WENTZVILLE, Mo. — As we all know, the pandemic changed everything, and the ripple effects of it continue today.
The Child Advocacy Care Center of Northeast Missouri in Wentzville, which reduces the trauma of child abuse survivors, is seeing this first hand.
When the world shut down in 2020, many were forced to stay indoors. But not everyone was safe behind closed doors, as families stayed home to protect themselves from the contagious coronavirus.
The visibility of abuse became harder to detect when schools went virtual.
Many teachers, coaches and supervisors are mandated reporters and can identify factors of abuse. From there, they are required to report it.
In 2021, when a good portion of students returned to the classroom, those reporting tools came back in full force. A force the Child Care Advocacy Center is feeling.
The center has been open since 2000. It did the most forensic interviews ever in 2021.
"We did 1,224 interviews in the year of 2021. That was a huge increase for us. It was about a 20% increase from 2020," shared Forensic Services Program Director Amy Robins. "And if we are looking at a five-year period, it was an increase of about 74% that we're seeing."
Expert forensic staff members complete interviews for children who may have experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect and witnessing a violent crime.
These are the beginning phases of an investigation along with related services to assist the child in the healing process.
Its therapy dog, Reka, also comforts the children during the interviews and is part of the process.
Intensity of cases
"By far in my 16 years of doing this, these are some of the most horrible cases I've seen," Robins told 5 On Your Side.
The cases they see have intensified over the year, she shared.
The most frequent form and predominant kind of abuse they are seeing is hands-on sexual offenses of children.
"After that, it's a combination of either severe physical abuse, sex trafficking or the online exploitation. Then, we also have witness to violent crimes, we know intimate partner violence is up," Robins added.
They see ages 2-17 and adults with developmental disabilities, but the average age is 7 and 9 years old.
"That’s also when kids feel more comfortable to disclose. The common onset of abuse is earlier, but they take years to tell the abuse," Robins explained.
Reasons for the increase of cases
"I think there's a couple of reasons for that. One, obviously, kids are back in school. We have mandated reporters who have eyes on them," Robins shared.
She believes kids are back to playing sports and involved in activities, which in turn gives them access to coaches, counselors and leaders.
Beyond that, Robins also attributed it to agencies creating more awareness to help kids and families feel supported.
Trying to keep up
These cases also take a toll on professionals, too. And just like many others, they are short staffed.
"We're even triaging just enough to make spaces and other offices to be able to meet that emergency need," Robins noted.
What guardians or loved ones should look out for
Changes in behavior are a big factor to look at, Robins suggested.
Following your instincts are important, too.
"Trust that gut feeling. If something is feeling off or odd or the way they interact with an adult is off putting, listen to that," Robins added.
She said asking questions is important and giving them the opportunity to share if something more is happening.
"If you're kind of presenting that conversation first, so that opportunity is there. If they do have something that might be uncomfortable or unnerving to share," Robins said.
What to do to report
If you suspect child abuse, call the Missouri Hotline number at 1-800-392-3738.
The team is available to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you are hearing or speech impaired, call Relay Missouri at 1-800-735-2466 (voice) or 1-800-735-2966 (text).
If you are mandated by law to report child abuse and neglect, you can make a report online here.
"If you just have concerns, in general, but not a specific allegation of abuse, call us. We have child and family advocates and plenty of personnel within our staff that are happy to just talk about situations, how to talk to your kids about abuse," Robins explained.
The Child Care Center's number is 636-332-0899.
- In the United States, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are victims of sexual abuse or assault before their 18th birthday
- The Child Advocacy Care Center has expanded its service area to include the 14 counties of St. Charles, Lincoln, Warren, Montgomery, Pike, Ralls, Marion, Monroe, Shelby, Lewis, Clark, Knox, Scotland and Schuyler
- The main office is located in Wentzville, Missouri with another office located in Hannibal, Missouri, and a satellite office in Memphis, Missouri
- 22,308 children received prevention education in 2020 at the center
- In 2020, 55.4% of the center's forensic interviews were female, 44.4% were male, .2% were undisclosed
Throughout the year, the Child Advocacy Care Center hosts various events to help fund its mission of ending child abuse. For a list of upcoming events, click here.
The Child Care Advocacy Center is also hiring for several positions, to learn more, click here.