Years ago, Kristina Taylor-Porter happened to be making copies of the training manual for a domestic violence shelter when she got the idea for her career, one that ended up bringing her to work as the executive director of the new Centre County Childrens Advocacy Center in Bellefonte. The center will open at the end of January, and Taylor-Porter talked about her passion for this line of work.
What attracts you to working in a field that deals with protecting children?
In my coursework at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania), I had a sociology professor, Kathryn Bonach, who was the professor that you wanted to take all of her classes because she was just phenomenal. I had her for a child-abuse course, and during that time, I knew I wanted to go toward advocating for children in some way I just wasnt quite sure how and she had started talking about the childrens advocacy center. She was working with a task force in Indiana County to develop it.
I was really drawn to the question of, why wasnt every county having a CAC or working collaboratively with law enforcement, children and youth services, the district attorneys office, and the other medical health and mental services? That really spurred my interest in the childrens advocacy center model.
When did you know this was what you wanted to do?
Its sort of funny how that happened. I was working at the copy service business that my husband owns, and there was a training manual that came in for our local domestic violence shelter. I just happened to see the information that was in it, because of the way I was doing the copies.
It sort of hit me that that was something I wanted to do I wanted to work with victims, whether it be adults or children, because it aligned with some of my beliefs and my passions. Then I started volunteering for the domestic violence shelter (in Indiana, Pa.), the Alice Paul House, and I did that for two or three years, and I was able to watch the growth of the childrens advocacy center from that side. I just knew that was the avenue I wanted to take with my career.
You had similar experience in Indiana County to what youll be doing here in Centre County you helped restart the childrens advocacy center in that county. What was it like getting things going?
Just with anything youre first starting, its a challenge. It was something different its something law enforcements not used to and children and youth services wasnt quite used to. There a bit of uncertainty as to how this would affect those child-abuse cases and whether it was good, bad or otherwise.
I think that was probably one of the biggest challenges, getting validation from children and youth and law enforcement saying, this does help our cases.
What did you learn from this?
One thing that was interesting to learn, and I think this a common misconception by a lot of folks children and youth services and law enforcement actually were not working together previously. They would work in their own silos.
That was just really odd to me that if youre investigating the same case, then why arent you working together?
They have to investigate differently: Law enforcement has certain crime codes and standards within those crime codes to meet to be able to charge the alleged offender, and children and youth services has their child protective service law, which has different standards or qualifications to be a founded or unfounded case.
Some of the questions they would ask kids were different. For children and youth, they might ask a question differently than what law enforcement would, and then law enforcement would have to re-interview the child then to get the information they needed. That was something that I learned as I was going through this process.
At the CAC in Indiana County, you were the forensic interviewer, the person tasked with questioning the child who was victimized while the case worker, the police, the prosecutor and others watched from a different room. What was it like to do your first interview?
Youre always very nervous with anything you do the first time. But I had a really strong investigative team observing the interview from the other room, and so throughout those interviews you take a break to check in with that team to see if theres anything else. Not only were they making sure that I was gathering the necessary information, they were also validating that what I was doing was correct.
I could tell based off the child I was interviewing whether the child was very comfortable, because part of doing the interview is paying close attention to his or her body language and the cues being giving.
For me, it was nice to get that first one done, but so was seeing the change from the time the child came in for the interview that they were nervous or upset about why they had to come in and then they looked like a totally different child by the time they walked out the door because of the disclosure the child had made. I think that for me was just reassuring because I focused on that child the entire time, and they were OK at the end of the interview I think, almost relieved.
The nature of your work presents you with some pretty gut-wrenching situations. How do you compartmentalize your work life?
There are some good days and not-so-good days. In Indiana, I had a really strong team, and so they were my safe folks that I could talk to and process what we heard. Not only am I hearing what the child is disclosing, but I have those folks observing, too. The meeting after the interview is for us to determine what the recommendations are, the next steps, but its also a bit of a debriefing process for the entire team. Having that good support from the team helps me keep work at work.
My husbands a great supporter of this. He definitely believes in what Im doing here.
The childrens advocacy center here came together quickly, and it has been an exciting development for people in the community who work to protect kids. As someone coming into this community from the outside, whats your perspective on the progress made and the feelings that exist here?
I think its a good healing process for Centre County. With everything thats happened in the past two years, having the CAC here shows they didnt just ignore the issue of child abuse theyre really trying to be proactive and responsive.
Its amazing how agencies came together and are willing to work together to make sure none of these cases is falling through the cracks, which is really a good benefit for the community.
When you spoke at the open house in November, you said that your interview for the executive director job was just as much you interviewing them. What did you want to know?
I wanted to know how well the agencies were really working together. I wanted to know what level was there, in terms of collaborating, and how accepting each agency was of having a childrens advocacy center. The response that I got was, We all want it. There is just no question about whether we want a childrens advocacy center we want one, we need one and we need to be the driving force within Central Pennsylvania.
That was the driving force I was looking for.