It’s Morning Edition on KRPS; I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro. April is winding down and with it Child Abuse Prevention Month. This month, we’ve highlighted a few of the exceptional individuals and organizations working to keep children safe and their families together.
Recently, I spoke with Executive Director Vickie Dudley and Desiree Breidenstin, Community Outreach Coordinator of Children’s Center in Joplin. You’ve likely driven by the center many times located across the street from Ewert Park. While the center’s work is serious, Vicki says don’t mistake the center for something else. “First off, we’re not a daycare center, so I’ll share that. But we are a child advocacy center, and that model is replicated across the state of Missouri and across the country. We are nationally accredited to work with law enforcement, Children’s Division, Juvenile office or prosecutors office, to help with the investigation of child abuse.” According to data from the CDC, 1 in every seven children has experienced abuse or neglect in the past year. That’s about 10 million kids nationwide. The economic cost of abuse on children in the US since 2015 is over 420 billion dollars.
According to Desiree, if you suspect child abuse contact the Missouri Children’s Division anytime. “Mandatory reporters, or anybody can report if you suspect abuse, please do. There’s a hotline for Missouri; it’s 1-800-392-3738. And once you make the hotline call from there, Children’s Division mans that that number 24/7 and from there, it’s analyzed and decided how to take it from there.”This is where Children’s Center comes into the picture; once it is identified by state officials that there is likely a case of child abuse to be investigated.
Children’s Division or law enforcement contacts the center will accompany the victim to the center. Vicki continues. “Once we get here, 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. Helps them link up to community resources.” Community resources in a situation like this could be vital. Depending on the case, the victim and their parents or family members may not have a safe place to stay or enough food to eat.
Another factor is whether the individual accused of the abuse has been arrested. Vickie explains the next step in the process. “A trained, forensic interviewer comes and greets the child and brings the child back to our interview room. And that’s a child-friendly room, where the interview is recorded and observed by law enforcement and the Children’s Division. So that the interview is recorded, the child only has to share their experience one time. And then that interview is sent with law enforcement to the prosecutor’s office, and it’s logged in as evidence.”
There is no cost for all of the services that Children’s Center provides. Whether you have health insurance or not, everybody is treated equally by the non-profit that is supported by businesses and members of the community. In addition to their location in Joplin, they also operate in Nevada, Butler, and Monett. “All of our services are available at no cost to the family. We also provide a medical exam. So say, there is an accusation of physical abuse and obvious harm done to the child. A trained nurse practitioner who has very specialized training to look for signs and symptoms of abuse does a head-to-toe exam. We also do exams for sexual abuse, so we have specialized equipment for that. The medical exam is part of the investigation, and all of the those services are at no cost to the family.”
Vickie Dudley and Desiree Breidenstin are speaking on behalf of Children’s Center. The non-profit has locations in Joplin Butler, Monett, and Nevada. The non-profit is powered from generous donations form the local business community and from individual donors. If you would like to donate to Children’s Center click this link.