Haywood County’s top multidisciplinary team of professionals dedicated to fighting crimes against children and helping children heal, recently attended one of the nation’s most prestigious training opportunities, the Crimes Against Children Conference, hosted by the Dallas, TX Children’s Advocacy Center and the Dallas Police Department.
Thanks to an award given to Haywood County’s KARE, Inc (Kids Advocacy Resource Effort) by the Fund for Haywood County and the WNC Resolve Fund, Haywood County Sheriff’s Office Detectives Jantzen Hensley and Dustin Toon, Assistant District Attorney Kate Wrenn, KARE Forensic Interviewers and Victim Advocates Mary Bowles and Maria Rivera, KARE Therapist Lany Devening and KARE Executive Director Savannah Clark attended the conference together, strengthening the capabilities of the county’s multidisciplinary team (MDT).
“Our multidisciplinary team works together to investigate all of the child abuse cases in Haywood County, and by working together we are able to stay child-focused in our work,” said Rivera. “This conference was an amazing opportunity to see how other agencies at the state and federal level do the same thing by working together. Working with child abuse can be very hard and the conference was great in that it is like refueling a gas tank.”
The conference included a wide variety of practical and interactive instruction, offering lectures and hands-on computer lab training for those working on technology and internet-related crimes against children. A powerful roster of speakers also made an impact on attendees.
“We were able to hear from the first child successfully found by the Amber Alert system, who thanked us for the work we do. That was a cool experience,” said Rivera.
According to the National Children’s Advocacy Center, a multidisciplinary response to child cases allows for almost 80% of cases to receive criminal charges within 60 days and almost a 196% increase in felony charges.
In April, detective Jantzen Hensley with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office was one of two people recognized as KARE’s Children’s Champion of 2019. Detective Dustin Toon has extensive training and experience in the area of investigating crimes involving children. While the office’s criminal investigation division handles roughly 700 cases a year- the majority being property crimes and drug violations- Hensley and Toon emphasize that the adage “see something, say something” applies across the board.
“This subject can be incredibly misunderstood and even overlooked in the community,” Hensley said. “Awareness of the issue is extremely important, as is the matter of reporting suspected abuse.”
Hensley is referring to the North Carolina General Statute that mandates the reporting of suspected abuse, neglect, dependency or death of a juvenile due to maltreatment.
“There are important issues that we are talking about openly and emphatically in the county and across the nation, but we must also focus on having honest conversations about how we can stand up for children who are possibly being abused,” Hensley said.
Serving on the front lines of the conversation and education, the multidisciplinary team continues to implement new, evidence-based, trauma-informed approaches in their work, according to KARE Executive Director Savannah Clark. “Without this approach the MDT takes, many children in Haywood County would face continued trauma.”
Rivera added that although Haywood County is not the size of Dallas County, there are plenty of ideas learned at the training that can be adapted and utilized.
“There was a spark I noticed in our team members’ eyes when we were in Dallas,” Rivera Said. “We shared a common goal with thousands of others around us, that we want to help as many lives as possible.”