With nine employees and a small office on East Cotati Avenue in Cotati, the Center for Innovation and Resources, Inc. (CIR) is impacting thousands of children’s lives, and yet many of us in the community may not have heard about this organization and what they do.
CIR officially opened its doors in 2007, after having been connected with Sonoma State University’s California Institute of Human Services. When that institute closed, the Center for Innovation and Resources continued as its own stand alone non-profit to keep their work going with a mission of “applying research-based knowledge to address real-world problems in human services and education.”
The organization serves those who are working to protect and heal children and families. They work to optimize established programs and services so that children, families and communities are served in a holistic way based on best practices and current research. For every one person served by CIR, hundreds more are reached.
“We’ve been a small but mighty non-profit that focuses on training and support for the professionals who are helping children and families who are facing pretty significant issues or crimes committed against them,” says Sybil Halloran, Executive Director of the Center for Innovation and Resources. “The way I often think about what we do is like that famous Mister Rogers quote that always comes up when there’s something very tragic on the news. His mother always told him to look for the helpers. You always find people who are helping. How I think about what we do is that we’re helping the helpers. We’re making sure that those people that we depend on to help when situations like that come up know what they’re doing, are confident, have the latest research and information, have had time to practice those skills and have even gotten some support around self-care – how to deal with their own vicarious trauma that they might be dealing with.”
Much of the training CIR offers revolves around those professionals who investigate child abuse cases, provide treatment to child abuse survivors and their families, or who have been involved in child abductions. They ensure that police officers know how to investigate child abuse cases without causing more trauma to the child and they teach therapists how to most effectively support children who have been through the unthinkable. The organization also works with counties to build multi-disciplinary teams that are ready to act quickly should a child go missing.
“What we specialize in is doing multi-disciplinary focused work,” says Halloran. “As you can imagine, for cases like these that come up, it’s really important that all of the pieces are connected. If a child goes missing all those people are trying to find that child and there’s a wide variety of people in the community who might hold pieces of information that are relevant to that. But if they aren’t trained, thinking that way, and building relationships beforehand, that can be a problem. We know that when a child is abducted every second counts so we don’t want people scrambling to learn who they should be talking to and what resources are available to them, and figuring that out after the fact. So we train anyone who might be involved in those types of investigations.”
CIR also helps on the treatment and recovery side in various professions like educators or specific training, for example, to therapists on different modalities for providing treatment for different types of abuse or different types of victims.
The organization serves the whole state of California and while their main office is here in Cotati, they also have a satellite office in Ventura County. Most of their training is in the form of a full day, in person training events on specialized topics. They offer a 4-day child forensic interview training event where forensic interviewers learn how to talk to children and get details on the abuse so they will stand up in court. This also ensures that the child doesn’t have to talk to several different people from several different agencies so the interaction doesn’t cause additional distress to the child or family. Today, all forensic interviewers in the State of California follow CIR’s model.
“Our child abduction project has two-day trainings that cover the multi-disciplinary gamut of who might be involved in child abduction cases,” says Halloran. “We have the FBI presenting, we have District Attorneys, schools, and therapists. We’re also doing more and more online webinar type trainings for people who can’t make time for a full-day training or who can’t travel far.”
Some other current projects that CIR manages include the Underserved Populations Training Project that teaches victim service providers through free training and technical assistance to be aware of and responsive to the multi-dimensional needs of victims and how to directly address any barriers to service. The project focuses on four distinct victim populations: victims with disabilities, male victims, LGBTQ victims, and foster youth victims. The Serving California’s Diversity Training Project (SCDTP) helps service providers be better prepared to address the needs of critically underserved victim groups of all ages, racial groups, gender identities, socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures. SCDTP focuses on responding to the needs of three specific populations: People of Color (POC), People with Limited English Proficiency (LEP), and Immigrant Populations.
“There is always more and more research and information coming out about working with different groups,” says Halloran. “It may be working with children with special needs, with some kind of disability, or a certain type of victim group like LGBTQ youth or foster youth, or people of color. So a few of our newer projects are really focusing on that – giving people the training that they need to be aware of things like cultural dynamics or linguistic barriers so people can really specialize on what they’re doing to meet the needs of each individual victim.”
The bulk of the funding for CIR comes from the State of California, through different grants and contracts with the governor’s Office of Emergency Services – the same funding the program had when it was run through Sonoma State University. Sometimes the organization also contracts directly with specific agencies or counties for specialized training.
“My favorite thing to do when I go to one of these trainings and stand in the room looking at this roomful of 75 people who are absorbing all this information, learning, and networking with each other and really feeling more confident and excited about what they learned and then picturing them all going back to their communities and taking that with them,” says Halloran. “It feels like one of those exponential effects where you know that each person you are training is going to work with hundreds of kids in their careers, if not more. That impact is so great and that is what is very exciting to me. We’re doing this throughout the state and each time we do this training there is this whole pod of people that is then going out and having a ripple effect in their communities.”
So far CIR has trained over 2,500 people this fiscal year, and they expect to train over 3,000 by the time they close out the year. If each of those professionals works with 100 children and their families, the ripple effect will be immense.