How has the pandemic impacted child abuse and neglect cases?
The biggest impact we’ve seen in regards to child abuse and maltreatment with COVID is just a reduction in the number of reports. We served 1,527 kids in 2020, which is 13% lower than 2019. And there is a part of you that wants to believe that means child abuse is declining. Unfortunately, I think it’s much more attributed to just when the kids are more isolated and at home, they’re not seeing teachers and other family members who are more likely to make the report to get them in to see help. As COVID has been lifting, we’re seeing our numbers start to return to pre-COVID levels.
Child Advocacy Center is the largest such facility in the state by service territory. What physical and mental health services do you provide?
We serve 16 counties across southern Missouri. The primary goal for the CAC is to serve as a collaborative partner with Children’s Division, law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office so that we can address the child’s needs in an individual manner and give them a safe place to tell their story – hopefully, in a way that means they only have to tell it once. The more times they have to share their story, the greater their risk of additional trauma. In addition to the forensic interview process, we’re also providing on-site medical exams. If there is a child sexual assault case, we can handle most of the medical exam steps that are needed for that. We’re trying to have it be one central location where they can receive all the services they need and have one of our nurses or doctors reassure the kids that they’re not broken. That’s such an important part for their healing journey. We have a great partnership with The Victim Center to help with providing mental health services for our kiddos.
With financial strain due to the pandemic, the Missouri Division of Youth Services and Children’s Division cut hundreds of positions last year. Was CAC’s budget affected by cuts, either through grants or private donations?
We have funding through a range of different grant sources, some of which are connected to government grants. We definitely saw a decline in revenue last year. We were fortunate that the center was in a good financial standing in advance of COVID. We made it through the entire year without cutting back on any of our services or any of our staffing. Our annual budget is a little under $2.5 million.
A Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study found the annual economic impact of child abuse is $9.3 billion. Can you break that down?
I would presume that a lot of it connects to those long-lasting impacts. If you’ve got abused children who become adults with addiction issues and the cost of treating that, the instability that leads to in finding employment and being gainfully employed, and if they become offenders themselves or they’re unable to care for their own families, then you’ve got the additional costs then of those kids. There’s certainly a strong economic benefit in addressing it early in childhood.
Do you have training specifically for businesses in the realm of identifying and reporting child abuse?
The Stewards of Children program could definitely adapt both for adult parents and anyone in a youth-serving organization. As a best practice, you want to keep your staff up to speed on those practices and on those trainings. When an organization or a business is really committed to having those prevention policies in place, it’s a deterrent to predators because they’re looking for weaknesses in organizational structure where they can have access to kids and not feel like they’re scrutinized.
Tell me more about your background and why you were drawn to this work.
I actually grew up in Australia, spent some time in California and spent some time in Arkansas before landing here in Springfield. It was definitely my time in Arkansas where I got connected to child abuse prevention. I actually started out there as a (court appointed special advocate) volunteer. Going through that training just had some really pivotal moments as a human being, as a parent, and just opening my eyes and awareness to child abuse and the pervasiveness of it in our communities. I stepped away from child advocacy work for a little bit and was associated with The Young Americans organization out in Southern California; that’s in the art space and youth oriented. Just as I was looking for, what’s the thing I want to do next in my life, this position came up.
Katiina Dull can be reached at email@example.com.
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