|According to Rebecca Anderson, child advocate at the Monett office, there has been a general growth in demand for services across the multi-county region served by the Children's Center. Based in Joplin, the child advocacy agency opened a new office in Butler during the past year.||Staff in Monett are now on-call to respond to cases in Joplin, Nevada and Butler. Monett remains the second busiest office in the Children's Center network, second only to Joplin. Staff at the Monett office served 170 children in 2009, up from 154 in 2008 and 138 in 2007.|
Calls to help children tend to come in spurts, Anderson said. Staff may have to respond to eight or nine children from the same family in a single night after days of no calls.
The increase in abuse scenarios, including sexual abuse, are not specifically tied to the economic downturn, Anderson said. However, a resurgence in methamphetamine labs has renewed concerns about the welfare of children trapped in a chemically contaminated environment.
The Children's Center provides a resource where children facing abuse issues can be assessed and directed to proper medical professionals. A major function of the program enables a victim to be interviewed once and information can be distributed to all connected law enforcement agencies. Evidence of abuse can be documented for future prosecution by professionals trained to minimize the victim's trauma.
Statistics for cases handled by the office showed a degree of greater success in approaching abuse situations. No cases brought in were deemed unsubstantiated, compared to four in the previous year. The number of unknown offenders dropped by 10 percent.
Staff again interviewed nearly 90 percent of the children brought in and a third received medical exams, like the previous year. Around 90 percent of cases involved sexual abuse. Almost three quarters of the victims were female, and 95 percent of all cases involved Caucasian children.
Some differences that surfaced showed a reduction in abuse involving children under age 7, and a significant increase in the number of abused children between the ages of 13 and 18. Parents represented a larger percentage of offenders. Compared to the previous year, 13 percent more offenders were identified as age 18 or older while almost no increase was recorded of pre-teens abusing children.
The Monett office has had its resources expanded over the past year, Anderson said. A new nurse practitioner from Cassville was hired in June, and has been helpful in medical exams.
A year ago a lack of funding threatened to discontinue the services of the center's counselor. A new grant for counseling services was awarded in March for a two-year period. The office's counselor was able to continue her work uninterrupted.
With the volume of families coming through the center, Anderson said furniture was recently updated, and new paint has brighted up the office. The staff is working with local schools to develop a peaceful sea scene for the exam room that will be more inviting than the clinical white walls.
Recording equipment for documenting the exams has been updated, making it easier to communicate with the examiner so all the necessary questions can be asked. Equipment in the medical room has also been consolidated into a small laptop computer instead of numerous bulky pieces.
Training has increased locally, Anderson said. In September the office hosted a team training session at the Southwest Area Career Center. Training focused on what makes a team in a joint investigation. Representatives from all police departments working with the center attended, along with representatives from the Juvenile Office, the Division of Family Services, both county prosecutors and two of the center's interviewers.
The largest number of cases coming to the Children's Center in Monett come from the Barry County Sheriff's Department, representing a third of the statements received. Anderson said Monett, Aurora, Cassville, Pierce City and Marionville usually work their own cases. Smaller towns with fewer resources have sheriff's departments handle their cases. Monett submitted 20 percent of the statements processed the local Children's Center.
Training also becomes needed in pursuing new cases. Anderson said issues with computers and cell phones are becoming more popular. Victims are being asked more frequently if a camera was used in the abusive act or if a computer was in the house.
Anderson said there has been an increase in technology-based abuses, even in text messaging between adults contacting young girls.
"We're always training for current trends," Anderson said.
The Monett center had a busy year of activities in 2009. The annual golf tournament fundraiser, held in August, had a record number of teams and donors. This year's tournament has been slated for Aug. 14.
The annual Night in Italy dinner fundraiser has continued to be a popular event. This year the Night in Italy will likely be held in October, Anderson said.
Looking ahead, Anderson expected the number of cases handled by the local office would keep increasing. The number of cases has not yet called for increasing the local staff, but the nature of the work continues to involve many night shifts, responding when need arises.
With continued community support, Anderson felt the Monett office would be ready to meet future challenges.