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Area peace officers get child interview training from expert

North Hudson Police Chief Mark Richert, left, joined peace officers and others members of the criminal justice system in St. Croix County at a training session involving forensic interviewing of children. Above Richert begins a graphic interview session with Evan Rank, 9, a volunteer from River Falls, and Ann Ahlquist, who helped develop the technique in 1984 and conducted the training program.

Area officials attended a training session at the St. Croix County Government Center last week that focused on methods of interviewing children who have been harmed.

A group representing law enforcement officers, district attorney's office personal and health and human services workers attended the session directed by Ann Ahlquist, a former social worker and expert in the field.

A common misconception is that children aren't good witness, said Ahlquist. "Children can be good witnesses," she said and it has a lot to do with the way law enforcement, social workers and other officials conduct an interview.

Ahlquist, a former University of Minnesota faculty member and director of the institution's Child Abuse Prevention Studies, and a colleague developed a cognitive graphic interviewing method in 1984.

The method works with children from three years old to 18 and also is valuable in forensic interviewing of adults," she said.

"It's estimated that 76 percent of child abuse cases go unreported and 85 percent that occur are by somebody who lives in the home or cares for the child," Ahlquist said.

Although some members of the local law enforcement community had previously attended her training program in the Twin Cities, including sheriff's investigator Cathy Borgschatz, the recent session was Ahlquist's first in St. Croix County.

The training program was made available through a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Borgschatz and Kellie Bowe of the Western Wisconsin Partnership Social Work Program at UW-River Falls, applied for and got the grant.

The 18 persons who attended the training program included representatives from the sheriff's department, North Hudson, Hudson, Hammond, River Falls, Woodville, Glenwood City police departments, St. Croix County Health and Human Services, district attorney's office and Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

"I'm impressed with the quality and experience of this group," Ahlquist said.