Fighting a Common Enemy

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Child abuse is something that happens all too often in Mississippi. Over 18,000 cases were reported last year to the Department of Human Services.

That's why representatives from the agencies that deal with child abuse met at the Wesley House in Meridian Wednesday, in hopes of developing better plans and strategies to deal with the problem.

"What we hope to do is develop some standard operating procedures for investigation and prosecution of child abuse where everyone understands everyone else's role and their own role," said Biloxi attorney Bryan VonderBruegge, who led the training.

And bringing all the agencies together, from social workers to the district attorney's office, is the first step in making child abuse investigations a team effort. In order for each agency to do its job efficiently, it has to communicate clearly with others.

"What these meetings do for me is to tell law enforcement and social workers what I'm looking for from the interviews of the children or the suspects," said district attorney Bilbo Mitchell.

When it's discovered that a child is a victim of abuse, he or she is brought to the Wesley House, where interviews, the first step in the legal process, are conducted.

"They are empowered by knowledge and training as to what's going to happen next, what about the judicial system, how does that work?" said Ginger Stevens of Wesley House. "And we try to work together with the DA's office in helping that child cope with the trauma that would be before them."