Serving a rural population of 23 towns, the Windsor County Special Investigation Unit (WNSI), anchored by both the Child Advocacy Centers at The Family Place in Norwich and the Springfield Area Parent Child Center has made significant progress in its response to allegations of child sexual abuse.
But they felt they could do more and do it better. In the spring of 2012, Julie Gaudette, the Director of The Child Advocacy Center at The Family Place and Windsor County Special Investigations Unit pitched the prospect of piloting an objective, independent forensic interviewer model in Windsor County.
At that time, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 26 police officers and social workers trained to conduct child victim interviews. The commitment to the unit by Windsor County’s 9 police departments, 2 Vermont State Police barracks and 2 Department of Children and Families districts had been vital and robust. However, with the number of individuals trained to interview children, with their varied styles and strengths, consistency in interviewing became a concern for both the child victims served at the Centers and the outcomes of those cases, namely prosecution.
The WNSI Policy/CAC Advisory Board of Directors unanimously supported WNSI proposals to the state DCF office, Children’s Justice Act Task Force and the Vermont Special Investigation Unit Grants Board to pilot a forensic interviewer model in Windsor County. By November 2012, funding from each of these organizations was secured and after a careful selection process, Martha Neary left her position as Windsor County Deputy State’s Attorney and WNSI prosecutor to join the staff of The Family Place, the host agent of the WNSI program.
Martha consistently conducts child forensic interviews that come through each of Windsor County’s CACs and she provides courtesy interviews for families from southern Orange or northern Windham counties who may require referrals and access to services within Windsor County. While trauma may impact each child differently and children disclose when ready, with Martha’s ability to calmly and objectively build rapport, children partially or fully disclose details of their abuse to Martha over 90% of the time.
Leading the regional peer review, Martha also engages in additional training as often as available, most recently an interviewer/prosecutor specific training geared toward preparing interviews for trial. The Windsor County State’s Attorney’s office is pleased with this position and its contributions to effective outcomes, whether criminal proceedings and/or victim engagement in mental health and medical referrals. Windsor County has been able to dramatically reduce the size of its investigative team, again allowing for more consistency in how cases are investigated. WNSI is now served by just 5 seasoned dedicated detectives from Chester, Ludlow, Springfield, Hartford and Vermont State Police.
In other staff news, in January 2014, the Windsor County team saw some transitions and new additions; Detective Kristinnah Adams, Nancy Theriault and Sherry Hatt joined the rest of the team in Windsor County. Detective Adams has been a police officer with the Hartford police department since 2008. She is most notably known for working WNSI-related cases occurring in the Hartford area and for her service as the school resource officer for Hartford schools. Nancy Theriault came on as the Springfield Area Parent Child Center (SAPCC) CAC Coordinator and Sherry Hatt has taken over for Betty Kinsmann as Director of the SAPCC when Betty retired in February.
On a another note, one of Windsor County’s CAC’s shining stars, Katie Ouelette, will leave The Family Place in August to pursue an opportunity to spend more time with her children while providing quality childcare to area families. Katie has been with The Family Place for nearly 10 years. She was responsible for growing the CAC program, maintaining its accreditation and mentoring in the development of a sister CAC in Springfield. Katie helped to develop protocols that extend to both child and adult victims of abuse throughout Windsor County.
Katie’s dedication and commitment to this important work has touched the lives of over 800 children within the Upper valley. One of her greatest strengths was her ability to work with families facing times of trauma and distress, providing them with the comfort of knowing that despite where a case may go, she and the Family Place would always be a place families could turn. Katie approaches every situation objectively and often provides the foundation for critical thinking among the team. Her talents in this field were more of gift than a skill one could learn, and though the team wishes her well, she will be sorely missed.