Thirty-four children died in the state of Missouri in 2012 due to child abuse and neglect. Seven of them were in St. Louis. All told, more than 13,000 reports of abuse and neglect involving almost 20,000 children were filed in the St. Louis region in 2012. About 900 of those reports were proven to be substantiated, with almost 50 percent of the cases receiving some sort of services.
For the children who survive abuse, the effects are far-reaching. Some are diagnosed with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and PTSD. Others turn to drugs, further spinning their lives into chaos. And a third of them grow up to become abusers themselves.
That’s according to information provided by Visions for Children at Risk, a St. Louis nonprofit that runs a coalition of more than 60 agencies in the bi-state region called the St. Louis Family & Community Partnership.
As part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the partnership is recruiting 250 families and agencies to put up signs promoting safe children and strong families –with a nod to the 250th anniversary of St. Louis. On Friday morning, the Council on Child Abuse and Neglect and the St. Louis Family & Community Partnership are holding a rally at Forest Park on preventing child abuse.
Like most crimes, child abuse is underreported said Pam Mousette, chief program officer at the Family Resource Center. Much of the abuse happens at home, for one thing. For another, people are often afraid to step in and get involved.
The Family Resource Center provides therapy for children in foster care, parenting education and teen mentoring. It is one of the agencies involved in the St. Louis Family & Community Partnership.
When child abuse is reported it can be difficult to prove, added family therapist Dawn Swinger, also with the Family Resource Center. Other times it is determined that support services are needed even if the children are not removed from the home.
And there is no profile of what an abuser looks like, said Brenda Maly, Chief Executive Officer of the Children’s Permanency Partnership. Abusers, like abused children, come from all races and socio-economic backgrounds.
There are, however, risk factors.
“What we have found through some research is that there are some risk factors,” said Mousette. “We find domestic violence. We find substance abuse. We find single heads of households…often times the parent grew up in foster care themselves. And a lot of times they will have children under the age of five, multiple children.”
Abused turned abuser
“Approximately a third of the people who abuse their kids were abused themselves,” said Maly. “They grew up that way and they never had any intervention. Nobody came in and said this isn’t the way you do it. This isn’t how you parent your kids.”
“Today’s abusing parent, 25 years ago they were the children we had such empathy for, who didn’t get help” said Mousette. “Most parents don’t want to hurt their children. Most parents care deeply for their children, but they have never seen what a good parent looks like.”
To help break that cycle of abuse, agencies like Family Resource Center provide parenting training.
But at the same time, the agencies don’t excuse the abusive behavior. Instead, they advocate for reporting any possible abuse to the hotline.
“Children are small, they don’t have much power. They don’t really even have a voice,” said Mousette. “They depend upon adults, every single one of us, to be their voice and to be their champion. And if we don’t take that seriously we are just perpetuating the problem. “
Missouri Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-392-3738
Illinois Child Abuse Hotline: 1 -800-252-2873
Volunteer Opportunities: www.stlfamilycommunity.org
Becoming a foster parent in Missouri: Call the licensing unit with the Family Resource Center at 314-534-935.
Becoming a foster parent in Illinois: Call 1-800-624-5437.
St. Louis Family and Community Partnership and the Council on Child Abuse and Neglect Present 2014 Child Abuse Prevention Month Observance
Friday, April 11, 2014
Dennis and Judith Jones Education and Visitors Center in Forest Park
Child Abuse Prevention Month Facebook Page