HELENA — April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Montana Department of Justice is hosting training in Helena for forensic interviews in child abuse cases.
"Working with child victims of crime and abuse is very different from working with an adult victim, and it requires specialized training because children do not think as adults do. We know that their brains aren't fully developed. They also do not communicate information in a way that an adult does," said Dana Toole, the DOJ special services bureau chief.
During the week-long training, the detectives, child protective service workers, and prosecutors will participate in two practice interviews with Kaufmann Forensic Actors, an acting company specially trained to play characters of child victims.
"This is such a meaningful thing because it directly applies what they do to something where we can make a result and change on the child or many children's lives, so we are very honored to be a part of that," said Paul Kaufmann, founder of Kaufmann Forensic Actors.
The program has trained more than 800 people in Montana since 2010 and is in high demand, with only 35 seats available.
Children advocacy groups say forensic interview training is crucial to their work and law enforcement.
"Having law enforcement and social workers trained on how to talk to children in a way that makes kids feel safe and comfortable and is also developmentally appropriate, is so important to the child's healing and well-being and also the investigation and gathering good information," said Val Widmer, director of Emma’s House, a children’s advocacy center in Hamilton.
Widmer is an instructor for the class. Showing the students to conduct a formal forensic interview is invaluable.
"I just think that's it's so great in Montana that we can provide this training to professionals a couple of times a year, and it is so critical in helping our kids," said Widmer.
This week's training brought law enforcement detectives from Missoula to Havre, Forsyth County, and the Blackfeet Reservation.