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Child Advocacy Center

 The Child Advocacy Center is a place where children who are victims of child abuse and neglect can be interviewed and examined. The Department of Social Services, the Howard County Police Department, the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Health Department and the Department of Citizen Services banded together to make it easier for victims of child abuse; the Child Advocacy Center was opened as a place where children can be jointly interviewed by the police and child protective service workers. The State’s Attorney’s Office is an active participant in the Child Advocacy Center. Each week, several Assistant State’s Attorneys attend the staffing meeting to review the recent reports of child abuse and neglect.

 CHILD ABUSE 

Physical and sexual child abuse cases and sexual offense cases are perhaps the most sensitive, difficult and challenging cases that our office handles.  The dynamics of secrecy and delayed disclosure of abuse are unique to this type of crime. Child abuse, be it physical or sexual and sexual offenses, unlike many of our other violent crimes, do not occur in public where witnesses may see what happened or where a security video may capture evidence of the crime on tape. Instead, these types of cases often occur in the privacy of the home, among those who are trusted. The abuser is often a parent, other family or household member or person who has responsibility for the care or custody of a child, such as a caretaker. Often times, the only witnesses to these types of crimes are the victim and the perpetrator. 

Holding the offender accountable and protecting other children and members of our society from abuse by the offender are our office's main goals. If an offender is held accountable for his or her actions, the victim is often able to move forward and lead a healthy and productive life and our community, as a whole, benefits.  

The citizens of Howard County are very fortunate to have a multi-dsiciplinary team composed of Howard County Police, Child Protective Service Workers (CPS), medical professionals and prosecutors from our office.  In fact, the police detectives handling reports of child abuse are physically housed together with CPS workers, medical doctor professionals and a victim advocate.  

The prosecutors who participate in this multi-disciplinary team receive specialized training to keep them abreast of all the latest techniques, technology and case law necessary to allow them to most effectively prosecute these cases of physical and sexual abuse.   

The State’s Attorney’s Office also employs a full-time victim advocate, who serves as a valuable member of the Child Advocacy Team, as well as a liaison between the victim and the other members of the team.  Our well trained and highly experienced victim advocate serves to guide victims through this investigative and court process while providing resources for services and programs to help the victim recover and heal from his or her abuse. 

Each Child Advocacy Center investigation into suspected child abuse is reviewed at a weekly "staffing" meeting attended by all multi-disciplinary team members. The multi-disciplinary team evaluates each case, makes recommendations for further investigations, and continues to monitor and assess each investigation for its viability as a criminal case or for some other disposition such as a child in need of assistance proceeding. Once an investigation is concluded, the State's Attorney's Office reviews each case to determine what, if any, charges will be filed. 

If criminal charges are filed against an offender, the prosecutor prepares the case for trial. This preparation involves meeting with the victim and witnesses in the case as well as researching any legal issues. In preparing the case, the prosecutor works closely with the victim as well members of the Child Advocacy Center Team to bring about a just resolution in these cases. 

The multi-disciplinary approach to these cases has many benefits. First, the victim is jointly interviewed by CPS workers and the police.  This collaborative effort limits the number of times the child will have to be subjected to disclosing the intimate details of his or her abuse. Another benefit of the multi-disciplinary team approach is the ability to recognize and focus on the needs of the victim and attempt to provide needed services, or referrals for services, in a prompt manner. The team of trained and caring professionals on the multi-disciplinary team provide for swift and complete investigations and prosecutions in these most difficult of cases. 

Obviously, not every case screened by the multi-disciplinary Child Advocacy Center team will result in a criminal prosecution.  However, once a criminal prosecution for a sexual or physical child abuse case has been initiated, our prosecutors dedicate themselves to achieving a just resolution of each case.  Over the past five years, our office has indicted and prosecuted the following number of sexual and physical child abuse cases: 

 

2007 

                         30 

                14 

2008  

                         13 

                  8 

2009  

                         23 

                  3         

 2010                             18                      7
 2011                                     18                      4