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April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. Although the problem of child abuse is not a new one, its impact is not always realized by the general public. Reports of child abuse rose 17 percent in Greene County from 2010 to 2011, according to the annual report from Missouri’s Children’s Division. Many agencies try to educate people about the issue, while being a part of the collective mission to help these children. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann went to the Child Advocacy Center to learn more about what it means to be a forensic investigator.
[sound-door to interview room closing]
The door to one of the interview rooms has closed behind me, and I am surrounded by tranquil nature paintings on the wall. The room is furnished with oversized, comfy looking bean bags and plush carpet. On one wall is a two-way mirror. Behind it, a law enforcement officer or a Children’s Division worker sit when they listen to a child’s interview. This interview room is one of the first steps in a child’s visit to the Child Advocacy Center, or CAC.
Kim Stewart is a forensic interviewer here. She says she’s been working in the field for more than seven years. Stewart is one of three forensic interviewers at the center. Each of them sees an average of 4 to 6 children a week. She says interviewing children is only one part of her role.
“The court process, I think, is a lot of times [something] people don’t fully consider. Even though each child does have to take the stand, it allows us to take the stand and maybe talk about the more sensitive issues for that child, rather than the child having to recount that information,” Stewart says.
Stewart says children come to the center’s attention after a hotline call, and after a referral has been made by Children’s Division or law enforcement.
During the interview, she asks children what happened to them during an alleged incident of abuse, neglect, or about their experience in witnessing a violent crime. She says she follows the child’s lead, and if the child gets uncomfortable, she’ll back up and then revisit that topic later. Many of the interviews are of kids who have been sexually abused.
Once the interview is done, the next step is usually a medical examination. That, in some cases, is also a sexual assault forensic exam. This is done by the nurse-practitioner at the center.
Stewart says the hard part about her job is that it takes an emotional toll because of the sensitive information. But she says, her job is also very rewarding.
“My favorite part of the job is talking to the kids. I have found that even through really traumatic experiences some kids can be really resilient. And it amazes me every day to see how each kid can more forward, be brave, and take the steps to come forward and talk about what may have happened to them,” says Stewart.
Stewart says that the CAC is one of 15 such advocacy centers across Missouri. She says in addition to working with children and families, one of the roles of the center is to bring about awareness.
“A lot of times people think, ‘You know, I know that it happens, but it never happens in my family.’ And we know nationally the statistics are 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys. And I like to put it out there, you know, think about your last child’s birthday party. Think about how many kids you had in your house, and think what 1 in 4 means, and 1 in 6. And think how many of those kids it may have affected,” Stewart says.
You can find a link to more information about the CAC below. For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.