Talley Kendrick, the Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney, relies on the Child Center, an agency of the United Way, to assist her in the prosecution of individuals who have committed crimes against children.
When a child discloses they have been a victim of physical or sexual abuse, an interview is conducted at the Child Center. The victim of the crime meets with a trained interviewer to disclose the details of the crime.
"That means I have the information I need to prosecute those who prey on the most vulnerable victims — children," Kendrick said.
For Kendrick, her job is to seek justice when an individual has committed a crime. The Child Center’s work allows her to do this.
Forensic interviews are conducted in a private, child-friendly room with a recording system. The trained interviewer has the child disclose the details of the crime. The interviewers ask for clarification and get children to share all necessary information.
Individuals needing to know the details of the crime such as law enforcement, the Missouri Department of Social Services-Children’s Division, the juvenile office and the prosecutor are able to watch the interview live from an adjacent room on a closed circuit television.
These individuals are able to get all of the information they need without each having to talk individually to the child and make them relive the event.
"An abused child may face a number of traumatic circumstances including being removed from their home, being separated from family, having to testify in court and having to face their abuser," Kendrick said. "The Child Center does more to minimize the trauma from the system itself than any other agency involved in a particular case."
The recorded interviews conducted at the Child Center can be used in court proceedings and the individuals conducting the interviews can serve as expert witnesses. In some cases, this prevents children from having to testify in court.
For Kendrick, the Child Center is a partner she relies upon.
"They are really the glue that binds the whole system together when it comes to abused children," she said.
Kendrick said work done by the Child Center has allowed her to win convictions against people who have committed crimes against children. Through the interview process, the facts are obtained which gives her the evidence needed for a criminal conviction.
"It is not an overstatement to say that without the Child Center, there would be child abusers out in the community instead of in prison where they are away from the community and other children," Kendrick said.
The Child Center staff members have a grueling task day in and day out — to protect children and assist the justice system.
"The professionals who work for the Child Center are highly trained and highly skilled individuals. It's hard to truly appreciate that until you've watched them interview a child," Kendrick said. "And, because of the sensitive nature of their work, they will probably never receive enough credit or thanks for the work they do."
In this calendar year, the Child Center’s office staff in Hannibal has conducted 124 interviews of children who have disclosed they were the victim of abuse or neglect.
In addition to the interviews of children, the Child Center provides advocacy and prevention programs to local schools to ensure children know body safety, internet safety and are equipped with the information they need to know where to go if they are the victim of abuse or neglect.
The Child Center will benefit from the 2018-19 United Way Give Hope Campaign.