Safe at Home?

Apr 5, 2021

UMD alumna and intern work to prevent child abuse during the pandemic.

Stay at home orders were intended to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep people safe. But as UMD social work alumna Kylee Pass points out, home isn’t safe for everyone.

Pass works at First Witness Child Advocacy Center, which helps victims of child sexual and physical abuse and their families. “Ninety percent of the time, children are abused by someone they know—it’s very likely someone in their family,” explains Pass. “Now they’re stuck at home with caregivers who are potentially abusive.”

Since the majority of child abuse reports come from professionals like school personnel, who are legally mandated to report abuse, Pass says it’s a critical time for concerned adults to check in on kids who might be at risk. She suggests finding ways to stay connected by text, phone, or video calls to remind children they have safe adults who care about them.

Program Into Practice

Pass completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work at UMD. “I had a great experience. I feel the programs prepared me well to do the work I’m doing,” she says. An internship at First Witness led to a full-time job at the Duluth nonprofit. As a family advocate and trainer, Pass says she wears “a bajillion hats.”

When a child alleges abuse, First Witness helps document their side of the story through a forensic interview. The goal is to ensure the child feels safe and avoid making them recount the story.

“Telling their story to multiple people can be really scary,” explains Pass. “Law enforcement officers can watch the interview live while it happens, but the kid never has to talk to them.”

After the interview, Pass works with families to support them through whatever they might need. This might mean helping them find resources, complete paperwork, or accompany them to court hearings.

Meaningful Learning

As prevention coordinator at First Witness, Pass is tasked with educating kids at area schools about body safety and autonomy. During the pandemic, she adapted the curriculum, creating video vignettes, workbooks, and a facilitation guide for teachers. She notes that schools also have the option of live, virtual sessions with First Witness staff.

Pass also supervises interns and has been working diligently to give students meaningful learning opportunities. “Right now, internships look a little different,” she says, noting that students are working remotely and helping with the new prevention materials as well as a variety of research projects aimed at improving services.

Megan Prouty is now working on a Bachelor of Social Work at UMD and interning under Pass. She assists staff remotely by virtually sitting in on forensic interviews and drafting summary reports. She compiles resources for parents or caregivers. She’s also done some research on enhancing the agency’s cultural responsiveness.

The experience has been different than anticipated but Prouty focuses on the positive. “I’ve been given a lot of access. Because everything is online, I have access to different webinars and trainings that I typically wouldn’t have had access to,” she says.

Prouty has also noticed how First Witness leadership and staff treat each other, despite their challenging work and during the pandemic. “Sometimes in social work, there’s a high burnout rate,” she says. “Right away I saw how First Witness staff were extremely supportive of each other and of interns. I’m enjoying seeing what a healthy work environment looks like for social workers.”

UMD Department of Social Work

Image above features Kylee Pass with one of the new First Witness workbooks.