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January 2017 Teamwork is Key in Addison County

In June of 2012 after realizing Addison County was not covered by a child advocacy center (CAC), Addison County Unit for Special Investigations (ACUSI) began the journey to becoming a fully functioning child advocacy center and special investigations unit (SIU). The board of directors had a strong belief in the potential value of an SIU and CAC, a strong commitment to making the implementation a success and was very thoughtful about how an SIU/CAC should look. The Board of Directors faced several obstacles during the start-up process. There was some uncertainty about filling the Executive Director position. They also shared a concern that an SIU/CAC could be implemented and be successful in the County as there had already been several attempts at starting the CAC.

By September 2012 the Board of Directors hired Fred Saar. Fred was already making great strides as the Executive Director of the Caledonia County Child Advocacy Center and Special Investigations Unit, and he did not disappoint as the director in Addison County. Within 5 months, under Fred’s guidance, funding had been secured; a space was found, leased and remodeled; it was furnished and recording equipment was installed. By February 15th, the CAC/SIU was open for business. And within a year they had obtained Associate Membership with the National Children’s Alliance (NCA). Amazing progress in such a short time!

ACUSI Waiting Room ACUSI Interview Room

As the CAC/SIU progressed, the Board gained an in-depth understanding of the CAC model and transitioned the Investigator’s position from part-time to full-time and determined they should be co-located at the SIU. Fred indicated how fortunate they were to start the SIU with Ruth Whitney, a retired State Trooper with extensive experience. Ruth has been their “stake in the ground” for much of the continuing development.

By the time Addison became an Associate member of NCA in 2014, the Board was committed to full NCA accreditation. The development of the CAC model has progressed very well, and most of the initial concerns about implementing the model based on the size of Addison County and the number of clients seen each year has been addressed. Their Vermont State Police Trooper now works out of the CAC offices and each of the three DCF investigators has committed to working in the CAC for one day a week.

In 2015 Addison started an outreach program in the elementary and middle schools in Addison County called “Respectful Relationships”. The 45 minute course was prepared by Zoe Gascon based on the Owning Up curriculum developed by Rosalind Wiseman and has been well received by the schools. In 2015 they engaged a retired teacher to present 39 classes to 687 students.

L-R:) Det. Lt. Ruth Whitney, SIU Investigator; Jennifer Ricard, Victim’s Advocate; and Fred Saar, Executive Director, ACUSI

In October of 2016 ACUSI hired Jennifer Ricard as their Victim’s Advocate; Jen graduated from UVM in the spring and had been working in the Attorney Generals consumer complaint organization in Burlington. ACUSI has found sharing the Victim Advocate with the State’s Attorney’s office works very well for their situation. Jen works in the State’s Attorney’s office 25 hours per week and in the CAC 15 hours per week. They continue to have excellent results from this approach. Jen is able to participate in interviews that come up on short notice, and the continuity of Victim Advocate services from the CAC to the State’s Attorney on cases that result in charges has been very positive for the victim and their caregiver.

L-R:) Kate Colligan; Kris Bowdish; Josh Otey

In addition to Jennifer, Fred and Ruth, ACUSI team members include Kate Colligan from the Department for Children and Families in Middlebury; Kris Bowdish from the Middlebury Police Department and Josh Otey from the Bristol Police Department.

ACUSI remains committed to full accreditation for the Addison Children’s Advocacy Center and looks forward to the NCA Accreditation process. With Fred at the helm, it looks like smooth sailing!


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