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

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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