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Demand for services continuing for Children's Center of the Ozarks' Monett facility

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Children's Center of the Ozarks located west of Monett on Highway 37. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
Demand for services by the Children's Center in Monett in¬creased during 2008. According to Rebecca Anderson, child advocate, the Monett facility for the Children's Center of the Ozarks saw increased cases of child abuse that required intervention and pro¬fessional assistance during the past year.

Located on Highway 37 west of Monett, the Children's Center pro¬vides a centrally located facility to serve clients in Barry and Lawrence counties. The Children's Center has three offices and han¬dled cases involving 780 children last year, an increase of 32 children over the previous year.

Certified under the national child advocacy center program, the Children's Center represents a "one-stop shop" for victims of child abuse. Children can come to the center and be interviewed on videotape by trained professionals, so that the tape can be entered in court as evidence, avoiding further trauma to a vulnerable victim by being forced to appear in court. Medical treatment is also available, further minimizing difficulties ex¬plaining problems or repeating em¬barrassing information elsewhere.

While the need for services dropped in 2007, the 2008 total of 154 children needing help through the center was almost equal to the 155 aided in 2006, Anderson said.

There were 134 children inter¬viewed last year, 15 percent more the previous year. The number re¬ceiving medical exams was 52, two less than in 2007.

Anderson said the center lost one of its "SAFE-certified" medical providers last year. SAFE stands for sexual assault forensic exam. One remains on staff, and another is presently being sought. A qualified medical provider must have undergone training and certification to conduct a SAFE exam.

Children served

Looking at the children receiving services, 115 were female, up from 98 in 2007. The number of boys remained almost identical at 39. The largest age group remained those age 6 and under, almost ex¬actly the same number assisted from the same age group in 2007. There were 53 children age 7 to 12, up from 40 the year before. Thirty-three children were between ages 13 and 18, up four from 2007.

Sexual abuse remains the largest part of the caseload, according to Anderson. The number of child abuse cases added up to 141, a 20 percent increase over 2007. There were 12 cases involving physical abuse, up from only one in 2007.

For the second year, cases in¬volving methamphetamine have disappeared. There were none in 2008 and only one in 2007.

"A lot of that is due to law enforcement staying on top of the meth situa¬tion," Anderson said.

Almost all the children treated came from Caucasian families: 146 children, in addition to seven Hispanics and one from a different background. Anderson said such a trend was consistent with all the Children's Centers in Missouri, not just in the Ozarks. Exact numbers of those receiving therapy were not tracked last year. Anderson said,

"We got some funding," Anderson said. "Due to the economy, we lost our funding again."

The cur¬rent therapist will continue treating children through March 31 and had been seeing 16 a week. The therapist will be opening a private office in Aurora and will be avail¬able for referrals.

"It takes time to form trust and a bond with a therapist. To stay with the same therapist consistently is always the best," Anderson said.

Offenders usually parents

The biggest group of offenders remains parents. Anderson reported parents were found to be the of¬fenders in 36 cases last year, com¬pared to 27 in 2007. Other relatives were at fault in 33 cases, down from 45 the previous year. Other known persons were deemed re¬sponsible in 39 cases, up from 27 in 2007.

While statistics for offenders may vary significantly from year to year, Anderson said the focus on "stranger danger" may mislead children.

"It's a good thing to teach. A lot of people think abuse is perpetrated by strangers, espe¬cially when kids are involved," Anderson said. "In all but 21 cases, the child knew the perpetrator. That makes it much more confusing to the victimized child, breaking their trust."

The ages of offenders remained fairly consistent from year to year, Anderson said. In 2008, 130 offend¬ers were age 18 and older. Twenty-four were under age 18.

The primary service area for the Monett facility is Barry and Lawrence counties. A few cases from been processed out of Stone and Greene counties. Typically those cases are handled in Springfield or Branson West, Anderson said.

Last July, the Monett facility went through its accreditation pro¬cess with the National Children's Alliance. All of the staffing team participated, as well as law en¬forcement and prosecutors from both counties, the local staff for the Missouri Division of Children's Services and the therapist. All 12 members of the advisory board and the board of directors for the Children's Center of the Ozarks were involved.

Passing the accreditation review placed the Monett operation in good standing until the next review in 2013, Anderson said.

Benefit date set

April is "Child Abuse Awareness Month," with the official Awareness Day on April 17. Coinciding with that, the Children's Center will hold its sixth annual Night in Italy fundraiser on April 4 at the Hill Creek Lodge near Pulaskfield. Activities will start at 6 p.m., in¬cluding an Italian dinner, live auc¬tion, a magician as the main enter¬tainment and a live band. Tickets are available at the Monett office.

Representatives of the Children's Center of the Ozarks have been speaking to community groups about what services the center provides. Chad Adams, director of the center, Kathi Olson, the assis¬tant director, and Anderson have been among the speakers, going to local churches and speaking at Cox Monett Hospital.

At present the Children's Center is also looking for another forensic interviewer. The position also re¬quires training and certification.

"It takes a special type of person to work these cases without having it affect them," Anderson said.

Officers working with the Children's Center have remained rather consistent for some time. Brian Martin with the Barry County Sheriff's Department has worked the longest in the field. Anderson said four different inves¬tigators with the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department take turns sharing the load to help avoid burnout.

Larger police departments in the counties, such as Monett and Aurora, have the same officers working on abuse cases. For Monett, Detective Matt Houck has been the lead officer.

"A lot of people have asked if the economy has made an impact on the number of cases we handle," Anderson said. "At this point, it re¬ally hasn't. What happens for the rest of the year remains to be seen."

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