One such professional is Chris Shelton. An investigator with the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division (CACD), Shelton, 46, is stationed at the Clay County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) offices in Piggott.
In his role, Shelton not only assists police departments in Clay County, but also works with departments in adjoining counties as needed.
The CACD was formed in 1997. It was designed to fill a gap between the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and local law enforcement. Because both departments would often work the same cases, it was determined a better line of communication should be built between the two agencies. With the creation of the CACD, information is more easily shared between the police and DCFS resulting in more prosecutions and, ultimately, more protected children.
The CACD provides a full-time child abuse investigator, like Shelton, to work with city and county enforcement officers, to coordinate the investigations with DCFS.
Shelton did not take a direct path to this career. He served in the Army after high school. An infantry squad leader, he used the G.I. benefit to complete his degree in sociology and education to earn his teaching degree. From there, Shelton went to Washington, D.C., where he served five years as a special agent with the Department of Defense.
With the Department of Defense, he had the opportunity to travel and see much of the world in an official capacity. However, Shelton opted to resign his post and come to Clay County to be near family when he decided to marry and raise a family.
"This is such a great place to live," Shelton said. "It's an ideal place to raise a family. Sure, we have problems here, but it's nowhere near as rampant as it is in other areas. Clay County is a nice area populated with many good people who genuinely care about their neighbors."
Shelton has been a CACD investigator for the last three years. For the three years prior to that, he was an investigator with the DCFS. These positions helped him achieve a lifelong goal of helping children.
Shelton says it takes a team effort to make sure a child's needs are met, especially in the aftermath of being abused.
"There are some great people I work with in the local departments," Shelton said. "It takes all of us working together. I'm just one gear in a larger machine. The reason we're able to succeed in helping kids is because we have really good people in all these fields that work together as a team."
When a report of an abused child comes in through the state hotline in Little Rock, the case is sent to that area's local police and nearest CACD investigator. From there, Shelton says, a large group of professionals, including DHHS employees, school counselors, therapists, medical personnel, prosecuting attorneys, court officials and juvenile officers, work together to determine the facts and respond accordingly.
In his work, Shelton has seen numerous traumatizing acts, including a drug abusing father trading his 11-year-old daughter for drugs. Acts such as that serve to re-affirm his dedication to helping make the world safer for children by prosecuting and incarcerating those who perpetrate crimes against kids.
Shelton says many of the adults who abuse children were abused themselves as kids. He says he wants to see more programs in place to offer treatment and education for both the children assaulted and those who perform the acts.
"By all means I think we need to lock up those who abuse kids," Shelton said. "We need to send the message to society that hurting kids is wrong and those who do it will be punished. But, I do think there's a cycle that we need to educate people about. I don't think a child offender is ever cured. They're like alcoholics in that respect. The temptation is always there."
Shelton says he is concerned about the number of children growing up in single parent households.
"A lot of kids today don't have a father in the home. That's not a slur against mothers, many of whom work very hard to take care of their kids and have to be out of the house a lot to work. Children are growing up without someone there to watch them. I think the community needs to play a larger role in helping out."
Shelton said he would like to see area churches open their doors in the afternoon and early evenings to provide a supervised area where kids could do their homework, interact with others their own age and have positive influences from other adults. He feels many retired adults in the area would enjoy the opportunity to act as mentors to the younger crowd.
"I think programs like that would not only benefit the kids, but offer those retired adults a chance to be involved with their community. I think it would make a big difference in their lives and the families they'd be helping."
Shelton also wants people to know all child abuse reports are investigated. However, filing false reports is a crime. Not only is it damaging to those falsely accused, it takes away time investigators have to deal with actual offenses.
He stresses the importance of calling in actual reports when abuse is real and occurring. To report child abuse, witnesses are encouraged to call the Child Abuse Hotline toll free at 1-800-482-5964.