As the front-line responders for children in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Suffolk County plays a crucial part in addressing some of the most difficult investigations within their community. Their forensic interview recordings are often the crux of a case, so naturally, they need to ensure that all of their audio video evidence is accurate and crystal clear for the court’s review.
The CAC has created a safe and welcoming space to assess the impacts of abuse and support children as they describe their experiences. Yet over the years, the agency’s interview recording equipment aged and became unreliable. In the spring of 2021, the CAC focused on addressing its equipment challenges. The team connected with iRecord, and together, they were able to develop a solution that would dramatically improve the way they work.
Meet the Children’s Advocacy of Suffolk County
The team at CAC of Suffolk County has been serving children and families since 1995. Most children visit the CAC due to concerns of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or exploitation; some of their young clients have been witnesses to violence and homicide. The team also conducts forensic interviews with adult survivors of childhood abuse and individuals living with disabilities.
The Suffolk CAC’s service area encompasses Boston, Massachusetts, as well as the communities of Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop. The Executive Director, Susan Goldfarb, explains that their center operates in an urban setting and serves a diverse community. An estimated 15 percent of the children and families seeking CAC services speak Spanish as their primary language. The diversity of the population and languages spoken has inspired the CAC to pursue new techniques for conducting interviews in a child’s primary language to better serve their clients.
After years of dealing with faulty recording equipment, the CAC staff knew they were past-due for a more reliable solution for their interview rooms. There were times when they discovered only at the end of an interview that their system had recorded inconsistent audio quality. Even worse, there were instances where the interview hadn’t been recorded at all. These failures didn’t happen often, but as every child advocacy center knows, even a single instance of a lost interview is one too many.
Ongoing Problems—When There’s Already Too Much on the Line
All across the country, CACs have taken progression measures to modernize their interview recording process. The CAC of Suffolk County isn’t any different. Yet until they connected with iRecord, their ideal, long-term solution was still out of reach.
“We’ve been recording forensic interviews since the mid-90s,” said Goldfarb. “We had VHS tapes, and then we did DVDs and most recently, a remote storage system for the equipment.”
While they had moved to digital recording, the setup they were using still wasn’t as reliable as they wanted or needed. The audio quality was poor much of the time, and that just made their work more stressful.
The Supervisor of the Forensic Interview Team in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, Jacquelyn Lamont, has a very clear perspective on what these risks really mean.
“Every single word is important,” said Lamont. “When reviewing our interviews, we don’t ever want to guess about details, such as body parts, locations, or other things critical to charging the case. We need to have a reliable way to document and review what the child said, no matter how soft their voice. And a child should not be asked to speak louder about something so difficult, when we are already asking so much.”
As the problems with the recording equipment persisted, the equipment also started to fail. When some of their interview evidence went to the grand jury, Lamont explained, the recordings required audio enhancement to ensure that they could be heard and understood.
“It was crushing,” Goldfarb repeated. “We already had installed several microphones and added microphones, and we still had problems hearing kids clearly. It was too painful. We couldn’t continue to experience that.”
The CAC’s goal was to upgrade three interview recording rooms. More importantly, they wanted to do it once and do it right. The center’s current equipment was worsening all the time, and ultimately, it failed completely.
The Research Phase: Feedback from Other iRecord CACs
Knowing that none of their interview evidence could be put at risk, the CAC of Suffolk County submitted a grant application to a private funder. The funder wanted to know that the team had done their homework and requested a quote to review from the solutions provider before officially approving the award. They understood that adopting a new system was going to be a big investment, and it was important to do as much research as possible before moving forward.
The team was just as eager to find the best long-term solution, so they started considering their options by gathering honest feedback from other CACs. Lamont focused on reaching out to various agencies and police departments in Massachusetts, and Goldfarb began contacting CACs all over the country.
“There were a few agencies that were using iRecord,” said Lamont. “And I remembered one from the past because their system had the simple, wall-mounted ‘record’ button to press. That was unique to me—and the quality of the recording was really great.”
The system that the CAC of Suffolk County had been using for nearly a decade was obviously lacking, but even other providers still had limitations on what the team would be able to do. They knew that caution was critical.
“We’re still recovering from our last system—it was a rough nine years,” said Goldfarb.
They didn’t want to be disappointed all over again, which is why they made sure to dive deep and ask questions about every single detail of the recording solution. The team asked about whether others had noticed sound delays or any other types of technical failures. They also wanted to know about the provider’s tech support and their responsiveness. Sifting through all of this information was what really made iRecord stand out from the competition.
“It’s a confusing market,” said Goldfarb. “Everyone says they do the same thing and that they do it really well.”
Fortunately, they continued to hear positive feedback about iRecord from agencies that had already made the switch. Even one of Goldfarb’s particularly discerning colleagues championed the system, sharing really strong, positive reviews for both its reliability and effectiveness.
Still, the team made sure to continue asking follow-up questions during the sales phase. They were well aware of what their issues were in the past and needed to be confident that those would be addressed and solved.
The final decision was made by Goldfarb and Lamont, along with their IT department and multimedia team to double-check the system’s compatibility and files. Then they needed to verify their special request for a simultaneous bi-lingual recording option from iRecord, as well.
Once all of those questions were answered, the team moved forward and presented the quote to the grant funder. The need was clear right from the start, and the CAC had confidence in the fact that they were making a great and important choice to invest in the new equipment.
A Custom Solution for Spanish-English Recordings
Because a large percentage of their clients are Spanish-speaking, the team at CAC of Suffolk County was eager to find a solution that would allow them to capture original interviews conducted in Spanish, as well as an English translation in one go. This meant recording the audio in the interview room while also capturing the audio in their observation room, where their translator would speak into a headset for a live English translation.
“Some CACs don’t have the ability to conduct Spanish-speaking interviews, but since we do, iRecord created unique tech for us,” said Goldfarb. “The setup makes two recordings at the same time. I don’t know what could be simpler.”
With the recordings happening simultaneously, their agency wouldn’t need to wait for the conversation to be translated in a separate session. They knew exactly what they needed. It was just a matter of communicating that to the iRecord team.
“In the past we were using a mixer to conduct interviews in Spanish with a simultaneous English translation. The mixer had a lot of settings, and there was so much human error with the audio in and audio out,” said Goldfarb. “It was complicated and, honestly, a bit too daunting for our team.
Part of the beauty of the iRecord dual language system is that it’s so easy to use. There’s just a single device and there are only a couple of steps to activate the recording process for the translation. Once the Spanish interview and English translation are complete, the CAC can get the content into the right hands faster.
Developing this solution was a collaboration between the CAC of Suffolk County and iRecord from the start. Now that it’s up and running, advocacy groups throughout the country can sign-on and benefit from the new solution too.
Implementing the iRecord Software and Equipment
After the logistics of their simultaneous recordings were figured out, next up was the installation process. The Field Engineers from Business Electronics out of Wallingford, Connecticut, an authorized dealer for the iRecord solution, came to their site and assessed the rooms. It was helpful for Goldfarb to talk through these plans right out of the gate because things were going to be different than what they had been before—and much more streamlined.
“We had always had a camera that panned, and iRecord said we may not need that anymore,” said Goldfarb. “There were also several mics including a mic from the original interview room install and then two more that were added later on.”
In addition, their forensic interviewers had also been using lapel mics, but since the children being interviewed would often touch them, they actually created unnecessary noise and didn’t really end up helping their audio quality. All of these microphones combined still weren’t delivering consistency for their recordings. So, when iRecord’s team said that their rooms would only need one, or possibly two, microphones in the ceiling, Goldfarb and Lamont still had some doubts about whether it would truly be enough. Children often talk so softly that they worried whether the iRecord setup could deliver. They quickly found out, though, that if the interviewer can hear a child, then it’s going to be audible on the recording too.
Implementing a new interview recording system at the onset of the pandemic may have stacked the odds of getting high-quality audio against them even more. But, with iRecord there were never any problems.
“Often, in an interview, a child is already withdrawn, might have their head down, sometimes a hood up, and sometimes struggling to speak” said Lamont. “Then with the pandemic they have a mask on too. That’s a lot to manage, but so far iRecord has captured it all.”
In addition to their new hardware, it’s been a huge relief for the team to have a new software system too. Their team members can all access their recordings on their own, and even though some staff tend to be more comfortable with new technology than others, no one has struggled with moving to iRecord. Because the system is so intuitive, it’s become easier for everyone to review their recordings.
“It’s very user-friendly, very easy to use—easy to find recordings even without names or the date of birth,” said Lamont. “I can just go by the calendar to click on the date of the interview and the system pulls it up.”
Plus, when ready to start, the only thing the multidisciplinary team has to do is just hit “record.” There aren’t any complications mixing the audio anymore. Then, after the interview, the interviewer can simply enter any additional information when they’re back at their computer. This has been nice because they may not have time before the interview to enter certain details. But now they can always go back and add more information. Their previous system worked in reverse. You had to enter the file details and title content before even getting the interview underway.
Moving Forward with a Stress-Free Recording Solution
When it comes to forensic interviews, there’s no room for error. It was too stressful, and frankly, simply heartbreaking, to have had so many failures with their recordings in the past. But iRecord has finally eliminated those fears for the CAC of Suffolk County. The positive feedback they received from other agencies has proven to be completely accurate, including the testimonials for their Business Electronics and iRecord’s technical support.
“Knowing that iRecord is there and I can just hit a button for our recordings—I’m less stressed,” said Lamont. “And Anthony from Business Electronics gets right back to us with any issues.”
Even when there was a slight mix-up with a system shutdown, iRecord had a service team member come onsite to make things right. Their entire team continues to be helpful and patient, and the CAC has found them to be extremely kind, as well.
Everyone at the CAC of Suffolk County has been thrilled with the results that they’re getting from iRecord, and they also feel that the grand jury is really happy with the audio quality their interview evidence is providing now, as well. Plus, their grant funder knows that their contribution is making a real and lasting impact.
“It’s working and it’s easy,” said Goldfarb. “And it’s a relief.”
The nature of child advocacy work will always come with challenges. But getting their iRecord solution installed has been truly transformational for this CAC team. With their experience, supportive environment, and reliable equipment, they can confidently say that they’re doing their work in the way that kids deserve.