Abuse and neglect of children can be challenging to uncover. Freeman Hospital and southwest Missouri non-profits work to aid children and families in their time of need

It’s Morning Edition on KRPS; I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro. 1 in 7 children in the US have been abused or neglected in the past year. That’s about 10 million kids. I’ve prepared this report to highlight some of the resources that help combat abuse and neglect in Southwest Missouri.

Dr. Amanda Dickerson of Freeman in Joplin

Dr. Amanda Dickerson is a pediatrician at Freeman’s Children’s Clinic Joplin. She spoke recently, highlighting that April is National Abuse and Neglect month. According to Dr. Dickerson, she’s usually not the first person to notice abuse or neglect on a child. Commonly, it’s a teacher, which was an issue this time last year when many schools, including those in Southwest Missouri, closed down due to the pandemic. “One of the issues is that during this Covid pandemic, schools were closed, so our largest mandated reporter base was not looking out for our children.”

Dickerson admits that it can be challenging to spot neglect and abuse, depending on the child’s age. She says, in a baby, look for poor weight gain. While little kids, says 4 to 9-year-olds, look for bruising on their torso, neck, and face. By the time kids are teenagers, markers on how to spot abuse change. “In a teenager, you may see a withdrawal from social groups, or a child who was previously outstanding in academics is now sleeping you may see personality changes.”

Another indicator is that life seems off for the child. Dickerson says a trip to your pediatrician, regardless of the child’s age, would be a good way to figure out what’s going on. “We may help you get to the bottom of that, whether it be depression or anxiety, or a potentially abusive situation, substance abuse, or some other thing, or maybe the family is just family limited because constraints related to the pandemic.” If a pediatrician like Dr. Dickerson at Freeman notices abuse or neglect and reports it, the next stop for the child and their family members could be the Children’s Center in Joplin.

Vicki Dudley is the Executive Director of the non-profit child advocacy center. The organization provides a safe, friendly environment for the treatment and investigation of child abuse throughout Southwest Missouri. “We are nationally accredited juvenile office or prosecutors office. To help with the investigation of child abuse.” Vicki says that once there is a reported incidence of child abuse made with the police and the state’s Children’s Division will accompany the family to Children’s Center, they will meet their advocate. “Our advocate greets the family; they explain the process to them. What’s going to happen next. And then, the advocate helps them with paperwork and helps them link up with community resources.”

The staff of Children’s Center assists the family in the next steps in what could be an undetermined path. Vicki says the center has specially trained forensic interviewers on hand to speak with young victims. “And brings the child back to our interview room. And that’s a child-friendly room where the interview is recorded and observed in a separate location, by law enforcement in the Children’s Division.” That interview is then sent to the prosecutor’s office and logged in as evidence. Vicki says the center also provides medical exams. “So say, there are signs of physical abuse. There is obvious harm done to the child. A train nurse practitioner, who has very specialized training to look for signs and symptoms of abuse does a head to toe exam.” Children’s Center also provides exams for sexual abuse. They provide these services to all children and families at no cost.

The same goes for the non-profit, Children’s Haven in Joplin. The two operations are not affiliated with each other except to be there in times of need for southwest Missouri children and their families. Stephanie Thesis is the Director of Children’s Haven. “Children’s Haven provides crisis care, so overnight care when experiencing some sort of heightened stress. And their children, zero all the way to 17 that we serve.” The center operates 24/7, 365 days a year, as a place for children to stay when parents or a parent have no other safe place to house them, whether that’s to escape sexual or physical abuse or something else. “Knowing that you’re getting a notice that your utilities are getting ready to be shut off can be overwhelming. Finding out that you’re about to use your employment can be overwhelming. Being a single parent, taking finals in college can be overwhelming.”

Blue windmills, brining attention to National Abuse and Neglect month

The Center also takes kids to school and picks them up. Provides help with their homework and offers meals and snacks. Children’s Haven works to protect children, prevent child abuse and neglect, reduce family stress, and ultimately keep families together, according to their mission statement. Stephanie says that while Children Haven is located in Joplin, all children of Southwest Missouri can stay at the Center. “So, we’re completely free to families; we don’t charge families anything for our services. We don’t want there to be any barriers to somebody accessing us when it’s the middle of the night, and they feel that they don’t have many choices and they are overwhelmed.”

Children’s Center and Children’s Haven are non-profits and operate on the generosity of businesses and individuals in the communities they serve. Crossland Constriction and Roper Kia of Joplin have both made major contributions to maintain and grow Childrens Center. You can also contribute to Children’s Haven by clicking this link.

You can donate to Children’s Haven by clicking this link. Children’s Haven also accepts donations in the form of drinks and snacks for the children that it serves. You can contact them at 417-782-4453

If you suspect child abuse or neglect in Missouri, call 1-800-392-3738, available 24/7. Or Search for the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Health to file a report online.


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