FBI Director James Comey has commended Paula Samms, director of the Lewis and Clark County Child Advocacy Center, for her assistance in investigations.
In a brief ceremony March 14 at AWARE Inc.’s offices in Helena, FBI agent Kevin Damuth presented Samms with a commendation letter signed by the FBI director.
Comey’s letter reads: “In recognition of your outstanding assistance to the FBI in connection with its investigative efforts. Your cooperation was of immeasurable help to our representatives. I share their gratitude for your support, which assisted them in carrying out their responsibilities. You can take pride in the role you played in the success achieved, and my associates and I congratulate you on a job well done.”
Agent Damuth said he and FBI Victim Specialist Jeannette Miller, along with other FBI representatives from the Bureau’s Helena office, wanted to recognize Samms for her work and cooperation on cases throughout the agency.
An accredited member of the National Children’s Alliance, the Child Advocacy Center was started in 1998 by a group of concerned Helena residents, including professionals from Child Protective Services, law enforcement and prosecution, pediatricians, mental health providers, a multi-disciplinary team coordinator and child advocates.
Since then, the support network has grown to include the local FBI.
AWARE has operated the Center since 2006. Samms became director of the program in 2011 after working with children as an AWARE service administrator.
At the Child Advocacy Center, a team of compassionate professionals at the Child Advocacy Center respond to child victims of abuse using forensically sound protocols and procedures to increase prosecution and reduce the traumatization of children. Consultations, interviews and evaluations needed to secure the prosecution of an offender are done in a consolidated, efficient manner.
Families are walked through the legal process. Children are interviewed in a forensically sound manner. Parents are supported by family advocates. And linkages are made to mental health providers and trained pediatricians as needed.
The Center also provides training for professionals on child sexual abuse as well as child abuse prevention education as requested
Traditionally, children have been shuffled from agency to agency and office to office during the course of this process. AWARE’s Lewis and Clark County Children’s Advocacy Center brings those parties to the child.
The team is situated in a separate room. The child is interviewed and evaluated in a comfortable, kid-friendly room by a professional who is skilled with whatever specifics the child brings to each different case. This interview is recorded by a subtly placed camera and fed to the other professionals on the team, thus eliminating the need for a trip to their respective offices throughout the city.
“We do it because we—a group of concerned professionals—believe that caring for a child who has been victimized doesn’t need to be dominated by red tape, which is ours to deal with, not the child’s or family’s,” Samms said. “We do it because children are vulnerable, and helping them should be hopeful, not intimidating. Most importantly, we do it because child abuse is a community problem. No single agency, individual, or discipline has all the skills or resources to provide the assistance needed by abused children and their families.
“We want to help families walk confidently through the midst of crisis, offering them help and hope.”
Samms added that she appreciates “the wonderful work” done by her team and the FBI.
“They do very difficult jobs every day,” she said.
About the National Children’s Alliance
The National Children’s Alliance is a professional membership organization dedicated to helping local communities respond to allegations of child abuse in ways that are effective and efficient—and put the needs of the child first.