Investigative Insight: Finding Words

Finding the right words in any given situation can be difficult, and that goes for more than just word search puzzles. CATCO strives to provide opportunities for all members of our community to find words, thoughts, and inspiration through our various productions and programs. One of our special community projects, called Finding Words, is centered around this concept.

Finding Words is a five-day training program that began in 1998 as a collaboration between CornerHouse, a nonprofit interagency child evaluation and training center in Minneapolis, and the National District Attorneys Association. In the following years, the program spread across the nation as the leading method of teaching investigators and social workers how to safely evaluate whether a child had been physically or sexually abused. Though many states now call the program ChildFirst, the Ohio Attorney General's Office continues to offer courses in Finding Words, and has collaborated with CATCO on the project for the past twelve years.

One of the requirements for completing the program is to conduct a practice interview with an actor playing the role of an abused child. CATCO and CATCO is Kids provide artists to act "in role", providing developmentally appropriate depictions of children for these interviews. In doing so, our artists use their gifts to make a difference. Many of the actors who participate in this partnership come from our Artist Education Apprenticeship Program, and are generally young adults in their early twenties. Their experience working with kids through CATCO's other education programs gives them the background knowledge to create and realistically inhabit the character of a child, usually between the ages of six and ten. Each actor must undergo at least ten hours of training to participate in the program.

While the actors provide useful experience with children, the Attorney General's Office provides the various scenarios, each of which involves some form of physical or sexual abuse. One example features 8-year-old Eric Gordon, who speaks with his teacher after watching a personal safety video about different kinds of touches. After being referred to the school’s social worker, with whom he talks about an uncomfortable experience he had with his father, Eric’s case is then taken to social services, where the forensic interviewer (the course participant) now meets Eric (one of our actors). Each actor may be on duty for hours at a time, during which they never break character, even outside the interview room. All interactions between participants and actors are immediate and authentic; the actor is Eric, before, during, and after the interview.

This project has its roots in the Phoenix Theatre for Children which merged with CATCO six years ago. Since that time, the company has continued to develop projects that reflect a commitment to social justice. Other ongoing projects include work with children at risk of failure in the classroom, and a program that assists men incarcerated at Marion Correctional to write plays about their childhoods, their adolescence, their incarceration, and their aspirations for the future.

CATCO and CATCO is Kids are investigating other opportunities like Finding Words. Similar programs might be arising with the National Criminal Justice Center (centered around human trafficking) and the Ohio Network of Children's Advocacy Centers. The next session of Finding Words will run from October 24-28, 2016.