CFS Specialist Shares Her Story, Reflects on Progress Last 30 Years

Lincoln, Neb. When a child becomes a victim of a traumatic event, it's a delicate situation that takes a skilled person to interview the kid.

It's a process that's changed drastically over the last 30 years and one Beatrice woman has seen that transformation first hand.

Jessica Feller is a Children Family Services Specialist who makes sure kids in Nebraska are safe.

Feller told 10/11, "I do what is called an initial assessment so when a concern comes in I go out and make that first contact with the family and decide whether we need to progress or not."

The fact Jessica chose this career, after first getting her law degree, some might call fate. As an 11-year-old in Long Island, New York, Jessica was put in an unsafe situation by a relative.

She said, "I was a witness to and I guess a victim of a murder kidnapping plot."

As police there investigated, Jessica said the whole process was scary and traumatic.

"Back then, there were wonderful police officers who did a great job, they saved my life, but even as at 11 it was clear to me, they had no idea how to talk to an 11-year-old or even what to do about me."

She added, "I went to the hospital, and when I came back they [police] interviewed me at the crime scene, which probably wasn't the best, I remember I was sitting there and they were digging bullets out of the wall. I didn't know there were police officers who didn't wear uniforms, I just saw men with guns and I didn't know exactly who they were or whether they were good guys or bad guys."

Feller also said, "I knew that people get killed, I knew that violence existed, but I never really understood it before."

She said when police did question her she was able to give them important information for the case, "I knew, I knew who the perpetrators were, I knew where they lived, I knew where they worked, I knew what the plan was, I knew why the plan was put in place, and I knew what their plan was to get away."

After the interview police told her "not to talk." So she didn't, holding what she saw in for about a year. In reality, Jessica said she realized later what the police meant was don't talk to anyone about this because we haven't arrested anyone.

Jessica said she was very fortunate to have a supportive family who had the resources to go to therapy. There her therapist finally was able to get Jessica to open up about what she saw.

"I started having conversations with her dog, and once adults realized why I wasn't talking, they were able to help me understand that it is OK to talk."

In her job, Jessica said she feels like she can relate to kids she helps because of her past experience. She's also seen the progress from her childhood to how kids are handled today.

Feller said, "I have sympathy for them, I think I may be better at spotting the signs of trauma and fear. But it's not just me, there's been a tremendous amount of research and work that's gone into this, so we now know how to approach a child witness or a child victim, what to do and what not to do."

Those changes include extensive training for those who need to interview child victims of traumatic events. It's no longer done at a crime scene, as in Jessica's case, but instead at a safe place like the Child Advocacy Center in Lincoln.

She said, "Making it less traumatic, it's not an interrogation style, it's a 'hey lets talk about stuff,' building that rapport, getting them comfortable, getting them used to talking to you and answering questions, and being specific, so it's a lot different."

Differences that are all in the best interest of a kid.

Every Friday in June 10/11 will bring you stories about how the Child Advocacy Center and those who help kids get through traumatic events.