After about a year of reviewing cases, Sampson County’s Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) is ready and eager to move forward with plans to establish a local Child Advocacy Center, a wish that is now on its way to becoming a reality thanks to a newly formed union with Sampson County’s Partnership for Children.
Made up of professionals from six different disciplines — law enforcement, prosecution, social services, mental health, the Health Department, the medical community, and Guardian ad Litem representatives who act as the voice for children in court —the MDT members meet monthly to discuss cases of child sexual abuse and serious physical injury in closed-door sessions, all in a joint effort to prevent cases from slipping through the cracks and to help make the various situations better and less traumatic, particularly for the victims.
The team first formed back in June 2012 and began reviewing cases a few months later in October. Since then, they have reviewed a total of 71 cases and currently have 41 others open.
“It helps having everyone at the table. It keeps everyone on top of things and holds everyone accountable. We’ve done really well but our numbers (of cases) are increasing,” said Shannon Blanchard, local MDT Coordinator, “so there’s definitely a need for a center in Sampson. Right now, we have to go out of the county for those services,” referring to locations in Fayetteville and Chapel Hill.
That need is now one step closer to being met thanks to a pact recently made between MDT and the local Partnership for Children.
“(Executive Director of the local Partnership) Victoria (Byrd) accompanied us on a visit to a Child Advocacy Center,” shared Blanchard about the origin of the partnership. “She saw what they had done and made mention of doing the same thing in Sampson. When we were ready to pursue our own, we checked with her first to see if she was still interested and she was. Her program is very successful and has a good repertoire with the community so it’s a very good and appropriate partnership.”
This past Tuesday MDT members met with Byrd to make the partnership official, signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in order for work begin on starting Sampson County’s own Child Advocacy Center.
The center, Blanchard noted, will be a child-friendly place where victims can go to have all the needed interviews and medical exams done under one roof, something that will help make their situation a little easier.
“Right now when cases of abuse are reported, multiple people interview that child,” she explained, mentioning that in addition to social services and law enforcement personnel conducting interviews, children may also be questioned by medical staff and school personnel depending on their unique situation.
Even though all are working to gather information to help the child, “there’s just so many people re-victimizing the child” with those multiple interviews, said Blanchard, pointing out that multiple interviews have another downside. “You know children, sometimes they remember something that they may tell me but then forget to tell you. When the stories aren’t the same it can hurt the case when it goes to court.”
Once the local Child Advocacy Center is established, victims can be taken there and interviewed by one person — a trained forensic interviewer, pointed out Blanchard, describing the sole interviewer as “a neutral person who will gather all the information.”
“It’s just better for the child. They’ll feel more comfortable in that kind of environment than say at DSS or the sheriff’s department which can be kind of scary,” she added.
Others working on the case, like social services and law enforcement personnel, will also be able to go to the center during the interview to watch it from another room on a closed circuit television. The interviews will be recorded and copies will be provided to the agencies involved, one of measures which will help streamline the process and ensure that all involved have the same story, making the investigation less traumatic and more beneficial to the victim.
Now partners with the Partnership for Children, the MDT members next step in bringing a Child Advocacy Center to the local community is to raise funds.
“We don’t really have a timeline right now. Where we are at is that the Partnership cannot fund us so we have to raise funds now and write for grants,” said Blanchard. “We have a fundraising committee that is starting to plan events for the beginning of the year, and we want to go out and speak with different groups too and raise community awareness.”
“To start, and we’re thinking in terms of a part-time basis, we’re looking at around $35,000 to get it up and running,” she continued, noting that funds raised in the coming months will go to meet a variety of needs for the future center including equipment, supplies, and things to help the children who need to visit the center feel more comfortable. “We want to have something to give the children when they’re there like a blanket or a stuffed animal. We’re thinking that we maybe can partner with churches or other organizations for that.”
Although no date is set for when the center might open and no location for the center has been nailed down, the MDT is working hard to make center a reality sooner rather than later.
“As soon as we have the funds we’ll start,” said Blanchard. “If we had them today, we’d start tomorrow.”
For more information about MDT and the future Child Advocacy Center or to make a donation, please contact Shannon Blanchard at 385-7785 or Victoria Byrd at the Sampson County Partnership for Children at 592-9399.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.