When it comes to statistics on child abuse, “Missouri and Jackson County are going in the wrong direction,” Cathy Jolly, an aide to Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, said Monday afternoon at a “Day of Remembrance” ceremony held at the County Courthouse downtown.
The second floor of the Courthouse was transformed into a solemn memorial during Operation Breakthrough’s “Day of Remembrance” ceremony. Held during Child Abuse Prevention Month, the annual event is aimed at ending the cycle of violence against children. Jolly and the other speakers called on those who suspect child abuse to alert authorities and potentially save lives.
Symbolic tombstones were lined up outside the entrance to the courthouse’s Legislative Chamber. Each wooden marker — blue for boys, pink for girls — represented a local child whose death was caused by abuse or neglect.
“Most of the children who lose their lives because of abuse or neglect are less than four years old,” Sanders said in a written release. “Some are just days old. In nearly every instance, these were innocent lives that could have been saved.”
Operation Breakthrough co-founder Sister Berta Sailer said several of the children named on the tombstones had been clients of her inner-city day-care center.
“A lot of these kids came from stressed parents with a lot of issues,” Sailer said. “Now Missouri is considering cutting food stamps to a lot of families. … Why do we as a society want this to happen? Why are we doing this to these families?”
Sailer joined Jolly and Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp in calling on those who suspect child abuse to contact authorities. The Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline is 1-800-392-3738; the national hotline number is 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453).
“In almost every case of a homicide involving an abused child, someone knew about that child being in peril,” said Sanders. “Someone could have, should have, but didn’t make that call.”
Nearly 3 million cases of abuse, involving more than 6 million children, are reported every year in the United States. Nationwide, abuse claims, on average, the lives of five children per day. An estimated 80 percent of the children who die as the result of abuse are less than 4 years old.
Between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014, the Missouri Department of Social Services cited 7,563 incidents of child abuse/neglect in Jackson County – more than any other county in the state, and a 6.7 percent increase compared to the previous year. Missouri’s child abuse/neglect hotline received 68,234 reports of incidents during the 2013-14 fiscal year. That was a 16.6 percent increase in the number of incidents and a 22.3 percent increase in the number of children compared to five years earlier.
“The headlines continue to be filled with stories of children who’ve died needlessly due to abuse and neglect,” said Sailer. “We must get together as a society and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
In 2014, the number of child abuse cases assigned to the Jackson County Family Court dipped slightly to 1,256 — down from 1,304 in 2013 and 1,390 in 2012. Jackson County CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates For Children), a non-profit organization with volunteers who provide legal advocacy for abused children, represented 1,056 children in 2014, the most in its 31-year history. That number was expected to grow to 1,200 in 2015.
“I commend Sister Berta for keeping us aware of child abuse,” said Sharp. “It is up to us to be vigilant and thoughtful … and be voices for the kids who can’t make that call.”