(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) - Child abuse reports are on the rise following a dramatic plunge according to the Voices of Courage Child Advocacy Center.
Two recent child abuse cases are putting abuse in the spotlight again.
38-year-old Donald Tipton was charged with murder and abuse in connection to the death of a 10-year-old Savannah boy last November. Court documents report the boy was struck and strangled.
In Gower, Dillion Livingston was also charged with child abuse in the death of his 5-month-old son after the infant suffered head trauma, bruises and rib fractures.
Director said the fact that these severe cases keep happening is worrisome, "It’s just the worst thing to find out that a child has been hurt and then killed in that way,” said Melissa Birdsell.
Severe abuse cases not only concerning local advocates, but they're now on the rise. Birdsell said,“Yeah, we have seen an increase in those types of cases over the last six months or so.”
Area agencies said the COVID-19 pandemic is easy to blame as financial and emotional stressors were heightened inside the home. However, the fallout of the pandemic by removing children from face-to-face schooling and extracurriculars cut reporting of physical and sexual abuse in half.
“When the pandemic started, we know there was a 50% drop in reported cases and that makes sense because the people who normally report were not seeing kids because the kids were home,” said Birdsell.
Birdsell said abuse reports are back up and on the rise as children return to the classroom and agencies can get back to teaching preventative measures.
“We have been working really hard to get into the school districts and talk to kids about abuse and what it looks like and how to report. I know that we’ve trained over 4,000 kids since the start of January,” said Birdsell.
However, Voices of Courage said more reporting needs to be done. Advocates said the decision whether to pick up the phone and call when someone has a hunch something is wrong is a lifesaving choice.
“Calling into the hotline to report is not turning someone in. What that is is asking for a service to be done and what that service is is assistance,” said Birdsell, "We as the neighbors, the family members, and the community members have to step up and say, ‘I’m going to make that call,’ because that’s the only way that we’re going to get help for that child. They can’t know to go in and help if no one has told them there’s an issue.”
Voices of Courage provides free prevention and awareness trainings to individuals, businesses and schools.
To report a case of child abuse, call the hotline number 1-800-392-3738.