A broad spectrum of agencies involved in the prevention of child abuse joined Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless for a unity breakfast on Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at the Country Club of Pittsfield, concluding a month-long calendar of activities in recognition of April as National Child Abuse Awareness Month. 

The breakfast brought together many stakeholders in the field of child protection, including representatives from the Department of Children and Families, The Kids’ Place and Violence Prevention Center, Hillcrest Educational Centers, Inc., the Brien Center, State and local police departments, Berkshire Juvenile Court and the District Attorney’s Office as well as state and local elected officials and community members. 

Tom King, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Children’s Alliance, gave the keynote address honoring the work being done in Berkshire County and the success of the collaborations among various agencies charged with protecting children.  Other speakers included Gerard Burke, President and CEO of Hillcrest Educational Centers; Christa Collier, Program Director of the Berkshire County Kids’ Place and Violence Prevention Center; Lance LaPointe, Acting Area Director of the Department of Children and Families; and State Senator Benjamin Downing. 

The breakfast also featured the award ceremony of the 10th Annual Gerard D. Downing Service to Children Award, which is presented each year by the Berkshire County Sexual Assault Intervention Network (SAIN) Team in honor of the late Gerard D. Downing.

Gerard Downing's tragic, untimely death in December of 2003 left a void not only in our county but across the Commonwealth.  Gerry served as Berkshire District Attorney for 13 years.  Prior to his election Gerry served as an Assistant District Attorney for seven years.  He selflessly dedicated his legal career to public service, protecting the community in which he was raised.  He had an unwavering commitment to advancing the rights of victims, in particular those most vulnerable – children, seniors, and the disabled. 

This year’s award was presented to RoAnn Vecchia, Investigator and Forensic Interviewer, Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. 

Ms. Vecchia has spent the past 23 years as a child protective investigator in the Pittsfield Area Office of the Department of Children and Families.  She has completed the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) Forensic Interviewing Clinic as well as the National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC) Advanced Interviewing training in Huntsville, Alabama. 

In addition to conducting interviews for the Department of Children and Families’ caretaker cases, RoAnn provides courtesy interviews for local police departments and the District Attorney’s Office on non-caretaker cases and organizes and participates in regular state-wide forensic interviewer meetings.  She has also been involved in the development and presentation of local and statewide trainings on child abuse and neglect, mandated reporting and the benefits of the multidisciplinary team response to child abuse, and serves as a trainer for the Massachusetts Child Welfare Institute on a variety of topics.