Child advocacy

Lance Chancellor Jimmy McCoy - Soso Chief of Police, Barbra Blackledge (Family Health Center), Capt. Tonya Madison (JCSD), Dawn Compton (Cherished Hearts co-founder), JaLease Roberts (Jones County Child Protective Services, Tina Johnson (Miss. Department of Child Protective Services), Kimberly Cabe (FNP - Faith in Wellness), Investigator Priscilla Breland (JCSD), Deputy Shannon Koss (JCSD), Judge Wayne Thompson, Marian Allen, (Licensed Master Social Worker), Rachel Daniels (Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi). (Photo submitted)

Jones County leaders met to organize a Multi-Disciplinary Team to serve children in Jones County. The team brings together experts from diverse disciplines who work together to develop a plan and process for responding to allegations of child abuse in their community. The team is made up of law enforcement, mental health personnel, victims’ advocates, the district attorney’s office, Child Protective Services and medical personnel. 

The goal of the team is to create the opportunity for children to receive a quality investigation and specialized services in a way that reduces system-induced trauma while ensuring the child’s safety and that justice is served.  

Jones County is in the beginning stages of developing its MDT.  Everyone in this community should be hopeful that CPS, local law enforcement and the courts are all committed to creating a better response for children suspected of being victimized, organizers said.. 

“Laurel/ Jones County is in desperate need of a Child Advocacy Center,” said Capt. Tonya Madison, who is chief investigator for the Jones County Sheriff Department. “This center will benefit our entire area. We will be able to service more victims if this facility is available in our areas.”

Agencies that would be covered include the Laurel Police Department, Jones County Sheriff’s Office, Soso Police Department, Ellisville Police Department, Sandersville Police Department and other surrounding counties, Madison said. Three to four victims per week from Laurel and Jones County have forensic interviews in Hattiesburg, Meridian or Gulfport, she added. 

Statistics show that 700,000 children are victims of child abuse every year in the United States, and 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the time they turn 18 — and that’s based only on the number of cases that are reported. Of those, 95 percent of victims know the perpetrators.

Of the 68,000 living in Jones County, almost 26 percent are under 18. 

Last year, 60 children had to leave Jones County to receive assistance from Child Advocacy Centers across the state.

Some of the benefits of a CAC include:

• An MDT team in place to support children and families with prompt, consistent followup and communication as well as medical/mental health providers;

• The ability to assess the safety of a child’s living quarters and the need for medical/mental health treatment;

• A reduction in the number of times children have to tell their story and a reduction in the number of people they have to tell it to;

• Family advocacy and other support services/resources;

• A seamless transfer of information needed for investigation and prosecution;

• Raising awareness in the community and increasing the number of successful prosecutions.

Some of the signs of abuse or neglect include:

• Inadequate nurturing or affection;

• Visible marks of mistreatment;

• Reluctance to go home;

• Alienation and withdrawal;

• Unwashed appearance, body odor

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