It’s a strange situation. Child abuse and neglect numbers in Missouri are way up—and that’s a good thing.
In the last four years, there’s been a 20 percent increase in reported cases, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services. This increase in cases correlates with the increase in the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline calls hotline calls in Missouri. The Department of Social Services received 11,337 more calls in 2014 than in 2010.
But these numbers aren’t about more child abuse. They’re about better reporting.
Kelly Schultz is the director of the Office of Child Advocate. The Office of Child Advocate reviews and investigates child abuse cases. Schultz sees the increase in hotline calls as a positive.
“I think the numbers are increasing because of public awareness and public responsibility,” Schultz said. “The public understands that it’s their responsibility to report their concerns.”
Schultz believes that with media coverage and high-profile cases like the Jerry Sandusky case, when the Pennsylvania State University football coach sexually abused over forty children, is the reason why people are making more hotline calls because they watched others not take that action.
To accommodate the increase in cases, Jerri Sites, director of the Rainbow House Child Advocacy Center in Columbia, said they just received a grant through the Victims of Crime Act. The act assists states in providing services directly related to emotional healing and recovery of crime victims. The additional money means they can afford a second interviewing room and another forensic interviewer. The money will help Rainbow House can investigate more child abuse cases.
“I suspect that once we have a schedule that allows for more interviews we will probably see a pretty dramatic increase in referrals,” Sites said.
Nicole Gorovsky worked in Columbia as a state prosecutor for crimes against children from 2004 to 2007. She has been a prosecutor for crimes against children for more than ten years. She believes that child abuse will decrease as people become more educated on the cause.
“Schools are starting to put it in their curriculum,” said Gorovsky, who is now in private practice in St. Louis. “I’ve personally done lectures at different schools on this topic. People are more willing to listen now. It’s not as taboo as it once was. I just think awareness is key.”
Gorovsky also says that today there is a different generation that is more educated on where to go and what to do in these situations.
“Back in my day, in the ‘80s, people didn’t talk about these things. If there was abuse going on nobody would’ve known where to report it,” Gorovsky said.
As the public’s education and awareness for child abuse grows, the numbers of reports may continue to rise.