Major plans to expand Children’s Center

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Large Monett caseload outcomes aided by more therapy

Big plans for expanding facilities and resources at the Monett Children’s Center are taking shape in 2020 as activity continues to grow through the local office of the Children’s Center of the Ozarks.

Vickie Dudley, executive director of the Children’s Center, reported 2019 had a full-time therapist on staff for the first time at the Monett office, which serves Barry and Lawrence counties.

“Outcomes have been amazing,” Dudley said. “Without therapy, kids never get resolution to the trauma they have experienced. They turn to other alternatives, and may become abusive parents, or turn to alcohol or violence. There’s a lot of research, like the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, supporting that.

“Kids that are getting therapy do better in school, in relationships with their peers. Kids are in counseling 15 to 20 weeks. It doesn’t cost the family anything. We have extremely good compliance with parents getting there.”

Continuing those good outcomes have brought the Monett Children’s Center to a crossroads.

“We’re out of space for the counselor,” Dudley said. “There’s no confidentiality while in counseling. There’s the noise level. It’s difficult for families to wait in the hall while we’re trying to do an interview in another room. We just need to get that situation resolved.”

Children’s Center leadership has planned to add approximately 1,500 square feet, effectively doubling the size of the Monett office. Dudley said fundraising to pay for the project is within about $100,000 of starting construction.

Through a partnership with Crowder College, the Children’s Center has opened an office in Jane two days a week to provide counseling at a Crowder satellite office. Dudley said the Children’s Center previously had no resources in McDonald County.

“We have two full-time interviewer advocates in Monett now,” Dudley said. “That’s new in the last two years. We previously had one full-time, and a PRN (on-call) brought in. The case volume increased, and that enabled us to justify having two interviewer advocate positions. We added a PRN nurse practitioner. We do media teams on about 60 percent of our cases. Before we were pulling in staff from Joplin a lot to cover cases, then we’d be short over here.”

In 2019, the Monett office served 184 children. A change in software changed the tracking process, but that compared to 201 children in 2018. Already in 2020, the Monett office has seen 41 children and conducted medical exams on 40, an unusually high number.

“It’s hard to compare year to year, month to month,” Dudley said. “It’s all based on an event that happens. We had a month where we had an incident at the Boys and Girls Club in Joplin. We interviewed a lot of kids. It’s hard to say this is a trend.”

Services in 2019, compared to 2018 included 162 interviews (-3), 118 medical exams (+2), 71 therapy referrals (+9). The total caseload, from the time a child comes in until the case goes to court and there is resolution, stood at 694 at the end of 2019.

The breakdown in children served by sex has remained steady. Females were 118, or 64 percent, (+2 percent from 2018, while males were 66, a -2).

Physical abuse cases rose but generally sexual abuse had the most cases.

“Historically, we’ve seen more sexual abuse than physical,” Dudley said. “The alleged perpetrator is usually someone the child is familiar with, not the stranger in the park. Typically a child is removed for abuse when medical or living conditions in the home is not safe for the child. There’s a lot of correlation related to substance abuse.”

In 2019, there were 102 cases of sexual abuse (-8 from 2018), 48 cases of physical abuse (-18), and 13 cases of neglect (+6). Six were listed as drug endangered (+3 or double from 2018). The same number of children in both years, 15, were witnesses.

“I’d say substance abuse is up, but it’s not meth labs in the home, like we saw five and 10 years ago,” Dudley said. “It’s a combination of kids growing up in substandard conditions, without parents supporting them.”

The age range of victims showed shifts. Victims age 6 and under totaled 49 (-25 or 26 percent, compared to 37 percent in 2018). Victims age 7 to 12 totaled 65 (35 percent, +2 percent), while older victims age 13 to 18 numbered 70 (+9 percent, or 38 percent, compared to 30 percent in 2018).

Dudley said the age level may relate more to the comfort level of the victim in reporting abuse, rather than an actual shift in the amount of abuse going on.

“When you’re talking about kids age 6 and younger, where are they during the day?,” Dudley said. “How verbal are they? How many adults are in their lives, or do they have to communicate with? A lot is related to the age of the child. When they’re over 6, they’re in school, the have trusted adult they see every day.”

The ethnic breakdown showed a little variance, with less minorities in 2019. White victims numbered 163, or 89 percent, compared to 85 percent in 2018. Hispanics number 11 (-3 or 6 percent, 7 percent in 2019). African Americans numbered 2 (-2), while general others numbered 8 (-2).

“I’m absolutely comfortable with the support we’re getting from local police,” Dudley said. “We just went though national accreditation in November. We were accredited for five years. We had our national office come in and review the application process. We have to report on every aspect of our operation. They come on site and interview every member of our multi-disciplinary team, the medical and counseling program, and review how we process and track cases.”

Dudley noted that federal funding, funneled through the state, has remained flat with 2017 numbers and a 22 percent increase in the center’s budget over two years due to increases such as health insurance. A higher emphasis has fallen on fundraising.

The major event for the Joplin center was held in mid-February. The fundraiser in Butler is planned in April, followed by the fundraiser in Nevada in May. The Monett fundraiser, typically a golf tournament, is planned for August.

“We don’t have a fundraising staff,” Dudley said. “We have a volunteer committee do that. They work very hard. We’ve cut to bare bones on a lot of things, like supply, travel, and mileage to court. Area legislators have been amazing in helping support us. We want to give them lots of credit.”

The Monett Children’s Center received a grant for furniture and kitchen appliances for the remodel from the Monett Area Community Foundation. A grant for almost $5,000 was awarded by the 100+ Women Who Care. The First Presbyterian Church in Monett has donated snacks for children visiting the center.

“The community has been extremely supportive of us,” Dudley said. “We would not be able to exist in the community without their support.”

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