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NMSU to host child abuse forensic interview training program this week

A training this week at New Mexico State University’s Southwest Region National Child Protection Training Center will give those on the front lines of child abuse prevention, investigation and prosecution more tools to help children who may have been victims of abuse or neglect.


In all, 30 professionals from across the United States, including forensic interviewers, child abuse and neglect investigators, detectives, social workers, advocates and others, are scheduled to attend the ChildFirst training May 12-16 at NMSU’s Gerald Thomas Hall.

ChildFirst is a national forensic interview training program designed for investigative teams of law enforcement officers, social workers, prosecutors, child protection attorneys and forensic interviewers. The participants will receive training in interview protocol, child development, memory and suggestibility, testifying in court, legal issues and preparing children for court.

The nationally recognized experts conducting the training are Amy Russell, executive director of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center in Minnesota; Susanne Walters, a Florida victim assistance specialist; and Rita Farrell, an Arkansas forensic interview specialist.

Lisa Chavez, a social worker with Las Cruces Public Schools, attended the ChildFirst training. She said she sees an average of about eight serious, substantiated child abuse referrals per school year, plus additional cases of neglect or other maltreatment. As a social worker, Chavez said, it’s important to have the tools to get to the truth of a situation without creating more chaos for families.

“Ongoing training is important, because the research is always changing,” Chavez said. “I’m hoping this training will give me a stronger interview skill set and a different approach to obtaining disclosures of abuse.”

The Southwest Region National Child Protection Training Center at NMSU was established in 2013, and is only the second regional training center in the United States. The center offers training on preventing, investigating, prosecuting and intervening in cases of child maltreatment to current and future professionals in West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California.

The center recently received $35,000 from the NMSU President’s Performance Fund to support its work providing training for child protection professionals and to grow its interdisciplinary undergraduate minor in Child Advocacy Studies, or CAST, which prepares students in fields like social work, nursing, education, psychology and others to be competent front-line professionals at their organizations.

Esther Devall, department head of Family and Consumer Sciences in NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, said the funding for the growing program represents a significant boost to its mission.

“It gives us seed money to build up to make us competitive for larger funding sources – to show impact,” Devall said. “I think the center is a great example of an interdisciplinary effort to help the current professionals out there to get better training.”

The center offers other on-site training programs throughout the year, along with video training aimed at law enforcement personnel at swrtc.nmsu.edu/elearning/ensuring-child-safety/ and an e-learning program for school personnel and health care providers online at http://swrtc.nmsu.edu/elearning/educators/. The e-learning program, titled “Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect,” was developed in collaboration with the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, with input from IDEAL NM, the New Mexico Public Education Department, the New Mexico Department of Health and school districts in Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

“Across the nation, we aren’t doing a good enough job preparing people to know what to do when child abuse occurs and to intervene and prevent it,” Devall said, citing several high profile child abuse cases that have occurred recently in New Mexico. “It takes all of us to see when things are happening so that no child falls through the cracks.”

For more information on the ChildFirst training or additional upcoming trainings, contact Shelly Bucher at sbucher@nmsu.edu or 575-646-1277. Learn more about the Southwest Region National Child Protection Training Center at swrtc.nmsu.edu.