Children’s Center sees case numbers up from 2016

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Plans announced for major expansion of Monett facility

The Children's Center in Monett, the child advocacy center processing sexual and physical abuse cases that occur primarily in Barry and Lawrence counties, saw less activity in 2018 than in 2017, though higher than two years ago.

The continued value of the service offered has resulted in plans for a major expansion of the Monett facility once funds are raised.

According to Vickie Dudley, executive director for the Children's Center of the Ozarks, based in Joplin, the Monett office saw 201 cases in 2018, plus two carried over from the previous year. While under the 232 cases processed in 2017, the number reflected a growth in cases from 175 in 2016 and 176 in 2015.

Dudley said the case volume follows no predictable pattern. Staff respond to hotline incidents or others where law enforcement discover abuse. She noted the volume of cases in Monett appeared almost evenly divided between Lawrence and Barry counties.

Of the cases processed, staff conducted interviews with 165 individuals. That sum is comparable to the 162 in 2016, but was only 82 percent of the children, compared to 93 percent of those brought in for help two years ago. In 2017, the number was 203, or almost 88 percent.

“Some may be too young to interview,” Dudley said. “We don't interview 3-year-olds, but we do medical exams on them.”

Staff conduced 116 medical exams, up from the 104 in 2016 and a comparable number in 2017.

Dudley noted a new state rule dictates that any child coming into a hospital emergency room or a child identified through a hotline call must have a medical exam by medical professional trained to identify physical or sexual abuse. Nurse Practitioner Cathy “Cat” Ingalls, a specialist in women's health, conducts those exams for the Children's Center. She also conducts well child exams for any child before a child is placed into foster care, particularly if the family has no primary care physician.

“Cat Ingalls has been with us since 2007,” Dudley said. “She is retired but does this on an as needed basis. It's truly a ministry for her that she does in her spare time.”

The Monett center recorded two well child exams in 2018.

There were 62 children referred for therapy last year, reflecting an increase of about 25 percent from the previous two years. A total of 41 were listed in therapy, down from 221 the year before.

Dudley noted that since August 2017, the center has had its own counselor, Karla Bunch, in house who can handle those cases. Prior to that, therapy had to be referred to outside counselors.

The need for therapy in particular has spurred plans to expand the Monett building. Dudley said plans are ready for a 1,500-square-foot addition, approximately doubling the size of the facility, on the east side. The addition would add space for meetings with area law enforcement and staff, as well as offer space for the counselor and improve the flow of people to help separate families in for counseling services and those present for forensic services.

“This is very exciting for us,” Dudley said. “Hopefully we will be able to secure community donations to complete it. We're halfway there. We still need about $150,000. As a not-for-profit, we must raise the money before we start.”

For the past three years, girls have represented two out of every three of the cases handled by the center, 133 females and 68 males. The age breakdown remained largely the same, with 74 cases belonging to age 6 and under, or 37 percent, no change from the previous year. A third, or 66 cases, fell between ages 7-12, with 61 cases, or 30 percent, from ages 13-18. The older group rose by 2 percent, and the middle group dropped by the same number.

Ethnicity of the cases showed some variance. White children represented 172 of the 201 new cases, 85 percent, compared to 91 percent the previous year. Hispanics, with 14, represented 7 percent for two years in a row. More African American children and those categorized as “other” made up the remaining 8 percent.

Types of abuse continue to show a shift. The 110 sexual abuse cases represented 54 percent of the total, down from 68 percent the previous year. Physical abuse cases totaled 66, or 33 percent, up from 22 percent in 2017.

“We're seeing more physical abuse across all our centers and across the state,” Dudley said. “I don't know why. I think all the numbers we see are 100 percent related to mandated reporters [who see suspicious injuries and report it]. What may have been a physical abuse case five years ago may be reported now.

“For example, we saw a five-month-old baby who had bruising around the ribs, some healed and some not. That's not normal for a child that can't walk yet. The pediatrician hotlined it. Things not noticed before are being recognized.”

Other cases in 2018 included seven cases of neglect, up five from 2017; 15 who witnessed abuse, down three from the previous year; and three who were drug endangered, the same number as in 2016, two more than in 2017.

Dudley credited public education for attuning watchers to the signs of neglect enabling law enforcement to step in, and thus the Children's Center.

“We've hired a full-time community outreach coordinator, Aryn Crawford, who is going to schools and churches, anywhere that has mandated reporters,” Dudley said. “We're working with teens on how to give and withdraw consent. We're educating parents on how to talk to their children about what is appropriate touching — where, who and how.

“We keep seeing a trend. When the first, second and third generation in the same family is experiencing abuse, something's got to change. They need counseling and education, so kids have an opportunity to heal.”

Child Advocate Cassie Meier at the Monett center has Leola Degonia, a new staff member, working with her to share the work load. Dudley saw the combined efforts of the staff, working in coordination with each other, expanding the center's capacity to support families and promote healing.

“Our staff can go to court with families,” Dudley said. “They are able to help families get community resources.”

Dudley added the Children's Center is partnering with the Lawrence County prosecutor's office to offer the Lawrence County Victim Rights Awareness, Prevention and Safety Fair on Saturday, April 13 at the MARC (the Mt. Vernon Arts and Recreation Center) in Mt. Vernon. Heather Barnes in Prosecutor Don Trotter's office is coordinating the event.

Each year, the Children's Center hosts a fundraising event in either Barry or Lawrence counties. Dudley said the event will be back in Monett this year, planned for Aug. 10, though it may not be a golf tournament this year. She looked forward to seeing another demonstration of support that has enabled the center in Monett to operate for more than 15 years.

Additional information is available by calling the Monett Children's Center office at 417-354-8657.

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