Northwest Missouri had nearly a 50% increase in child abuse and neglect cases this March compared to the same time last year.
There were 129 incidents reported last March. There were two more reports than that made this March in Buchanan County alone.
Voices of Courage Child Advocacy Center helps victims of child abuse and neglect. The center assisted 808 victims in Northwest Missouri last year, executive director Melissa Birdsell said.
“There are two basic concepts of things that we do here and the first is a forensic interview,” she said. “And that happens when there’s been a 9-1-1 or a hotline call to the state of Missouri stating that there’s an allegation of abuse. The child comes here and we interview them. The other side is our interview side, and in that case we usually get more cases of neglect or emotional abuse.”
Separating neglect from other abuse or trauma incidents can be tough, Birdsell said. Of the cases received by the center last year, only 3.2% were strictly for neglect.
“It doesn’t usually report as neglect to us,” she said. “It might come into the hotline, which is separate from us, at the state level where they decide it’s neglect. And then it goes to our children’s division who takes care of that internally.”
Neglect usually is about withholding necessities like medical care. That’s an important distinction from abuse, Birdsell said.
“Neglect has more to do with, more times than not it has to do with things you’re failing to do for the child’s safety and health,” she said. “As opposed to abuse, which is more of an action where someone is doing something that can harm or potentially harm a child.”
Child neglect often falls under the category of “learned behavior” Birdsell said.
“Most times that is just overwhelmed parents who don’t know how to take care of kids or there are other issues involved, maybe drugs or alcohol, that are preventing them from being able to properly care for kids,” she said.
One of the biggest factors in neglect cases is providing proper resources and education to families, Birdsell said.