A safe place for children

County opens first interview center for child victims

CAPITOLA — When children are the victims of crime, several agencies need information both to protect the child and to prosecute the perpetrator.

This includes law enforcement, the district attorney’s office and child advocates.

But with each interview comes new trauma, as the child is forced to relive the crime several times. Often, this occurs in sterile police interrogation rooms.

That will change with the Safe Kids and Youth (SKY) Center, where a specially trained interviewer will speak with the young victims in a space specifically designed to be child-friendly.

That detail is an important one, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said.

According to Hart, investigators looked into 22 sexual assault cases last year, just two of which involved children.

Having an interviewer versed in dealing with young people is therefore critical when trying to minimize trauma and extract useful answers, he said.

“Interviewing children is not the same as interviewing adults,” he said.

Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell unveiled the center Monday, flanked by the county’s top law enforcement officials, local lawmakers and child advocates.

“Talking about serious crimes is a scary thing for children,” Rosell said. “The SKY Center will provide children with a space in which they can feel safe to have important conversations. This new resource is going to help make our community safer by increasing the number of prosecutions.”

At first glance, the interview room looks much like a small elementary school classroom, with kid-sized chairs and table, colorful carpet and a tree painted in a corner.

“This shows an understanding of the victim’s needs,” Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend said. “This is definitely a long overdue thing.”

But it is also equipped with one-way glass, which allows police investigators, prosecutors and child advocates to watch and, if the need arises, feed questions to the interviewer through an earpiece.

Monarch Services Executive Director Laura Segura praised the center, and the opportunity it offers child victims.

“It’s a time when they feel, just for a moment, that the world is not stacked against them,” she said.

Located at an undisclosed location in Capitola, the SKY Center is run by the Santa Cruz County Interdisciplinary Team, which is made up of every law enforcement agency in the county, along with the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department and District Attorney’s office.

Monarch Services and the Walnut Avenue Family and Women’s Center are also a part of the team.

Each agency will share the cost of running the center, Rosell said.


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