Ohio's new interview process for victims of crime leads to creation of Adult Advocacy Centers

May 8, 2019 by Katherine Yoder, Executive Director, Adult Advocacy Centers / victims of crime

The disability community is abundantly aware that people with disabilities are far more likely than the general population to become victims of crime and that those who perpetrate those crimes are very often not prosecuted. There are many justifications for perpetrators not being held accountable for their actions, but one reason lies in the lack of training and knowledge in the field of criminal justice and investigation.

In an attempt to address this problem, a coalition of organizations, including Disability Rights Ohio, and various experts have come together to create a forensic (meaning criminal investigation) interview protocol using Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding from the Ohio Attorney General's office. You can find the full list of partnering organizations and experts at the end of this blog.

A forensic interview is a single session, legally sound, fact-finding interview by a specially trained professional to get detailed information about possible events that an individual with a disability may have experienced or witnessed. In having just a single interview, a victim or witness to a crime does not have to endure being retraumatized by telling the story again and again.

Training available through Project FIND

Now that the protocol is completed, professionals interested in learning more about it can take advantage of three different trainings through Project FIND (Forensic Interviewing INdividuals with Disabilities):

  • Project FIND's One-Day Training is designed for those who work on multi-disciplinary teams (MDT's) and in other service organizations that want to learn more about risk factors, realities and strategies for working with individuals with disabilities and individuals with mental health disorders. The training is based on forensic interviewing best practices and includes considerations and adaptions to account for individual disability, mental health disorder, language capacity and cultural background.
  • Project FIND's Two-Day Training is designed for MDT's who investigate and support victims of abuse and neglect. This includes law enforcement, child protective services, adult protective services, district attorneys, forensic interviewers, clinicians, and other social services personnel involved in these cases. Understanding the unique characteristics of different disabilities and developing the ability to communicate effectively with those individuals is critical to creating safe environments and conducting appropriate investigations.
  • Project FIND's Four-Day Training is the Advanced Forensic Interviewing Individuals with Disabilities certificate for forensic interviewers with previous basic training and extensive experience in forensic interviewing and/or those working with individuals with disabilities. The curriculum is designed to support forensic interviewers gather information from alleged victims in the most reliable and legally defensible manner. Participants learn through readings, academic instruction, video examples, case scenarios, and other activities. All attendees complete a practicum that is scored on a pass/fail basis.
Launching Adult Advocacy Centers

As Project FIND was developed, it became clear that there was a need for regional facilities that could house all members of a multi-disciplinary team - a one-stop shop to connect people with disabilities who are victims of crime with those who can help them. And so, thanks to a generous VOCA grant from the Ohio Attorney General's office, the concept for Adult Advocacy Centers (AACs) was born.

The MDT approach is not new to the world of investigation. In fact, MDTs have been a staple approach in the world of disability for years. But the concept has never been applied to adults with disabilities who are victims of crime, and we hope that our work will serve as a national model.

Although planning is currently in its early days, our goal is to build seven to eight Adult Advocacy Centers around the state. Tentatively, the plan is to locate them near Developmental Centers and State Psychiatric Hospitals. The MDT at the Adult Advocacy Centers will include law enforcement, client/victim/family advocacy, forensic interviewing, District Attorney's offices, forensic medical services, mental health, prevention education, training, etc. Some members of the team will be housed in the center, while others will use the center as a central coordination point. AACs will also provide and coordinate Project FIND training.

By bringing together all of these agencies and service providers and training them to serve adults with disabilities, we hope to ensure equal access to necessary investigative, prosecutorial and treatment services for vulnerable adults with disabilities when there are allegations of abuse and neglect. There is much work ahead to get our centers off the ground, and we expect the pilot location in Columbus to open in 2022 or 2023. In the meantime, individuals who are interested in future Project FIND trainings or in following along on our journey toward the opening of our first AAC can find us on our Facebook page or at contact@adultadvocacycenters.org.

Katherine Yoder is a certified forensic interviewer and has been an advocate for people with disabilities for 20 years. She holds a Bachelor's degree in social psychology from Park University and a Master's degree in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the Adult Advocacy Centers, which she founded in March 2019.


The organizations involved in creating Ohio's new forensic interview protocol include:

  • Disability Rights Ohio
  • The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities
  • The Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center
  • The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association
  • The Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services
  • The Ohio Coalition for Adult Protective Services
  • The Ohio Victim Witness Association
  • The Child Advocacy Center of West Central Ohio
  • Advocacy & Protective Services Inc.
  • The Arc of Ohio
  • Deaf World Against Violence Everywhere
  • The Ohio Association of County Boards
  • The Ohio Attorney General

The team of expert contributors includes:

  • Scott Modell, Founder of Collaborative Safety and President of MCG Consulting Services;
  • Mark Douglas Everson, Professor, Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill;
  • Kathryn Homan, Full-Time Forensic Interviewer, New Orleans Children's Advocacy Center;
  • Julie Kenniston, Program Manager, National Criminal Justice Training Program of Fox Valley Technical College
  • Janice LeBel, Director of System Transformation, Massachusetts Department of Mental Health
  • Chris Newlin, Executive Director, National Children's Advocacy Center;
  • Lia N. Rohlehr, Board Certified Forensic Psychologist, Superior Court of the District of Columbia
  • Stacie Schrieffer LeBlanc, Executive Director and Director of Legal Advocacy, New Orleans Children's Advocacy Center of Children's Hospital;
  • Dermot Whelan, Criminal Investigator, New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs;
  • Staci Whitney, Forensic Interviewer, Bivona Child Advocacy Center and Director of Forensic Interviewing Training, Modell Consulting Group

Make a Donation

Please give. To the best of your ability.