It takes a village to raise a child is a familiar sentiment based on proverbs from numerous cultures around the world. It also takes a village of sorts to investigate crimes against a child without further traumatizing a child victim. Fortunately for children in this area such a group exists. It’s called the Multi Disciplinary Team, which operates around the nucleus of the Child Advocacy Center — Sara’s House in Ardmore.
Kim Turner, C/SARA spokesperson, said in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month the staff of C/SARA is highlighting the important work the MDT does to not only ease the anguish, shock and suffering of child victims but to bring the perpetrators of crimes against children to justice.
The MDT is made up of partner agencies throughout the 20th Judicial District (Carter, Johnston, Love, Marshall and Murray counties). Along with the C/Sara Foundation staff, members include: law enforcement agencies, district attorney’s office, Department of Human Services, school-based social workers, medical professionals and mental health professionals. All team members receive extensive training in interviewing, investigation and teamwork. Together, the team offers a coordinated effort that ensures investigations are professional and no stone is left unturned.
The MDT approach is essential, Turner said, because each case is treated like a puzzle.
"Each piece (team member) represents an interlocking part that completes the case," she said. "DHS examines family dynamics, law enforcement investigates criminal activity, C/SARA staff conducts the forensic interviews, the medical team provides child safety, the mental health professionals offer ongoing and/or follow-up care and the district attorney's office determines criminal charges and prosecution." MDT members are "on call" 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"When a call comes to DHS or law enforcement concerning sexual or physical abuse, the victim is brought to Sara's House for a forensic interview and /or a medical exam," Turner explained.
Sara's House is a childfriendly facility specifically designed to reduce victim trauma. Turner said many of the objectives of the MDT are accomplished through Sara's House because the forensic interviews are recorded and observed by DHS workers and law enforcement.
"The forensic interview provides the most accurate account of the incident," Turner said. "Based on the interview or the dynamics of the case, the team then decides if a medical exam or mental health care is necessary." Sara's House is also equipped to provide onsite medical exams, mental health counseling, victim and family advocacy services and backpacks containing essential items for victims requiring them.
Although much of the MDT work is accomplished at Sara's House, law enforcement officers also work away from the center interviewing perpetrators and providing reports to the district attorney's office, which then determines if evidence is sufficient for charges and prosecution.
"Once a month the entire team gathers at Sara's House to review all the cases that have been brought through the facility," Turner said. "This enables the team to ensure each child and his or her family receive all the of the care and services needed for recovery." Individual members of MDT strongly believe in the concepts of the program.
"It is outstanding to say that every child in our community has a team of people dedicated to working for them when needed," said Lara Welch, C/SARA forensic interviewer. "I have personally witnessed law enforcement, child welfare, the DA's office, school officials, medical professionals, as well as mental health professionals work countless hours around the clock to provide the best quality care for children. I am honored to be a part of such a team. The dedication for children and families that each member possesses in inspirational." Capt. Kevin Norris, Ardmore Police Department Criminal Investigations Division said, "The MDT is important to me as a law enforcement officer because it allows me the opportunity to work with other agencies who have the same interest as myself and other officers, which is to help children. The MDT is one more step in assuring that a child doesn't fall by the wayside and that all their needs are being addressed." Geri Hayes, DHS Carter County Child Welfare Intake Supervisor, calls the local team "invaluable to the children and families we work with, as well as each other." Hayes says by working together the team ensures "the least possible trauma" to the children served. She adds, the combination of an "active" MD and child advocacy center in Ardmore is advantageous on multiple levels, with the most important being the benefits provided to child victims.
"The goal of an MDT is for victims of child abuse and neglect to only have to tell 'their story' one time, to lessen the trauma to them and prevent re-victimization,' she said. "Our team includes numerous professionals from different agencies who work together for the common goal of child protection.
"In addition to this, we provide support to each other when enduring the difficulties that often present themselves during this type of investigation. I am proud to be a part of this team of caring, conscientious, hard-working individuals who I know make a major difference in the lives of the children we serve."