Multidisciplinary team superheroes with Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi

Published 3:43 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2024

By Bobby Fort, MDT Coordinator,  Sally Williams, Chief Programs Officer, Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi™

There is a team of superheroes who walk among us daily. They are experts in their respective fields and work together to transform lives. They bring hope to the worst situations and fight for justice on behalf of the most vulnerable victims. Who is this team? It’s the Multidisciplinary Team, the heart of your local Child Advocacy Center and your community’s response to child abuse.

Multidisciplinary Teams (MDTs) have been used in various professional fields for many years. For example, the medical field has utilized multidisciplinary teams to staff complex medical issues of patients for over 50 years, and these efforts continue today based on their success. Utilizing this format, Robert E. “Bud” Cramer, a local prosecutor in Huntsville, Alabama, constructed such a multidisciplinary team to respond to the complex work and intertwined agencies involved in child abuse cases in 1985. His philosophy for this approach was founded on the basis that child abuse is a serious issue that must be addressed; the system intended to protect children should help children, not further traumatize them or cause lack of trust; the protection of children must bring all agencies involved in the investigation and intervention to work together; collaboration will include both government and NGOs; and programs should be flexible based on the community’s strengths. As this idea grew, it became clear that having a committed and effective multidisciplinary team with a shared common goal was the foundation of a Child Advocacy Center (CAC).

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The CAC/MDT model recognizes that to effectively respond to child abuse, various agencies and departments responsible for the protection of children must be united in a collaborative effort to respond with the recognition that no one agency by itself can assure the protection of children. Each agency benefits from the knowledge and expertise of MDT colleagues through shared information and timely gathering of evidence. This collaboration guides individual and collective interventions that help ensure the most efficacious outcomes for the children served, as well as all the MDT partners. Multidisciplinary Teams today are comprised of child protection services, law enforcement, prosecution, medical providers, mental health clinicians, forensic interviewers, victim advocates, and others who work together to coordinate the investigation of allegations of child abuse and provide the child victim and family with support services.

Child Advocacy Centers function within a trauma-informed framework designed to reduce harm and support healing. MDT interventions in a neutral, child-focused Child Advocacy Center setting are associated with clients experiencing less anxiety, having to undergo fewer interviews, seeing more appropriate and timely referrals for needed services, and meaningful participation by clients in the protective services, criminal justice, and other systems where applicable. In addition, a Child Advocacy Center with a coordinated MDT response can empower parents and other caregivers to protect and support their children throughout the life of the case and beyond.

So how exactly does this multidisciplinary team work? When law enforcement or child protection services believe a child may be experiencing abuse, the child is brought to a Child Advocacy Center.  At the Child Advocacy Center, the child tells their story, in their own words, only once, to a trained interviewer who knows the right questions to ask that do not retraumatize the child. Then, the MDT makes decisions together about how to help the child based on the interview. They also create an action plan to coordinate the investigation of allegations of child abuse. By working together, CACs and MDTs better serve children through coordination of the different agencies involved throughout the life of child abuse cases.

In 2023, Child Advocacy Centers and Multidisciplinary Teams across Mississippi provided services and resources for 8,271 child victims of abuse, neglect, human trafficking, child exploitation, or witnesses to violent crimes. To these child victims and their families, Child Advocacy Centers and MDT members are superheroes who provide hope, healing, and justice. They are individuals who have special strengths and together use those strengths to do good things to help other people, people who walk among us daily.