before becoming a Forensic Interviewer, I was a Bilingual Family Advocate,” Diaz shared. “During that time, I would sometimes translate interviews. I would sit in the FI room and translate what the interviewer said to the child and vice versa. While I was doing that, in my mind, I was coming up with some questions and wanted to keep it going on, interviewing the child myself. At that point I knew that I wanted to be a Forensic Interviewer. Here I am four years later - a Lead Forensic Interviewer.”


COORDINATION AND COLLABORATION

Diaz and her interviewer colleagues, Jessica Montgomery, LSW, Taylor Edmunds, LSW, and Paula Amat, are part of the Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) which uses a single interview strategy to protect the well-being of the child and limit additional trauma. CAC’s MDT Coordinator Bri Kness handles all referral calls from law enforcement and DCFS and works with those partners, as well as the State’s Attorney’s Office, to schedule the child’s interview. Kness also pairs the client family with a CAC Advocate who helps them navigate the investigative process and connects them with supportive services.


Instead of being interviewed in a police station, a hospital or at home next to an alleged offender, young survivors meet with a CAC interviewer in one of the child-friendly rooms at the Hoffman Estates or Skokie office. Designed to put children at ease with warm colors, comfortable furniture and child-size table and chairs, the interview is observed by the MDT via a live feed in CAC’s conference room. This real-time viewing makes the interview legally sound (definition of the word ‘forensic’) and is a critical part of not only the initial investigation but also the criminal prosecution at trial. CAC Forensic Interviewers are often called upon to provide both fact and expert witness testimony to aid in successful prosecution of offenders.


EMPOWERING VOICES - INSPIRING HOPE

No matter how difficult the work is or how long the legal process takes (and it can be years), CAC’s Forensic Interviewers are an integral part of the MDT and celebrate with them when the offender is found guilty.


“The FAS team is so thankful to have such incredible members of the MDT working to care for and empower children who have survived abuse and help them build resiliency to live healthier lives,” said Edmunds. “When a victim is finally able to say, after a guilty verdict is handed down, that after 10 years she finally ‘feels safe,’ it makes the hard days a little easier to get through.”


For more information on CAC or to support their work in the community with young survivors of physical or sexual violence, visit cachelps.org.

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