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Missouri child abuse centers are on shaky financial footing - KOAM TV 7

Missouri child abuse centers are on shaky financial footing

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Missouri child abuse centers are on shaky financial footing.

Federal funds through the Victims of Child Abuse Act will ensure centers get by in 2015, but in 2016, funding for the state's 22 child advocacy centers is again up in the air. 

The Children's Center serves 12 counties in Southwest Missouri.

The annual budget for all four of its locations is around $700,000.

As the number of children seen at the centers is increasing, funding is not.

"I was scared to death when we came down here, and I'm the adult," said Amy Underwood, mother of a child abuse victim.

Underwood knows firsthand the importance of child advocacy centers.

Four years ago, the Children's Center provided services to her 14-year-old daughter who was raped.

"It's a hard situation when something like that happens with your kid, and you feel devastated and everything else," Underwood said. "You come here, and they say we're going to get through this.  When I first came through those doors, I thought, 'oh, I'm not going to get through this,' and we did."

The Children's Center allows forensic exams and interviews to be completed in one, child-friendly location.

The forensic interview is conducted in a one-on-one setting, and recorded by a hidden camera.

"I don't think, my daughter anyway, would have responded well to being put in a police room interview room," Underwood said.

The forensic interviewing process utilized by the centers not only helps to reduce trauma to the child victim, but officials say it also provides a highly effective tool for law enforcement.

"This is a place where a child can go and make a disclosure one time under a controlled environment," said Sheriff Randee Kaiser, Jasper County Sheriff's Office. "It minimizes the amount of negative impact on the child in making that disclosure, and it provides us with a forensic interview that we can use as evidence in prosecution later on down the road."

"I think as a result, we're getting better cases and better prosecutions," said Dean Dankelson, Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney. "Both in those cases that do happen, I think we're doing a better job, and in those cases where a child says something happened that we can't prove. We're doing a better job of ferreting those out and protecting those who have not committed a crime."

The resources that help lead to a conviction come at a price.

Children's Center Executive Director Vicki Dudley estimates services to each child cost around $800.

That expense does not include other operational costs growing at the center each year.

"You think about the resources to provide staffing for providing services for children, but obviously you have to have a roof overhead," Dudley said. "If that roof gets a leak or if the furnace goes out, those are things that you need resources to be able to repair, maintain and upkeep."

Dudley estimates this year's reauthorization of the Victims of Child Abuse Act, ensures nearly $10,000 for each Children's Center location in 2015.

State representative Charlie Davis says centers across the state were at risk of seeing much less funding than that.

"Obama, he zeroed that out in the budget," Davis said. "He gave $0 originally in 2013, and in 2014, Senator Blunt, as well as many other of our senators and congressmen, fought hard to get money put back in the budget.  Even though they haven't passed a budget,  through the continuing resolutions, they're providing that funding. It went from $0 to $22.5 million, which is good."

Underwood would like to see federal and state funding for the centers increase.

"The Children's Center is like the nucleus of everything," Underwood said. "The kids are buffered and all these things are happening around them. They don't have to be scared. It's as okay as it's going to be, and it's way more okay than it was four years ago."

The Children's Center saw 955 children last year and administrators say they're on track to see an even higher number by the end of this year.

They're also currently raising funds to construct a new facility in Nevada, to help meet the growing number of children in need of services.

For more information on the Children's Center, visit http://www.childrens-center.org/.
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