Dozens of leaders gathered Monday to sign the first crime protocol binding all six counties in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit.
The Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit’s Child Abuse Protocol outlines procedure for assisting abuse victims and their families through the process of reporting, prosecuting and sentencing a suspect.
“We do have a document that I believe is comprehensive. It deals with the instances law enforcement have to respond to on a weekly, daily, sometimes hourly basis,” Superior Court Judge Gil McBride said.
Chattahoochee’s Child Abuse Protocol was created by a Georgia Legislature-mandated committee under McBride. Members on that committee include representatives from the major court and law enforcement systems, victim’s advocacy and county boards of education and health.
The 60-member Child Abuse Protocol Committee began working on the protocol in early December, McBride said. It produced a 23-page document that for the first time requires Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion, Muscogee, Talbot and Taylor counties to use the same protocol when addressing child abuse.
Before the protocol’s creation, individual counties had their own procedures with conflicting reporting methods between law enforcement agencies, often resulting in lost or forgotten cases.
“We had a lot of cases that weren’t showing up on anybody’s table,” said Assistant District Attorney Letitia, who was also the chairwoman of the committee. “A family would move, or a person working the case would move out of that position. We’ve adjusted the protocol to try and take out a lot of those loops.”
One of the changes include requiring those who commonly work with children, such as school officials, to notify both police and the Division of Family and Children Services when they encounter a potentially abused child.
“We’re trying to close what I call the ‘Or Door’,” Sikes said. “Before, the policy said to notify police or DFACS. What we are enacting here is to ask mandated reporters to handle an extra step, and to report to both agencies.”
This allows DFACS and police to work together and ensure the case is being handled correctly by both agencies.
Members of the Protocol Committee that were unable to attend Monday’s signing will be sent a copy to sign this week. Any adjustments to the policy will also take place during that time, in addition to regular updates during the year.
“It is a work in progress,” McBride said. “The same statute that requires this type of protocol also requires that it remains updated.”