Monett Children’s Center sees steady year in 2016

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Addition of counselor increases emphasis on treatment

The Children’s Center of the Ozarks, serving child abuse and neglect victims in Barry and Lawrence counties, completed 2016 with very similar numbers of clients served and cases worked to 2015, with a greater emphasis on counseling to help the victims.

According to statistics compiled by the Child Advocacy Center, including all of its branches in Joplin, Nevada, Butler and Monett, the number of cases worked in 2016 totaled 452, compared to 876 in 2015. Staff have expressed concern about a referrals, which have dropped steadily since 2012.

The Monett center did not see the drop over the past year, and recorded almost the identical number of cases in both years, 175 in 2016, down one from 2015.

Following a retabulation of the 2015 cases, there appeared to be strikingly similar numbers in both years, though some significant variations between the two.

For example, the number of interviews in 2016 totaled 162, one less than the previous year. The number of medical exams rose from 62 to 104. Children in therapy went from 35 to 73.

“Typically, what happens is families come in that are in crisis,” said Vickie Dudley, executive director for the Children’s Center of the Ozarks. “In the past, we have sent them with a referral card, most often to the Clark Center. They have always been good about prioritizing, but it often took three to four weeks to get in. For some, that is acceptable. For others, who had had a recent rape or other crisis, it was not acceptable. Prompt therapy can be a big deciding factor if a child is going to heal and move on and have a normal healthy life.”

In August, the Children’s Center in Monett added Tricia Wodlinger as a part-time counselor, a position funded by the federal Victims of Crime Act. Money generated from penalties assessed can only be used for crime victims.

“Government money has grown significantly over the years, but it’s not been filtered to the states as it was supposed to be,” Dudley said. “Incredible advocacy work by the National Children’s Alliance and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has been key to getting funds released. Missouri’s funding went from $8 million to $32 million. It can just be used by family centers like ours, prosecutors, court appointed special advocates, and groups like the Victim’s Center in Springfield.

“We applied, all the child advocacy centers together. We felt we’d have a stronger voice if we collaborated collectively and identified the greatest need. We decided on having every center getting counselors. The part-time positions in Monett and Joplin are fully funded. We’re applying in April for additional funds and hope to move Tricia to full-time. We’ve shown the need is there.”

Counselors working for the Children’s Center have to have specific training in trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy, which takes a year. Dudley noted this training separates child advocacy center from community providers.

“A counselor treating children and trauma is different from someone counseling marriage, eating disorders and other more typical issues,” Dudley said. “The Clark Center does an excellent job and we do a lot of referrals with them. This meets an additional need in the community. We still have a counselor from there attend our team meetings and provides support. They are a wonderful resources for us. Because we have a counselor in house doesn’t mean we don’t need them.”

The greater priority on counseling led to a physical change at the Monett center during the past year. A separate entrance has been added at the north end for counseling visits. Dudley observed the separate door keeps traumatized victims from reliving the initial experience, facing the same rooms and scenes, encouraging them to move on with their lives.

There were some in the types of cases managed at the Monett center in the past year. The number of female victims dropped, from 133 to 113, or from 76 to 65 percent of the total. Sexual abuse cases dropped by 32 to 122, 70 percent, down from 88 percent. At the same time, physical abuse cases went from 16 to 31, or from 8 to 18 percent. The center also treated 19 witnesses of abuse, compared to four the previous year.

“Kids who come in if the Children’s Division [of the Missouri Department of Social Services] is doing an investigation for physical or sexual abuse,” Dudley said. All the kids who come in are at risk for abuse and neglect and experiencing most medical risks. They may not be getting regular doctor’s appointment or may have other things going on. We try to offer medical exams if there’s a sexual assault, and do a child-at-risk evaluation [CARE exams] for all the victims. That’s why the number of exams have significantly increased.

“A study done through Washington University in St. Louis reports that 30 percent of kids from birth to age 18 are at risk of child abuse and neglect. That’s huge, and different from statistics we’ve previously had. Before that research, we just looked at one year. Now, we’re looking at a child over their lifespan and asking was there an investigation in that life? It’s a more appropriate was to look at it, and really paints a picture of how significant the problem really is.”

The ethnicity of victims changed slightly. Caucasians represented 159 cases, or 91 percent, compared to 84 percent the previous year. Cases among Hispanics dropped from 9 percent to 6 percent. Dudley said those number changes can come from just one Hispanic family. The breakdown in cases, she noted, reflects the demographics of the community as a whole.

The ages of victims showed a few variations. Those age 6 and under represented 27 percent of the caseload in 2016, down from 34 percent. Others varied slightly: ages 7 to 12 had 40 percent of the cases (+2 percent), and ages 13 to 18 were 33 percent (+5 percent).

The relationship of alleged offenders to the victims had more unknown perpetrators, 10 percent (+6 percent); fewer parents, 27 percent (-9 percent); more step-parents, 10 percent (+7 percent); and fewer other relatives, 16 percent (-4 percent). A larger number of unknowns offered a less clear picture about the age of the offenders. The biggest group remains 18 years old and older, or 77 percent (-7 percent).

Referrals from area police agencies held the same overall for the year for the Monett area, with a few shifts between departments. The total of 145 reflected an increase of one from 2015. Monett Police produced 35 of the referrals, up 12, or 52 percent, from the previous year. The most referrals came from the Barry County Sheriff’s Office at 41, up 6. The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office referrals dropped in half, from 36 to 18.

Other referring agencies follow with a comparison to 2015: Aurora Police, 28 (+13); other Lawrence County police, 15 (-1); and other Barry County police 8 (-11).

While the Children’s Center receives funds from both state and federal sources, those must be used only on direct services, for its child advocates and counselors. Dudley observed about a third of its funding comes from community donations. Each center is responsible for raising money from within its community.

“Only 13 percent of our total budget goes to administrative overhead,” Dudley said. “That’s extremely low. With our administrative model, our Joplin office handles the employees and grant writing for all four locations.”

Child Advocate Cassie Meier said the annual benefit golf tournament, the major fundraiser for the local center, will be held this year in Monett on Aug. 12. Several churches make donations from monthly to once to twice a year. CoxHealth Systems names a charity of the month and supported the local center during the past year. Individual donations continue to help. Kindergarteners in Pierce City provided stuffed animals and toys that are given to victims on their initial visits.

Meier will host around six business leaders in quarterly meet-and-greet sessions to raise community awareness about the service. For Child Abuse Awareness Month in April, the Monett center will hold an appreciation barbecue meal for officers and prosecutors in the center’s parking lot on Highway 37, west of the Animal Clinic on April 14.

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

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