HANCOCK COUNTY — Officials with Zoey’s Place Child Advocacy Center (CAC) say they have received nearly $8,000 in grant money to help cover costs of training numerous agencies and first responders working in Hancock County for ChildFirst training.

ChildFirst is a nationally recognized training protocol from the nonprofit Zero Abuse Project. It’s designed for investigators, first responders, law enforcement officers, medical and mental health professionals, child protection workers and forensic interviewers.

Zoey’s Place Executive Director Katie Molinder said she learned about the grant in mid-October and applied for it earlier this year.

“ChildFirst is an intense training protocol,” Molinder said. “It takes place over five days and requires everyone to participate in detailed lectures and in mock forensic interviews.”

The mock forensic interview exercise challenges professionals to follow specific methods for interacting with and listening to children who may have experienced physical abuse, sexual assault or witnessed a crime.

“The mock interviews are with an experienced actors, and the training will be incredibly valuable,” Molinder said. “We’ve undergone ChildFirst training here at Zoey’s Place, but we want law enforcement officers, prosecutors and other members of our multidisciplinary team to participate in this training so they develop a better appreciation for the process.”

The money for the grant comes from the federal Children’s Justice Act and is administered by the Department of Child Services.

“This is especially exciting because it allows for more specialized training for our Hancock County law enforcement, Department of Child Services and prosecution partners at very little cost to them,” Molinder said.

The $8,000 grant will help cover the cost of training and lodging costs for attendees over the week-long session. The cost of training per attendee is $700.

“Even the binder that comes with this is expensive at over 800 pages of information,” Molinder said. “This grant helps us cover those costs.”

Zoey’s Place CAC applied for the grant with the intent to cover costs for partners who work closely with them. This includes members of the Greenfield, New Palestine, Shirley, Cumberland, Fortville and McCordsville Police Departments, Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office.

“Our goal is to get one member from every law enforcement agency serving Hancock County to attend,” Molinder said.

The intent is to familiarize team members of ChildFirst so they’re better participants from the observation room while the forensic interview is underway.

“They’ll be able to ask better questions, understand the needs of the child more, and that, ultimately, leads to better outcomes for the child and the criminal justice process,” Molinder said.

The next ChildFirst training in Indiana is expected in the Spring of 2024 and is organized by ChildFirst Indiana with support from the Indiana Chapter of National Children’s Alliance and other Child Advocacy Centers who help host the event. Some 87 of Indiana’s 92 counties have trained the multidisciplinary team members in the ChildFirst protocol.

Molinder told the Daily Reporter her goal is to apply for and get as much grant money as they can to help county children and the first responders who deal with helping area kids.

“We’re constantly researching and applying for things as we see them come up,” Molinder said. “Anything we can do to help our mission we’re doing.”

Molinder said as soon as Zoey’s Place becomes fully staffed with three full-time workers, which is needed, they’ll start developing a prevention program to be proactive and work with the county schools.

“It is our goal and schools need to have a prevention program,” Molinder said. “We want to get in those schools as soon as we can to help as many children as needed.”