05/19/09 — Agencies join efforts to protect children

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Agencies join efforts to protect children

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on May 19, 2009 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Social Services Director Debbie Jones signs a memorandum of agreement among agencies and organizations in Wayne County that deal with abused children. Looking on is Pamela Whitted, outreach coordinator for the Tedi Bear Children's Advocacy Center.

Organizations and agencies involved in helping Wayne County children in need have signed a memorandum of agreement to work together more effectively.

The Wayne County Multidisciplinary Team was created to keep the various groups aware of one another's work to increase efficiency and to avoid duplication.

Wayne Social Services Director Debbie Jones was the first to sign the agreement Thursday, in the county office building on Ash Street. Three years ago, she helped get a similar group in Greene County started.

"It's a good program. It's a very efficient process and allows us to strengthen the relationships between the agencies," she said.

Working together is crucial to success in dealing with troubled youths, she said, because the cases are often complex. For example, Social Services can only get involved in a case if the abuser is a family member. Other agencies and groups are also limited by their directives and power.

Colleen Kosinski, regional administrator for the Guardian ad Litem program, said that in one child abuse case, the perpetrator was arrested and convicted through the legal system, but the child did not receive therapy.

In other cases, the reverse is true, said Pamela Whitted, outreach coordinator for the Tedi Bear Children's Advocacy Center based in Greenville. In one case, the child received help, but the abuser avoided legal prosecution because the parents wouldn't press charges. The man was able to secure another job working with children and ended up raping two before he was caught.

"That was a perfect example of a case falling through the cracks," Ms. Whitted said. "He's doing time now."

Sex abusers eventually do get caught, said Ms. Jones, but she added, "How many children are hurt before that happens?"

The goal of the Wayne County Multidisciplinary Team is improved communication among everyone involved with an abused child to make sure he or she receives the help he or she needs.

"Social workers are talking to law enforcement, and law enforcement is talking to the DA's office. Mental health is involved. Everybody is talking together to make sure that child is given the help that is needed," Mrs. Kosinski said.

Ms. Whitted is helping the Wayne County team get off the ground. She said the center is forming several local multidisciplinary teams. The teams follow the National Children's Advocacy Center's model and are in line with the National Children's Alliance.

District Attorney Branny Vickory signed the agreement, followed by Goldsboro Police Major Mike Hopper, a representative from pediatrician David Tayloe's office and several others who deal with abused children. Each signer received a portfolio containing all the existing child abuse cases in the county.

"The most important part of this is it gives a vehicle for all the actors in the process of dealing with child abuse a chance to get together regularly," Vickory said. "In the past there have been cases where the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing ... The main thing is to help the kids keep from falling through the cracks."

The Wayne County team planned to have its first meeting today at Wayne Community College to discuss each child's case and share updates on the criminal process.