Nodaway County Sheriff Randy Strong signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Children and Family Center of Northwest Missouri to provide a series of training sessions for local law enforcement and those working with the court system.
The first installment of a series of training sessions, titled “Investigating and Testifying in Child Abuse Cases,” was held Feb. 6 in the Nodaway County Administration Building, where attendees underwent a four-hour program. There will be two additional rounds of training that prosecutors, advocates, health professionals and law enforcement agencies will be invited to attend at future dates.
Strong said the purpose of the training sessions is to encourage trauma-informed care for victims of child abuse and sexual assault.
“We entered this with a few things in mind,” Strong said. “We are hoping that through this training, and I might add that it is pretty top-tier, these cases will be handled with a better approach.”
At the Feb. 6 training, Missouri Child Abuse Resource Procesutor Erin Lueker led a presentation on the process of investigation for special cases, placing emphasis on knowledge of legal terminology, nuances of testifying and steps law enforcement can take to ensure proper and effective prosecution.
A problem Leuker said people are generally unknowledgeable about is the process of disclosure, or how victims disclose information. She said it is not generally a single-event incident, but rather a process, much like in the stages of grief.
When describing the process, Leuker said that many victims don’t believe themselves to be victims at all or that they have a deep emotional connection to their abusers, which can complicate testimonies from the victim. She mentioned it is increasingly important for law enforcement to realize recanting of testimony or going back on original statements does not always indicate falsehoods.
The training was mostly lecture-based with some interactive moments that helped attendees engage in the meaning behind terms and raise awareness of victim behavior and mindsets in the trial process.
Leuker said there are many systemic issues involving crimes against children that everyone should be aware of. She said an aspect of her job she enjoys is traveling to train localities how to deviate from recurring issues and providing solutions to those problems.
“Everything in this presentation is designed so that you have a better, more thorough investigation so that at the end, when I call you to testify, you are able to do so effectively, and I can get that conviction,” Leuker said.
Lack of resources and child deaths were common issues discussed and accessed in the Feb. 6 training. Each issue touched on was recognized as a problem everywhere, not unique to Missouri or the localities attending the training.
However, a study published by the Child Fatality Review Board in Jefferson City, Missouri, in January shows that in the state of Missouri, children the age of 3 and younger are most subject to child fatalities in the state.
According to the 2019 executive report by the Child Fatality Review Board, those who studied the data theorized that children of very young ages can’t communicate as well, have less of a chance to tell someone they are being hurt and are easily isolated from others who may notice.
Leuker, who serves on the Child Fatality Review board, said unless someone actually sees the child being abused, or at least indicators of abuse and neglect, those children are much less likely to see an investigation.
“Of the 3-year-olds who died in the state of Missouri in the last five years … the majority of those cases had at least one contact with the state agency before that child was murdered,” Leuker said.
It was a statistic that shocked local law enforcement in the room, and Leuker said it means that somewhere along the way, the state is missing opportunities to save those children.
Strong said that is one reason the training provided Feb. 6 was necessary.
“We knew this was the next necessary step,” Strong said.
Chillicothe Police, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Nodaway County Sheriff’s Office, state prosecutors, Maryville Public Safety, Worth County Sheriff’s Department, Children’s Division investigators and local victim advocates were all represented at the Feb. 6 training.
Strong has reached out to local departments, organizations and professionals, voicing concerns for further awareness in cases involving abuse victims.
Collaborating with Missouri Prosecution Services and the Children and Family Center of Northwest Missouri, further trainings will be held on different topics that fall under the umbrella of cases involving abuse and sexual assault cases.