Child abuse is reported every 20 minutes in Pennsylvania, and every county in the state must have a team ready to handle these cases. Some of those teams are in Hershey this week for training at the PA State Police Academy.
The training is a joint effort between state police and Child First PA.
"We train first responders for reports of suspected child abuse. We train prosecutors, law enforcement, case workers, child welfare and what we call forensic interviewers," said Jason Kutulakis of Child First PA.
"That is what makes Child First PA really neat. It crosses disciplines. It is a team approach to investigating child abuse," said Major Adam Kisthardt with the Pennsylvania State Police. "Many investigations, like a burglary, is just state police or the city police department that is investigating. This is a team approach. Many disciplines become involved because these cases are so delicate."
Local kids volunteered to help in the training. They were given a tour of the stables at the PA State Police Academy in Hershey, and then they were interviewed by first responders about their experience.
The forensic interviewers were only given 5 minutes to try and build a rapport with the kids, who ranged in age from 4 to 10. In many child abuse cases, interviewing the victim can be the key to the case.
"Interviewing the child victim is very challenging and very critical," said Kisthardt.
"Children definitely communicate differently than adults, and if we don't understand how they communicate when we are interviewing children about something as serious as abuse, we really could miss the opportunity to get it right," said Kutulakis.
The federally funded program has provided training for more than 350 professionals.
"We actually are seeing a better rate of prosecutions, due in large part, to trainings like this one," said Kutulakis.
Child First is a national program. Pennsylvania has been certified since 2012.