One of the hallmarks of the Northwest Unit for Special Investigations (NUSI) is their long-standing and consistent leadership. Since its inception in 1995 as the second special investigative unit (SIU) in the state of Vermont, NUSI has had a stable, co-located investigations team, with little turnover in both the Law Enforcement and Child Protection teams. Former Executive Director Robert White, leading the team from 2005 until he retired in 2020, is a great example of how committed this team is to the work they do.
But with White’s departure and the pandemic coinciding in 2020, change became the defining characteristic.
Betty Lavoie assumed the role of executive director in the spring of 2020, just as Covid-19 was beginning to affect the United States. Operations of the entire unit had to transition in response to the community shutdown. Additionally, the changing employment environment, and individual departures, led to a nearly complete turnover in staff.
Betty and the team at NUSI focused their energy on managing these changes and also addressed the challenges of a new virtual world.
Many technical and infrastructure upgrades were accomplished during this time, including:
· New Telephone/Internet/Wi-Fi and networked printer
· Installation of Teleconferencing equipment and software
· Addition of Case Cracker Video Recording Equipment
· Transitioning of all bookkeeping to financial software
· New office furniture, made possible by a donation from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services
In addition to the technological upgrades at NUSI, physical changes to the office were made as well. Photo on the left shows NUSI's new family room.
The space was created to allow separation of clients and to improve physical distancing. It also serves as a private space for families to complete paperwork and wait during the interview process.
Additionally, a larger team meeting area was designed. The larger room and set-up allows for increased spacing when many of the team members work together in the same room.
As seen in the photo below, some of NUSI's multidisciplinary team (MDT) meet virtually as well as in person to discuss current cases.
The pandemic and a change in leadership were not the only challenges facing NUSI during this time; NUSI was also up for re-accreditation with the National Children’s Alliance (NCA). The NCA has a rigorous process in place that evaluates child advocacy centers (CACs) for accreditation, ensuring children receive consistent, evidence-based services to help them heal from abuse. The CAC's practices, financial and administrative policies, and the interrelationships they have with their community partners and stakeholders are all under scrutiny. Learn more about accreditation and reaccreditation here. Through all the changes and adjustments, under Betty’s leadership, NUSI passed re-accreditation with flying colors.
Another unfortunate effect of the pandemic has been an increase in case referrals. In 2021, NUSI is on pace to serve more clients than they have in the past four years. Betty and the team at NUSI recognize they can only perform this important work with the ongoing support of their Board of Directors and community partners: The Franklin County and Grand Isle County State’s Attorney’s Offices, The Franklin and Grand Isle Sheriff’s Departments, Vermont State Police, Vermont Department for Children and Families, Diane Xiques MA, Northwestern Medical Center and UVMMC Child Safe Clinic.
Although the pandemic forced many modifications to take place at NUSI, this has also been a period of exciting growth and transformation. These recent changes have served to not only strengthen community bonds, but also to inspire the multidisciplinary team at NUSI.