Among the original faculty of the Robert D. McCormick Center for Child Advocacy in 2000, Professor Joseph Del Russo teaches courses related to prevention, investigation and prosecution of sexual violence and child maltreatment cases in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences department.
Del Russo was the primary designer of the first-ever online program in 2008 at Montclair State University. He continues to teach within the McCormick Center, now within the Department of Social Work and Child Advocacy, where they offer courses for undergraduates, post-baccalaureate and graduate students for both online and on-campus.
Outside of school, Del Russo is an attorney and former Chief Assistant Prosecutor of the Special Victims Unit in the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office. He is a partner in the Forensic Risk Management Group (FRMG) with fellow Montclair State Professor Anthony V. D’Durso and Clifton City Attorney Mathew T. Priore.
FRMG assists school districts, universities and corporations where Title IX sexual harassment, intimidation or bullying is under review. FRMG specialists have highly specific skills to investigate, address and prevent high risk practices that could result in litigation.
Along with his work with FRMG, Del Russo was a past member of the Protection Subcommittee of the New Jersey Governor’s Task force on Child Abuse and Neglect. He was also invited to partake on the Attorney General’s working group where he helped draft the Sex Offender Risk Assessment scale used in Megan’s Law cases. Del Russo also provides expert testimony in the area of “memory and suggestibility of children” for both prosecution and criminal defense.
Dr. Nicole Lytle, an assistant professor of Social Work and Child Advocacy, has seen the impact Professor Del Russo has made first hand.
“Students benefit from his expertise and experience prosecuting crimes against children,” Lytle said. “His ability to navigate the nuances of research and policy while guiding students to connect with the challenges of investigating allegations of child maltreatment make him an invaluable instructor and child advocate.”
Some of his accomplishments include the design of a dedicated web site to train educators on mandatory reporting of child maltreatment.
Del Russo is a founder and Co-Director of the Child First/Finding Words program in New Jersey, which trains detectives, municipal police, child protection workers, mental health professionals, physicians, sexual assault nurse examiners and other family violence professionals on a protocol for conducting forensically defensible interviews. He also drafts curricula and has been a trainer in New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) since 2005.
Out of those accomplishments, Del Russo is most proud of spearheading the Childs First/Finding Words Forensic Interviewing Training Academy.
“This training has become the de facto basic training for child abuse prosecutors throughout New Jersey,” Del Russo said. “We also provide ongoing guidance to all 21 counties, and have been cited approvingly by the Supreme Court.”
Del Russo graduated from Rutgers University School of Law and was a founding member and former president of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children-New Jersey (APSAC-NJ). One of his biggest goals in the future is to continue to help build on the foresight of Dr. Robert McCormick, founder of the McCormick Center.
Recognizing the overlap of social work, child protection, law enforcement, medicine and mental health, Del Russo shares Dr. McCormick’s vision that the principles of these interrelated areas are worthy of academic study.
“It is consistent with the College’s mission that we offer relevant programs of study, and equally fitting that the department provide an appropriate balance of academic rigor and practice related scholarship, while preparing students to be social workers and child advocates,” said Del Russo.