Zero Abuse Project grows to include familiar names in child protection education

ZAP Team
ChildFirst State Coordinators from around the US at the ChildFirst Conference with Victor Vieth (front center) and Rita Farrell (middle back).

As healthcare systems go, a focus on providing quality coverage to a region is tantamount to a hospital’s mission. So is becoming a national leader in innovation and research. For five years Lacrosse, Wisconsin-based Gundersen Health has prepared and advanced child advocates and multidisciplinary teams with renowned training. Gundersen has been instrumental in bringing programs like ChildFirst training to the world. Now, Gundersen is spinning off the National Child Protection Training Center (NCPTC) and the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (JWRC) into the independent Zero Abuse Project (ZAP).

“It’s all a very friendly transition,” says Rita Farrell, who is moving into a new staff role with ZAP. “For Gundersen, they’re focusing on their regional strategic plan,” she says. While Gundersen is placing an emphasis on regional excellence, the child protection training program with international ambitions is merging with the Zero Abuse Project. “None of that is a bad thing,” says Farrell.

St. Paul, MN-based ZAP is a registered nonprofit that promises big improvements for child advocates and those seeking advanced training. For Farrell, “My role stays the same. I’m the lead forensic interviewer specialist with ZAP and we brought all our programming, including everything that was a part of the JWRC with us to ZAP.” Victor Vieth, the founder, is now Director of Research and Education for ZAP. ZAP CEO Jeff Dion maintains his position and brings20 years of experience at the National Center for Victims of Crime.

“What folks will see is very little, if any change in the field. We’re fully committed to preventing child abuse and continuing child abuse prevention education,” says Farrell.

Perhaps the biggest program in child protection training, ChildFirst, of which many Indiana CACs and MDTs have taken training with, is now a part of ZAP. “We’re very excited about this,” says Farrell. “It’s going to allow us to expand our reach to better protect children.”

Farrell manages the ChildFirst program. The child-focused course has brought front-line child abuse professionals in Indiana and the US thousands of hours of training in child development, memory and suggestibility, court testimony, legal issues, and how to prepare children for court. Besides the 19 states using ChildFirst training, Japan and Columbia are also member nations. “We can increase all of that under ZAP,” says Farrell.

ZAP now also offers several programs, including:

  • EmpowerMe, a body safety program for school-age children.
  • FIRST, a response training program to nurses, doctors, and healthcare facilities who are first to hear a child disclose abuse.
  • A growing CAST program for undergraduates and graduate students at colleges and universities who are considering entering the child protection field.

“CAST teaches young people what to do before entering,” says Farrell. The training helps young professionals understand what leads to child maltreatments and the kinds of evidence-based responses that work

“Our vision and mission has been to train front-line professionals to protect children. This is just all-encompassing now to better protect children,” says Farrell.

Visit for more, or email Rita Farrell at to review course options for your team, school, church, or other organization.

Join the over 2,500 others receiving periodic updates about the Indiana Chapter, CACs, and child abuse prevention.

We send campaigns a handful of times a year.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Skip to content