Springfield, MO

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Opinion: Child abuse is costing us in too many ways

Truth Be Told

Posted online

By the time you finish reading this column, over 30 reports of child abuse will be made across the county.

Today in Greene County, there will be roughly 18 reports of abuse and neglect.

The number of children facing trauma is adding up. And the numbers are staggering.

In March, there were 554 hotline reports locally, according to the Greene County Children’s Division. Nationwide, one in seven children experienced child abuse and neglect last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While not all of these kids end up in foster care, many do. In our community, 606 kids were in foster care at the end of 2018, according to the Greene County Juvenile Office.

The effects of this trauma, on both the community and the kids, are not confined to childhood.

The CDC and Kaiser Permanente conducted the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study in the late 1990s. It monitored the effects of children who experience abuse, neglect and challenges in the home, known as ACEs, and their later health and well-being.

A child who experiences ACEs has a higher propensity of alcoholism, drug use, missed work, diabetes, depression, suicide attempts, heart disease, cancer and stroke. There are other negative behavior and physical and mental health challenges, too.

The Journal of the American Medical Association’s pediatrics publication released a follow-up to the original ACE Study last year. Among its findings, people with low-income and educational attainment, minorities and people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual had a greater probability of experiencing adversity in childhood.

A quarter of adults have at least three negative experiences in childhood, according to the 2018 study.

The study presents the case for child abuse and neglect to be treated as a public health problem.

It’s also damaging our economy. The total lifetime economic burden associated with child abuse and neglect is approximately $124 billion, according to the CDC.

The numbers are daunting. But they beg for us to take action. So what can we do?

Locally, The Child Abuse and Neglect Collaborative hosted a kickoff event April 2 for Go Blue Month. It’s a month full of events to build awareness and support for organizations working to end child abuse. The purpose is to engage the community in the effort.

The CAN Collaborative comprises nearly 40 partner agencies, like nonprofits and law enforcement, and it’s spearheaded by Community Partnership of the Ozarks.

At the event, CoxHealth pediatrician Kelly Wright presented the ACE Study to the group of more than 125 who gathered at the Springfield Art Museum.

There was a thread of hope in her message. Even though this is the reality today doesn’t mean it has to be the reality of tomorrow.

The CDC outlines a multilevel approach to curb the number of children who experience abuse and neglect. It ranges from strengthening economic support of families, such as increasing minimum wage and access to quality preschool education. Other necessary safeguards are enhanced primary care and behavioral parent training programs.

In our community, voters recently approved a step-up increase to minimum wage and the construction of an early childhood center. At the same time, health systems like CoxHealth, Mercy Springfield Communities and Burrell Behavioral Health are bridging partnerships with Springfield Public Schools to bring health care in the school buildings. And Prosper Springfield is engaging some 300 agencies in the community with the goal to lower our poverty rate 5 percentage points.

These are widespread community partnerships, and I’m anxious to see how they make a meaningful impact on curbing our heartbreaking rates of abuse.

If you’re like me after hearing these stats, you might have wondered: What can I do?

Experts across fields agree that for kids who have experienced abuse and neglect, the negative effects they are likely to experience later in life can be curbed by one simple thing: a caring adult. Whether it’s a teacher, foster parent or a caring relative, an adult who loves, believes in and stands up for a child builds their resiliency. And that can make the difference.

For the past year, I’ve volunteered to support two kids in foster care through Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Missouri, and since 2015 I’ve been a “lunch buddy” with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks. I’m just one of thousands of people in our community who heard the numbers and knew they had to do something.

But today in Greene County, there are hundreds of kids who don’t have a CASA. And there are wait lists at local schools for kids who need an adult role model to come have lunch once a week.

Child abuse and neglect is widespread and the effects are catastrophic to these kids and our community. But we know one piece of the solution. It’s you.

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Christine Temple can be reached at


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