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Child Advocacy Center Unveils New Addition

On Tuesday, the Child Advocacy Center opened up a new addition to its building on 1033 E. Walnut. KSMU’s Matt Evans got a tour of the new facility and files this report.

The top half of the wall had a colorful, hand-painted portrait of southwest Missouri, and the lower portion had toys and games mounted for kids to play with. A bookcase rose to prominence in the far side of the room inviting children to play with even more toys. This is a common scene in the new portion of the Child Advocacy Center. Barbara Brown, executive director, says it’s important to have children at ease in their facility.

The Child Advocacy Center, or CAC, has been serving 18 counties since 1995.

“We respond to allegations of child abuse, and most often to allegations of child sexual abuse.”

Brown says after a hotline call is made about child abuse, usually the Child Advocacy Center will receive a referral. The CAC will then provide a child-friendly setting to talk with a trained professional about the incident and receive a head-to-toe physical to look for evidence of abuse.

The room in which the child is interviewed is a far cry from the gray walls and two-way mirror typically portrayed on crime and police TV shows. The room is brightly painted and contains two bean-bag chairs and a table with toys on it. There are microphones and cameras in the room, but they are disguised so the child won’t be alarmed.

In the adjacent room sits the team of investigators. They can see and hear everything that goes on in the interview room and can also communicate to the interviewer through a headset.

The room in which children undergo physicals looks like a doctor’s office trapped somewhere in the rainforest. The four walls portray a scene in the Amazon, but have thrown in a monkey wearing a wristwatch and a dog sitting on a tree limb.

This new addition cost $721,000, but the construction costs were already paid for before breaking ground. The money came from three anonymous donors and grants from other organizations.

Barbara Brown says in its first year, the CAC served around 100 children. This year, the center is on track to serve over 1,000. Due to this steep increase, the center has had to add on and move buildings several times.

“There are 15 CACs in the state. Our CAC is the largest.”

According to the Annie E. Casey Kids Count data in 2007, for every 1,000 kids in Greene County, 64 are abused or neglected. That’s well above the state average of 33.

Brown says people can look at those numbers in two ways. Either you can think of it as Greene County is better at reporting child abuse than other counties or there are just more child abuse cases here. Brown says there are many factors that play into the high rate of child abuse in Greene County.

“I think it is a combination of some better reporting, I think it’s a combination of lots of drug use in this geographic area, but I also think that the poverty issue cannot be ignored, particularly in the past 18 months.”

To report a child abuse case, anyone can call the Missouri Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-392-3738. The new addition to the Child Advocacy Center will open next week.

For KSMU News, I’m Matt Evans.