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Kristie Palestino makes sure children have a voice when it matters most

By KATHY REMILLARD
Union Leader Correspondent

January 31. 2012 3:17PM

Kristie Pallestino 
Kristie Palestino, 39
Home: Goffstown
Birthplace: Dover, N.J.
Family: Husband, Don Himsel; stepson, Geoff, 17; son Austin, 5; daughter Olivia, 2; mother and stepfather, Deborah and David Dillon of Haverhill, Mass.
High school: South Windsor High School, South Windsor, Conn.
College/post grad degrees: Keene State College (Associate of Science- Chemical Dependency, Bachelor of Arts – Psychology) 1994. Springfield College School of Human Services, Manchester NH (Master of Science – Organizational Management and Leadership) - 2004
Current job: Executive director of The Granite State Children's Alliance (New Hampshire's Network of Child Advocacy Centers)
Key past positions held: Executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Hillsborough County; executive director of the New Hampshire Network of Child Advocacy Centers.
Volunteer activities: Trustee for the Community College System of New Hampshire; commissioner of the Judicial Selection Commission; member of the Attorney General's Task Force Against Child Abuse and Neglect; member of the Attorney General's annual child abuse conference committee.
Most admired person (outside your family): The late Gov. Walter Peterson.
Key current professional challenge: The recent merger to form the Granite State Children's Alliance is incredibly challenging but rewarding as well. I already see the benefits to not only our Child Advocacy Centers locally and statewide but also to the children and families we are serving. The challenge is getting our name out there; re-branding ourselves in a way that makes us easily recognizable and accessible to families as well as attractive to potential supporters. More importantly, it is our responsibility to ensure that all children in New Hampshire have access to a Child Advocacy Center and therefore it is essential that we work together across the state on a plan of long-term sustainability. Otherwise, the ones who will suffer are the young victims with no place to go.
Last major achievement: In an effort to save two Child Advocacy Centers from closing their doors, we formed a merger between the Hillsborough County Child Advocacy Center, Greater Lakes Child Advocacy Center, Monadnock Region Child Advocacy Center and New Hampshire Network of Child Advocacy Centers. The combined organization, Granite State Children's Alliance, operates four child advocacy centers in Belknap, Cheshire and Hillsborough counties, and is the State Chapter of the National Children's Alliance, providing technical assistance, training, and organizational resources to child advocacy centers across New Hampshire.
Biggest problem facing New Hampshire: We have a great number of nonprofits in New Hampshire, and they are all doing amazing work and helping hundreds and thousands of our citizens. Unfortunately, only 9 percent of individual charitable giving goes to nonprofits in the human services field. 78 percent of nonprofits (excluding foundations) have a budget of less than $100,000. Many of them are doing extraordinary work but struggling financially. I think N.H. citizens need to realize that although we have a lot of wonderful volunteers in this state, much of the work we are doing through nonprofits is by paid professionals in the field. We need to do a better job supporting the nonprofit sector so our communities can continue to receive such important services. Also, the nonprofits need to take a look at their organizations and see where there may be some synergy between themselves and other like-minded organizations. A merger or consolidation of back office support can prove to be a great cost savings which will lead to resources being spent where it should be; on the actual good work. Statistics from the NH Center for Nonprofits.
Favorite place in New Hampshire: Hands down, Portsmouth.
What book are you reading now? “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
How do you relax? I run. It's the best way for me to clear my head.
What websites do you visit most often? Granite State Children's Alliance Facebook account (of course!) and many of the state's newspaper sites.
Favorite TV show, radio station or musical artist: “ Modern Family.” That show is hysterical.


GOFFSTOWN - Kristie Palestino has a passion for the rights of some of New Hampshire's most vulnerable citizens - children who have been the victims of abuse.

Palestino is executive director of the Granite State Children's Alliance, which is New Hampshire's network of child advocacy centers.

In that role, she ensures that children have a voice when it matters most. In 2010, more than 2,000 child victims of crime were served by child advocacy centers throughout the state.

Palestino said she knew as far back as 2000 that she wanted to make children's advocacy a career, when she was hired as a forensic interviewer for a children's advocacy center in Rockingham County.

'It was literally the a-ha moment,' she said. 'I thought, this is exactly where I need to be.'

Palestino said child advocacy centers provide an incredible opportunity to children whose lives have been interrupted by abuse, and that the existence of child advocacy centers not only helps victims, but communities as well.

Palestino said 15 years ago, children who were sexually abused would often have to repeat their stories several times to several different people - a teacher, police, perhaps a doctor, youth services and prosecutors. Often, Palestino said children were forced to re-tell their stories up to eight times, in eight different ways.

'Kids were looked at as being unreliable,' she said.

Now, Palestino said, child advocacy centers are often called by child protective services or police so that the process can run more smoothly.

'Our staff coordinates the investigations,' she said.

At a child advocacy center, Palestino said a specially-trained forensic interviewer talks to a child once, in a child-friendly environment, with appropriate officials listening in and being able to communicate with the interviewer to get more complete information.

Palestino, who trains these forensic interviewers, said it makes for a smoother, well-coordinated process that is easier on children and families.

'Ninety percent of the time, they come out happy and relieved,' she said.

The centers also facilitate social services that put families on a path to healing, she said.

Palestino said she is humbled to be included in 40 Under Forty honors.

'It's really a community thing,' she said. 'The real heroes are the staffs of the child advocacy centers.'


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