By Denise Gee Peacock
New Jersey’s Gloucester County Child Abduction Response Team (CART) recently became the state’s first CART to earn certification from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) – an accomplishment recognized at a Oct. 21, 2022, ceremony in Woodbury.
The rigorous certification process, overseen by subject matter experts with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) of the National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC), determines if a CART meets 47 standards for effectively investigating and recovering missing children.
“Certification confirms a CART’s ability to rapidly deploy well-trained personnel able to follow well-structured guidelines, maintain all critical documentation/records, and access specialized resources when time is of the essence to find a missing child,” said Yesenia “Jesi” Leon-Baron, who works with AATTAP Project Coordinator Derek VanLuchene to support CART program development and training/certification efforts across the nation.
Upon completion of all application requirements that involve reviewing a CART’s policy and procedural guidelines, an onsite assessment is scheduled. The certification drill, which typically spans two full days, is a full-scale exercise evaluated by a team of trained subject matter experts/assessors.
“Successful completion of the field exercise and subsequent field report documentation establish that the CART program has demonstrated the highest standards of excellence both in policy as well as practice,” said Lieutenant Stacie Lick with the Gloucester County Prosecutors Office. Lick has served as her county’s CART Coordinator since 2008.
Fittingly, Gloucester County’s CART was the first of its kind to formed in New Jersey in 2008, paving the way for the state’s 20 other counties to follow suit at the direction of former state Attorney General Anne Milgram. Milgram made it a requirement for every county in the state to have a CART overseen by each prosecutor’s office.
Gloucester County’s CART certification process began in April 2021 with the submission of its 100-page manual, which outlines the CART’s response to missing children in their region – but also has proven helpful to CARTs across the nation. The manual, which features protocols, forms, and sample questions for parents, caregivers, and/or family members, is touted by the AATTAP, NCJTC, and DOJ as a model for CART best practices.
The Gloucester County CART’s field exercise was held April 26, 2022, with the assistance of the Franklin Township Police Department at Malaga Lake Park. During the field exercise a volunteer child went missing and the Gloucester County CART had to respond to locate the child safely. After conducting neighborhood and roadblock canvasses, door-to-door interviews, reviewing evidence and following up on leads, the child was recovered safely by the Gloucester County CART.
Another Gloucester County law enforcement strength is that investigations of missing children under age 13 are handled by the Special Victims Unit of the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office, housed at Child Advocacy Center of Gloucester County in Woodbury.
“Our Child Advocacy Center serves the children of Gloucester County by reviewing and responding to approximately 400 allegations of abuse and/or neglect a year, with about 50 of those being missing children under the age of 13,” Lick said. “All children to date have been located successfully.”
Leon-Baron noted that the AATTAP continues to expand the number of U.S. DOJ-certified CART programs; increase the number of trained CART programs in Indian Country; and assist previously trained teams in maintaining operational capacity and readiness by working with a talented team of CART trainers to assess the status of CART programs across the country and beyond.
“As the chief law enforcement agency in Gloucester County, it is the goal of the Prosecutor’s Office to ensure that every child who is reported missing is recovered safely through a professional collaboration of our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners,” said Acting Prosecutor Christine A. Hoffman. “By receiving this certification, we ensure that evidence-based practices are being implemented and the highest quality of service is being provided.”
“Children are safer in Gloucester County,” said AATTAP Program Administrator Janell Rasmussen, who commended the Gloucester County CART for being the first team in the state to receive certification during the ceremony.
“Our Gloucester County Commissioners were also in attendance at the ceremony and commented on the hard work and dedication of the Gloucester County CART members who assisted in achieving the certification,” Lick said. “The Gloucester County CART is fortunate to have ongoing cooperation and support from our county commissioners who support the CART mission of recovering children safely and offering services that support them through the Child Advocacy Center of Gloucester County.”
For more details about AATTAP’s CART certification, or for CART-specific resources, visit amberadvocate.org/cartresources.