Jun 26, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff WriterThe Riverton City Council has agreed to fund a $3,500 request from the Children's Advocacy Project of Casper. The organization provides investigators, detectives, prosecutors and interviewers who handle the cases of victims of child abuse and neglect.
Natrona County Assistant District Attorney Brian Christensen and CAP executive director Heather Ross spoke to the council in May about the project and the benefits the partnership has on cases and communities.
CAP representatives said one in four girls and one in six boys in Wyoming will be sexually abused before they turn 18, and a child will be abused on average for one to four years. In 2012, CAP provided 37 forensic interviews in Fremont County.
"You can imagine putting a child on the stand. It's a tough thing to do," Christensen said, adding that the team of professionals came together after realizing in the late 1990s that they had to do a better job of prosecuting, convicting and identifying predators without making children testify in court.
By teaming up with the Department of Family Services, Christensen said CAP was able to collect the appropriate details, evidence and video recorded interviews, and over the years, more cases were won and longer sentences were placed on those found guilty.
"It's probably the No. 1 tool for prosecutors in this area," Christensen said.
One of the reasons for the request in funds, Ross said, is "to show that your community is behind the project."
"We try to use those funds to leverage additional funds, including from local foundations (like) Encana," Ross told the council.
CAP is a non-profit organization with the majority of its funding coming from local governments in Natrona and Converse counties followed by family foundations.
Ross said CAP invests in training programs, and Fremont County Deputy Attorney Patrick LeBrun will be receiving training in June that will teach him how to defend the interviews that are done by CAP. LeBrun also approached the council to explain how Fremont County benefits from CAP services.
What's being offered now is "helping to create an environment that helps prosecutors like myself protect our children," LeBrun said, adding that he would like to use the services more often.
"And we're talking about Riverton children tonight," he said. "I'm very familiar with them. There is simply no other way to interview a child. Unfortunately we don't have the resources to use the CAP services as much as we'd like."
He praised the interviewers and their help in decreasing the chances of the defense attorney requiring a child to testify in court.
Christensen said the interviewers undergo intense training and education every year, and they also participate in peer reviews directed by an experienced psychologist.
The representatives said they also would like to be more accessible in Fremont County in the future because many children currently have to travel to Casper to get interviewed.
Christensen said that police officers are not really trained to interview children, and trained interviewers take on the important role of creating a comfortable and welcoming environment.
"I'm 100 percent behind this project," said Riverton police chief Mike Broadhead. "We use the CAP project on a regular basis now."
He also said that many times they have to pay travel expenses for families to drive to Casper to receive the services.
"Typically we use them just for child sexual assault investigations, because those are so technically difficult, but we would use them for child abuse cases and for child witness cases a lot more if they were more convenient for us to access," he said.
Christensen said the Casper center is the only one in central Wyoming, but the Eastern Shoshone Tribe recently started a similar program that services tribal children.
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