Non-profit seeks NCAA sanctioned monies to build facility to train professionals involved with the prevention and investigation of child abuse.

The Pennsylvania Children and Youth Solicitors Association is a registered non-profit organization representing over 60 member counties with over 135 individual attorney members. While the group informally operated for over 20 years, it obtained its non-profit status in 2004.

In 2009, the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Solicitors Association submitted an application to become a certified ChildFirst state. ChildFirst is an intensive, five-day training program for multi-disciplinary child abuse investigative team members including prosecutors, law enforcement, solicitors, caseworkers and forensic interviewers. Through the sole efforts and funding of the Solicitors Association, in March 2012, Pennsylvania became the 17th certified ChildFirst state with Alaska, North Carolina, Japan and Columbia following. To date, 19 counties in Pennsylvania have trained their multi-disciplinary teams through ChildFirst. Another class of forty participants representing another handful of new counties will be trained this September.

Over the past eighteen (18) months, the PA Children and Youth Solicitors Association has been developing plans to build a Pennsylvania Child Protection Training Center. The Center will be home to numerous child protection and child abuse prevention training programs, including ChildFirst Pennsylvania.

The building plans include one (1) large and four (4) small courtrooms for mock court training where individuals will be trained on the judicial process so that no child will have to go to court alone and so that each child victim will have the benefit of highly trained advocates throughout the whole investigatory and judicial process.

The Center will also contain a one-of-a-kind training tool, a two-story, fully furnished mock house. “This unique physical structure will provide live trainings to law enforcement and child protection workers. Currently, “caseworkers simply learn through traditional lecture methods and on-the-job training,” says Jason P. Kutulakis, an attorney with Abom & Kutulakis who is spearheading the project on behalf of the Solicitors Association. Learning how to properly respond to child abuse allegations and the importance of gathering collaborative evidence will no longer have to be field training. Tomorrow’s child protection workers and law enforcement officers can acquire those skills before ever having to address an actual child victim.

This Center will become the model for Children’s Advocacy Centers statewide. It will contain four (4) state-of-the-art forensic interview rooms where multi-disciplinary teams will be taught how to effectively conduct developmentally appropriate and judicially defensible forensic interviews of children alleged to have been victims and to strengthen the role of each team member within their own discipline. Currently, not every county has the benefit of a child advocacy center. “One can only speculate what impact such a center may have had on the Sandusky case if one of the victim children could have been promptly interviewed at the outset,” says Kutulakis.

The ChildFirst PA program is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Solicitors Association in collaboration with the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. Currently, ChildFirst PA has a host site agreement with the Pennsylvania State Police to utilize training space at the State Police Training Academy and at each of its four regional training centers.

The Solicitors Association is seeking to utilize NCAA funds sanctioned against Penn State to continue its efforts on behalf of child victims across the Commonwealth. Private donors are also being sought for naming right opportunities. For more information, contact the state’s ChildFirst Coordinators, Jason P. Kutulakis, Esquire or Joyce A. Hatfield-Wise, Esquire.

On August 8th, 2012