Marion Co. Dist. Attorney's Office
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News Release
DA Clarkson
DA Clarkson
As Children Return to School, Local Child Abuse Investigators Prepare for Disclosures of Abuse. (Photo) - 09/03/21

Today, the Marion County Child Abuse Response Team is pleased to announce an enhanced collaborative approach to child abuse investigations designed to increase coordination and an effective response to child abuse allegations in Marion County. 

 

This multi-agency team was developed in part to prepare local investigators for a potential increase in disclosures of abuse that occurred while children were isolated during the Covid pandemic. As children return to school, they will gain access to trusted adults, which could result in numerous disclosures of abuse that need to be investigated this fall.  Therefore, Marion County’s Child Abuse Response Team has enhanced and formally adopted a previous pilot model involving a co-located team of investigators who specialize in investigations of child abuse and family violence. 

 

Child abuse investigations are extremely complex and require involvement of multiple disciplines, such as child welfare, medical professionals and law enforcement.   Child abuse multidisciplinary teams (“MDTs”) are required under Oregon law in each Oregon County.  These teams are led by the local District Attorney.

 

Marion County’s District Attorney, Paige Clarkson considers this MDT and child abuse cases a top priority for her office. “Child abuse and family violence didn’t stop when Covid caused so many agencies and businesses to reduce services or close their doors. In fact- quite the opposite.  Therefore, during Covid we increased our efforts with partners to create one of the most robust child abuse MDT systems in the state."

 

The team meets daily to discuss the most recent investigations of serious child abuse or neglect. It consists of Marion County child abuse prosecutors, detectives from the Salem Police Department, Keizer Police Department and Marion County Sheriff’s Office, DHS child welfare workers specially-trained in trauma responsive investigations, victim advocates, and staff from Liberty House, including medical professionals, appointment coordinators, mental health professionals, and others.  “I hope that we’re wrong about child abuse disclosures increasing this fall, but with a team like this, I am proud that we’re better able to handle cases if I’m not” said DA Clarkson. 

 

Any law enforcement officer or DHS worker investigating an allegation of child abuse or family violence in Marion County may attend these meetings in person or via encrypted electronic video transmission.  This model allows those investigators to receive immediate advice from legal and medical professionals, child welfare information, and service referrals from victim advocates and mental health professionals.  The purpose of the meeting is to coordinate investigations between agencies, answer questions on process and procedure, coordinate services (including follow up services) for victims and families, and be a resource for investigators outside of the Salem area. 

 

“It takes a lot of work and experience to live up to this statutory mandate” Clarkson said, “but more importantly, it takes dedicated partners and special relationships to get these investigations right.  Therefore, I would like to particularly thank the Salem Police Department and Liberty House for their partnership on this important endeavor.”

 

Liberty House is Marion and Polk County’s Child Advocacy Center, and is the MDT’s central hub.  Liberty House offers a safe, comfortable, child-friendly environment for children and their families facing concerns of abuse, neglect, trauma, or grief.  Liberty House CEO Alison Kelley is co-Chair of Marion County’s Child Abuse MDT. 

 

“It became apparent very early in the Covid pandemic that we were entering a dangerous intersection of increased family stressors and isolated children. Under the leadership of our Board of Directors, we knew that we had to increase capacity and efficiency so that we could see more children facing concerns of abuse and neglect.”   

 

Liberty House remained open and provided services for children and caregivers throughout the Covid pandemic, seeing 17% more children than in the prior year. It also increased capacity by opening a West Salem medical facility.  This new facility provides additional medical appointments for children in both Marion and Polk counties. Liberty House simultaneously grew its abuse prevention services, now supports MDT investigators with administrative assistance and work space at Liberty House, and provides intake coordination within the MDT so that children can get the quickest access possible to mental health and/or medical professionals.

 

Marion County’s DHS Child Welfare branch and the Keizer Police Department also allocated specially-trained investigators specifically to the MDT. Additionally, the Salem Police Department made major contributions to the project.  Under the direction of Salem’s Police Chief, Trevor Womack, the department realigned four detectives and one sergeant position to focus on child abuse investigations, including one position specifically assigned to the child abuse MDT.  It also provided work stations for MDT partners within the new department so that members can collaborate from the police department as well as Liberty House.

 

“Over the past three years, agencies across Marion and Polk counties have worked in a pilot project to increase cooperation between all the agencies involved in child abuse investigations.  By formalizing a co-located Child Abuse MDT to focus on family violence, we have increased the commitment and dedication to a highly vulnerable population” said Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack.  “By making some difficult decisions within our agency, we have been able to reorganize a portion of our Investigations Division to make this commitment possible.”     

 

            Even with these significant investments, the majority of these complicated child abuse investigations will still require initial response by patrol officers and non MDT DHS child welfare workers. Therefore, MDT members recorded 11, one-hour training videos about how to investigate child abuse, reoccurring issues, and common mistakes to avoid.  Those training videos were posted in an online portal so that investigators could access them at their convenience and from the safety of their homes. To date, over 338 investigators county-wide have completed or are in the process of completing that training. 

 

            “It’s not about training responders on how to secure a conviction, which is important, but it’s about getting to the right result” says DA Clarkson. “To do so, we can’t let Covid slow us down on providing quality child abuse investigations, or public safety generally.” 

 

To that end, the Marion County District Attorney’s Office continued to resolve criminal matters throughout the Covid pandemic. In fact, the Marion County District Attorney’s Office resolved 4% more criminal cases than it did the year before the pandemic hit.  It did so by working collaboratively with the court and local defense attorneys to run courtrooms at appropriate locations where parties could stay socially-distant, yet still resolve pending criminal matters. In contrast, most other DA offices resolved 20-30% less cases during the COVID19 pandemic and currently have significant case backlogs. Some offices even made blanket “special deals” because of the pandemic. The Marion County DA’s office did not.

 

            “Working hard to avoid high numbers of backlogged cases helped my team dedicate more resources towards robust and efficient child abuse investigatory systems, such as providing trainings and being present at MDT staffings.” Clarkson said.  “From this realignment, I am confident that we are as well-prepared as possible to respond to children who disclose abuse to mandatory reporters. It is amazing to work with such an experienced staff, as well as collaborative and caring partners.”     

 

 “I would like to thank the leadership at Salem Police, Keizer Police, Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Woodburn Police, the Department of Justice, Marion County DHS and Liberty House.  Without their commitment to this effort, this opportunity would not have been possible.”

 

Please contact Marion County DDA Brendan Murphy, co-chair Marion County Child Abuse MDT at PMurphy@co.marion.or.us">BPMurphy@co.marion.or.us or (503) 588-5222 for additional questions. 

 

More information about Liberty House can be found here: Liberty House (libertyhousecenter.org)

 

More information about the Salem Police Department can be found here: Salem Police Department (cityofsalem.net)

 

More information about the Marion County District Attorney’s Office can be found here: Marion County District Attorney (marion.or.us)

 

 

 

Attached Media Files: DA Clarkson , MDT Team Staffing