Children's Center sees 33 percent increase in cases

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Children's Center in Monett, the bi-county office for Children's Center of the Ozarks, saw a 33 percent increase in the number of cases handled in 2011, setting a new record for a calendar year.

Activity at the Monett office followed the pattern throughout the Children's Center's service area. The 12-county agency provided services to 1,004 children in 2011, more than in any previous year.

The Children's Center is organized on the national child advocacy center model, providing a child-friendly setting for the investigation and treatment of child abuse. Offices in Joplin, Nevada, Butler and Monett offer forensic interviews and medical evaluations for possible victims.

According to Rebecca Anderson, full-time child advocate in Monett, the cases coming to the Monett center included 25 cases of physical abuse, up 16 from 2010, and 154 cases of sexual abuse, up 27 from the previous year.

Until this past year, 2009 was the most active year for the Monett center with 170 cases handled.

"I was talking to my boss in Joplin about why there was such an increase," Anderson said. "We all thought there were quite a few factors. We had winter ice storms and people snowed in for several weeks. The spring rain brought flooding, and we had temperatures over 100 in the summer. There were a lot of stressful weather patterns.

"The Joplin tornado affected the whole area," Anderson continued. "We had several tornado-related cases here as a direct result of what happened in Joplin. It's not just the economy, but that's still a factor."

August set a record for the number of cases through the entire Children's Center system with 127 referrals, out of which 71 percent were for sexual abuse allegations. The Monett office served 21 children in August, the third highest month behind 25 in January and 23 in February.

Children age 6 and under represented 64 cases, while those ages 7 to 12 made up 66 cases. Children ages 13 and older accounted for 52 cases.

The age of the alleged offenders was 18 or older in 155 cases (82 percent). In 17 cases, the alleged offenders were age 13 to 17.In over three-quarters of the cases, the alleged offenders fit into one of three categories. In 51 cases or 27 percent, the alleged offender was a parent. In 56 cases or 30 percent, another known person was the offender. In 42 cases or 22 percent, another relative was the offender.

Almost 90 percent of the cases involved white children. Hispanics made up the next largest category at 5 percent.

The Children's Center processes referrals from other agencies. The largest source of cases came from the Barry County Sheriff's Department with 51 referrals or 27 percent of the total. The Lawrence County Sheriff's Department and other county law enforcement agencies, not counting the Aurora police, almost evenly divided 35 percent of the cases.

The Monett Police Department referred 21 cases and Aurora Police referred 22, making up 23 percent of the total. The Aurora caseload represented a significant change, up from 8 the previous year, Anderson said.

Cases from Newton, Jasper and McDonald counties also came to the Monett office. Anderson saw no significant declines in referrals from any agencies served in the 12 counties.

The Monett office lost its funding for a therapist in March 2011. A new grant was secured in July 2011, at which time the Children's Center contracted with Donna Foster with the Clark Community Mental Health Center for service. Foster, working out of the Clark Center's Monett office, attended weekly Children's Center team meetings and became a valued resource.

The grant funding Foster's services ran for one year. Anderson is hopeful the aid of a therapist will continue.

Anderson anticipated operations will continue at the Monett office in 2012 much as they did last year, She said a golf tournament fundraiser will be held on Aug. 11 in Cassville.

For more information about the Children's Center, call 417-623-2392 or 866-230-9780.

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