Wednesday, October 12, 2022

From the Bates County Sheriff's Office

Have you ever wondered what happens when a child is the possible victim or a witness to a crime? 

Bates County, like counties all over the state and nation strive to constantly improve the way that a child is interviewed when they are the victim of a crime, especially a crime that is physical or sexual in nature. Bates County is very fortunate to have local resources readily available to assist law enforcement, Children’s Division and juvenile officers when dealing with juvenile victims.

If you aren’t already familiar with the Butler Children’s Center, let me introduce you and tell you about this invaluable resource located right in our own backyard! The Children’s Center located in Butler, Missouri is a branch of the Children’s Centers of Southwest Missouri, originally founded in Joplin, Missouri where their main office is located. The first Children’s Center opened in Joplin in 1997 and since then have developed branches in Monett, Butler, and Nevada. Between the 4 centers, they serve 12 counties and countless families. 

The Butler location, which opened its doors in 2009, specifically, serves the 27th judicial circuit including Bates, Henry, and St. Clair counties, but works with other counties to assist when needed. Across the state there are only 16 advocacy centers accredited by the National Children’s Alliance, and the Bates County area is fortunate to have their own!

So before we talk about what the center offers and what things look like for a child victim now, I think it is important to talk about how the process used to go before advocacy centers existed. In the past if a child was a victim of a crime and disclosed that to someone, which could be a teacher, parent, church leader or other trusted adult, that person may contact law enforcement or make a report to child abuse and neglect hotline. 

From there, that child who experienced a trauma, would have to tell about their experience over and over again, reliving that trauma every time they had to tell about it. They may have to tell what has happened/is happening to school personnel, children’s division workers, medical professionals, parents, law enforcement, juvenile officers, victim advocates, prosecutors and attorneys all independently. This not only caused the child more trauma as they had to relive the incident over and over again, but it could have also hurt the case if their disclosure changed over time. It also left gaps where a child’s case could easily fall through the cracks between agencies. This was not the best way to do things but it took time to develop a better way! Now we have that better way, the advocacy centers! 

At these advocacy centers, all of the previous mentioned agencies (such as law enforcement, victim advocates, prosecutors, juvenile officers, children’s division) can all come together at the Children’s Center and watch remotely as the child shares their experience ONE time to a trained child forensic interviewer. From there, the same team of people who work together as a multidisciplinary team, can see the interview, discuss the elements of the case, share thoughts, ideas and concerns, and work together as a whole to advocate for that child and push the case through the court system.

Now, let’s talk about what the Children’s Center of Southwest Missouri- Butler branch offers specifically. The Children’s Center has an assigned advocate that runs the day to day operations of the center, including taking phone calls and scheduling forensic interviews, and putting families in touch with other resources when needed, and being an advocate for the child. 

When a child is brought in to the center, the atmosphere is much more inviting than a law enforcement center or doctor’s office, it is set up more like a residential home and aims to make the child feel as comfortable as possible. At the center, the family or trusted adult that brings the child in has a special waiting area where they can wait while the child is being interviewed and sit with other children in the family if they are present as well. The child is interviewed one on one with a specially trained child forensic interviewer, who is trained to use the Mo Child First forensic interviewing protocol. 

That interview is recorded and also streamed to a remote room where other team members can view the interview as it is happening and not be in the same room with the child. The team members also have a mic that they can talk to the interviewer, who is wearing an ear piece, if the team has questions or information for the child or the interviewer. This insures that as much detail as possible is gathered from the child during that interview, so they don’t have to be interviewed numerous other times. That recorded interview with the child is then evidence for the criminal investigation taking place with law enforcement. 

In certain cases, a child may need a medical exam to look for evidence of a sexual abuse crime. Doctors’ offices and/or hospitals can sometimes be scary for children who have been a victim of trauma, so the children’s center also has a contracted Nurse Practitioner and a special room where Sexual Abuse Forensic Exams (SAFE) can be conducted. The exam includes a complete physical exam including the genital areas by the nurse practitioner who is certified as a SAFE examiner and utilizes special equipment to conduct the exam. The exam is NON-INVASIVE. Child at Risk Exams (CARE) are also offered for children who are suspected victims of physical abuse.

Beyond the interview and/or exam, the center also has the ability to make referrals for counseling or other mental health and trauma related services for the child. The advocate, of course, is always available to answer questions, address concerns with the family, and reach out to other members of the team when needed, their job doesn’t stop after the interview! One of the biggest assets of the multidisciplinary team that works together on these types of cases is that they are all local! 

From the law enforcement, to the medical professionals and everyone in between, they all know each other and work together regularly, and that makes the process so much easier and more streamline when everyone can get into contact with other team members and get reports or information they need in a much more timely manner than if the child is sent to multiple facilities outside of the community.

Another asset of the Children’s Center is that the multidisciplinary team meets monthly to discuss all of the cases that come through the center. During that meeting, the cases are reviewed and team members can brainstorm, ask questions, give updates and discuss the case and the well-being of the child. This ensures that the case continues to move along and make progress and doesn’t fall through the cracks. When a case is concluded either by the case being closed or the case being adjudicated in the court system, the outcome of the case is also discussed among team members. The team also discusses trainings available, offers an education piece each month for team members and members upda
te each other on current events or legal updates within their field.

So why the Children’s Center? To break the stigma, be a voice for the vulnerable and to educate the community, both children and adults that it’s NOT “stranger danger”. Abuse happens by people our children know, love, and live with and are in our homes, schools, sports programs and communities. As of 2021 the Children’s Centers of Southwest Missouri has served 1,120 children, including 996 victim interviews, 366 medical exams, and 274 Children in Trauma Focused Therapy Programs. 

The statistics are staggering, 1 in 10 children will be abused by the time they are 18 and 60% of them will never tell. Ninety percent of all children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. Those numbers are why the members of the team and the Children’s Center do what they do. We work to give courage to children, increasing a timely disclosure. We work together for the justice of every victim.

If you are wondering how you can help the Butler Children’s Center be on the lookout for our annual fundraiser that happens every year, as 1/3 of the center’s funding comes from local fundraising and community support! Without you, this amazing place would not be possible!

A few of the people and professions who make the Bates County team a success are:
Amy Kaelke and Nancy Anspaugh – Interviewers/Advocates
Nancy Sutton- Interviewer
Hugh Jenkins- Bates County Prosecutor
Donna Morris- Victim Advocate
Bates County Sheriff’s Office
Butler Police Department
Adrian Police Department
Rich Hill Police Department
Bates County Juvenile Office
Children’s Division
Misty Tourtillott- Nurse Practitioner

And countless others including a community full of people who continue to see the value and support the Butler Children’s Center.

If you would like more information about the Children’s Center and their role in the community, or if you would like information on how to donate to the center, please feel free to contact the advocate at 660-227-6184 or akaelke@childrens-center.org

Article written by Amy Fishbaugh- Detective, Bates County Sheriff’s Office



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