Building Community for Forensic Interviewers

Grace Stewart By Grace Stewart

We are celebrating our 10th anniversary on April 4th at the Culture Center in Charleston. This week marks the fifth in a series of blogs reflecting year-by-year on the history, moments, and people of the CAC movement in West Virginia. To start with the first entry, click here.

Shortly after beginning work with WVCAN, I traveled to the southern part of the state to spend a day learning from CAC staff. I sat in on a case review with the multidisciplinary team, shadowed an advocate, talked budget diversification with the Executive Director, and then was escorted to a small room with a closed circuit television and recording equipment to meet with the Forensic Interviewer. I found the whole set-up fascinating and felt like I was on the inside of some action-thriller movie. Throughout the course of our meeting the complexity of forensic interviewing really hit me. This professional is tasked daily with bringing technical expertise in a developmentally-appropriate manner to child abuse investigations, whilst balancing the various needs of multiple agencies on their team… and they do all this while interviewing children.

What’s so hard about that? EVERYTHING! And in most communities they are among just a handful of professionals who do this work, if not the only person, like the individual I was visiting. The critical importance of this role is matched by the potential for isolation.

Maybe it was because WVCAN’s first Executive Director was previously a forensic interviewer, maybe it was the excellent and prolific research being published at the time, or maybe it was the imminent revision of the NCA Standards for Accreditation, but in 2010 WVCAN engaged in a statewide Forensic Interview Peer Review project. A historical flyer from the first regional, in-person Forensic Interview Peer Review advertised, “This seminar will be a safe, encouraging learning experience for individuals with at least 40 hours of forensic interviewing training to improve your forensic interviewing skills, keep current on the latest trends in the field, and support other Forensic Interviewers in West Virginia.”

WVCAN had a lot of help from folks like Maureen Runyon and Dr. Laura Capage, whose interest in the ongoing development and education of Forensic Interviewers provided a strong framework for those early efforts. From across West Virginia, Forensic Interviewers showed up at these regional day-long meetings, DVDs or even videotapes of their interviews with children in-hand with a desire to develop their expertise and connect with their peers.

The project has certainly grown since 2010. Those early efforts have turned into four cohorts, meeting online monthly through a HIPAA-compliant, secure web platform and an annual day-long in-person peer review. While the technology and structure has advanced, the mission and purpose has remained constant. Forensic Interviewers with a desire to develop their expertise and connect with professionals around the state doing this complex job engage in a peer-led review of each other’s work. These meetings are vulnerable but respectful, they wade into territory that is scientific in its structure and artistic in its execution, and what could be a place of isolation has become a place of community. This community is made up of Forensic Interviewers with the desire to serve children better and a recognition that this goal is intrinsically linked to their peer network. It is WVCAN’s privilege to work alongside these professionals and provide the space for this community to thrive!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

For the latest updates from WVCAN, enter your email below to subscribe to our newsletter.