Police officers have a place to turn when helping children

By BUSTER WOLFE,

 

Because a Hattiesburg police officer saw something out of the ordinary during what appeared to be a routine call and reported it to the appropriate resources, he may have saved the life of an 8-year-old.

Kids Hub Child Advocacy Center Director DiDi Ellis said the actions by Officer Na’Aman Holmes prevented further injury to the child. The center, which uses a multidisciplinary team to provide services for children, recognized the work by Holmes during a brief ceremony last week.

Ellis said the police officers have to look beyond the routine call to find child abuse sometime.

“If the child is not communicative, things could be missed and children could be subjected to further trauma,” she said. “So for me, I really am thankful for the officer paying attention because it allowed the rest of us to respond and do what we do best.”

Hattiesburg Police Chief Anthony Parker praised the work of his officers and their training.

“I can’t say enough about the training our officers receive from our training academy,” he said. “I always brag that we are one of the best police departments in the state. Our officers don’t just go to a scene and make it a routine thing. They will go to a scene and make sure they are observant of everything going on. That’s what this officer did along with his partner. They just saw some indications of abuse and they took it from there. So I can’t say enough about his dedication to the job.”

Having an agency like Kids Hub give the officers resources they can contact when children are involved, Parker said.

“Our officers are aware of every resource we have: Department of Human Services, KidsHub and all of the resources we have in this type of situation,” he said. “(Holmes) took the initiative and didn’t just stop there. He forwarded it on to our Detective Division. We have a dedicated group of detectives that deals with child abuse.”

Hattiesburg Police Lt. E. Allen Murray, who handles community relations and crime prevention, said cases involving children are personal to him.

“Most of these children cannot defend themselves,” he said. “Most of them are situations where someone is oppressing them or they believe that the situation is normal and that is what they are supposed to be going through. I have had the opportunity to work with them and let them know that there is more than what they know.”

Murray said child abuse cases can be found in all sorts of police calls.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of case it is or what kind of call it is, we always look for signs beyond the call when we respond,” he said. “In this particular case here, it happened that the officer did go beyond the call and was able to save a child.”

Ellis said several agencies are involved in the Kids Hub multidisciplinary team, including law enforcement, Child Protection Services, the District Attorney’s Office, Youth Court personnel, KidsHub staff, victim advocates, mental health and medical professionals.

“With that, we each have our own set of services,” she said. “Collectively, when we respond to child abuse cases, we can make sure that child abuse cases are not falling through the cracks and that kids are getting everything they need. So from start to finish, the investigation is going smoothly and the information is being shared among the partner agencies. In turn, the kids are getting everything they need.”

The team hopes to reduce the amount of trauma that the child has to go through when going through the various systems, Ellis said.

“When law enforcement and Child Protection Services respond to child abuse allegations, typically they do some minimal-fact interviews to check on the child to establish safety,” she said. “Then they make a referral to our organization and we can provide what is a called a forensic interview. It is an audiovisual recording of the child’s statements about the experiences.

“Then from there, we provide advocacy services by connecting them to the health and medical services they need. We also make sure that any basic needs are met, such as clothing, shelter and transportation. Once that happens and referrals are made to mental health and medical, they go to those appointments. Collectively, we are making sure that they get everything they need to be happy, healthy kids.”

The Forrest County team meets twice a month and handles up to 200 cases a month.