Merriam Webster defines handprint as the mark left by the impression of the hand.
Handprints can mean so many things from innocence to strength to pain.
The Children’s Advocacy Center of East Central Missouri (CAC), located in Farmington, has a wall of handprints. Those handprints, according to the staff, depict both innocence and strength. Children who leave their handprints at the CAC leave them to depict an outcry of alleged abuse.
In 2018, the CAC saw and interviewed a total of 483 children, which is 104 more children than were seen in the previous year.
Is child abuse on the rise? Are children being educated more about reporting abuse?
According to staff at the CAC, “Darkness to Light,” a website dedicated to prevention of child abuse, states that one out of 10 children will be abused before the age of 18 and 90 percent of children sexually abused know their abuser, and only about 4 to 8 percent of children fabricate allegations.
Reporting an incident of alleged abuse can be one of the most difficult things a child will do in his or her lifetime. Oftentimes, the alleged abuser is someone they know and love: a parent, an uncle, an aunt, a grandparent, or a sibling. “Telling” on someone you don’t like is easy, but “telling” on someone you love and have a relationship is never easy, especially for a young child.
The CAC works to ease the burden of a child reporting abuse, working with families to ensure family support and working closely with investigators to ensure a quick response time.
Kelly Tesson, a forensic interviewer for the center, said that the CAC strives to provide a continuum of service for children who are abused and their families. Often it is difficult for a non-offending parent or caregiver to understand how abuse can happen or why someone could do this, especially to their own child.
“At the CAC, children receive advocacy (someone to speak up for them), forensic interviews, and mental health services by our well-trained staff,” said Tesson. “Mental health services provide necessary coping skills to allow the child to work through the traumatic events they have endured.”
The services at the CAC, according to Tesson, are free of charge to families and the Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) that investigates the allegations of abuse. An MDT can consist of Children’s Service workers from the Missouri Children’s Division, local law enforcement officers and detectives, juvenile officers, and even therapists and physicians.
“Through case reviews and communication between the MDT, we are able to keep families informed of the process and status as they move forward in the process,” said Tesson.
There are three offices located throughout the region in Farmington, Festus, and Union that serve 10 counties including Iron, Madison, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Jefferson, Washington, Gasconade, Osage, Crawford, and Franklin Counties.
Children and families are seen and interviewed at the office that is most convenient to them in order to alleviate the burden of long travel times and distances.
Each office has a family advocate (someone who works front-line with the family through the process), a forensic interviewer, and a therapist. The Franklin County Office in Union has a prevention specialist who provides education on child abuse at local schools to children, families, and staff. This position is funded by the Franklin County Community Resource Board.
The funding for the CAC includes grants, donations, and fundraising.
“The CAC is in constant need of additional funding as the number of cases of abuse is on the rise,” said Tesson.
Opportunities to donate to the CAC include simply making a donation, attending fundraiser events, planting a pinwheel garden, or purchasing a prevention T-shirt.
Tesson said that the center is always in need of Verbatim DVD-Rs, which are used to record the forensic interviews, gas cards to assist families in getting to the center, and snacks for the children. In addition, Tesson said that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month so individuals should watch for events and opportunities to donate and raise awareness of child abuse.
Anyone who wishes to learn more about the CAC or donate to the cause can call 573-756-4148, visit the center’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/cacecm, or go to the center’s website at www.comtrea.org/cac
Matt McFarland is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.