Missouri can now investigate more cases of child abuse, but one advocate says there are too many cases and not enough investigators.
The legislature passed, and Governor Jay Nixon signed into law, a bill that allows the state Children’s Division to intervene in cases of a child sexually abusing another child. Previously it could only investigate when an alleged perpetrator had care, custody or control of an alleged victim, so when a young sibling or another child was committing abuse the state could not investigate and the abuse often continued.
Missouri KidsFirst Deputy Director Emily van Schenkhof says the change in law was “significant” and could lead to help not only for the victims in such cases, but for the perpetrators, who she says are often young enough that treatment can be very effective for them especially compared to its effect on older abusers.
She says the Division quickly ran into a problem, however.
“The General Assembly did allocate $200-thousand to allow the Division to hire five additional staff members to take this caseload but honestly, those caseworkers had a full caseload within a week or two,” van Schenkhof told Missourinet. “In the first two months they did over 850 assessments.”
She wants to ask the legislature to pay for the Division to hire more caseworkers so children in abusive situations get help, but she knows finding more money in the state budget is a challenge.
“As tough as our budget climate is, maintaining and working as hard as we can to protect our children – the bodily integrity, the psychological integrity of our children – doesn’t have a price,” said van Schenkhof, “of course Capitol culture, everything has a price.”
She doesn’t yet know how much she’ll be asking for.
“I’m talking to the Division about how many reports they have. I do anticipate it will be a number in the $1-million range, but it could be a little less,” said van Schenkhof. “I want to make sure that it is based on the most recent data.”
Van Schenkhof argues the consequences of not paying for enough Children’s Division caseworkers are “fairly serious.”
“When we have kids that are being abused and we have a worker that has a caseload of 45, there are going to be balls dropped, and when I talk about a ball being dropped what I mean is a child is really hurt or a child dies,” said van Schenkhof.
The state legislature will take the budget proposal Governor Nixon will unveil during his State of the State Address next month and begin preparing its own proposal based on that. The budget is due to be returned to the governor by May 6.