Providing a SAFE space for Sacramento County Youth

Sacramento County, CA  |  By Andrea Hansen, Sacramento County
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The Safe Team from left to right Darla Garcia, Faith Whitmore, Darby Geller, Sarah Leatherby and Kandyce Seely. Photo provided by Sacramento County Media

SACRAMENTO COUNTY (MPG) - To reduce the stress and trauma experienced by children who are victims of sexual abuse and violent crimes, Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult Services; local law enforcement agencies; and the District Attorney’s Office team up at the Sacramento County Special Assault Forensic Evaluation (SAFE) Center

The SAFE Center is an accredited member of the National Children’s Alliance and provides a safe and comfortable place for a child to be interviewed by a specially trained social worker, called a Forensic Interview Specialist. 

 “The SAFE Center conducts a thorough forensic interview in the least intrusive way possible, and the child only has to be interviewed once, rather than being questioned multiple times by different agencies,” said Michelle Callejas, Sacramento County Director of Child, Family and Adult Services. “Since the Center opened in 1991, we have conducted 12,000 interviews and last year alone we provided a safe space for over 350 children and youth.”

To reduce the stress on the child, the Forensic Interviewer is the only other person present in the room during the interview. The Forensic Interviewers have many hours of specialized training and years of experience talking with children about difficult subjects. They also use interviewing techniques that preserve the integrity of the investigation. The interviews are conducted in a room with a one-way mirror so law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office and Child Protective Services staff can observe.

The SAFE Center interviews are an efficient way to investigate child abuse cases and are core to identifying new leads and gathering evidence in a case. Although the interviews cannot be used in lieu of testimony and children may still have to testify in court, this approach greatly reduces the trauma of having to repeatedly talk about the abuse they have endured. 

The SAFE Center moved in February of 2018 to 3701 Power Inn Road to join services and co-locate with the Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center. The co-location has enabled the SAFE Center and the Department’s Adult Protective Services program to have a stronger working relationship with the Family Justice Center in serving the community. 

“We could not be more excited about our new location and collaboration with the Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center,” said Darby Geller, SAFE Center Director. The Center now acts as a multifunctional place for families to receive services pertaining to abuse, counseling, safety planning and so much more. I’m proud to see how the program continues to grow, evolve and become such an important asset to the community.” 

The partnership with Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center allows the SAFE Center to offer new opportunities in 2019 which include on-site therapeutic crisis intervention, assessment, psycho-education and ongoing therapeutic treatment through the addition of a trauma-informed mental health clinician. These additional services were made possible through a grant funded by the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) and will be provided by the UC Davis CAARE Center, a long-standing partner in providing trauma-informed services for children and families in Sacramento County. 

To learn more about the SAFE Center, please visit the Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult Services Resource Family web page. If you are interested in donating new toys/comfort items for youth visiting the SAFE Center, contact Darby Geller, SAFE Center Director