Numbers, they say, don’t lie.

Though in some cases, it may be better if they did.

Such as the number of child abuse and neglect cases in Miller County, which has a significantly higher incidence of child abuse than other counties in Missouri, said Daphney Partridge, a member of the Miller County Citizens for Child Protection Coalition.

Numbers, they say, don’t lie.

Though in some cases, it may be better if they did.

Such as the number of child abuse and neglect cases in Miller County, which has a significantly higher incidence of child abuse than other counties in Missouri, said Daphney Partridge, a member of the Miller County Citizens for Child Protection Coalition.

“The child abuse and neglect rate for Miller County per 1,000 population is 56.4. Our state rate is 32,” Partridge said. “It’s a pretty startling statistic. In our area, unfortunately, we are well known for having child abuse and neglect.”

The county’s child-abuse problem gained notoriety when there were five deaths of children, all under the age of 3, during a relatively short period of time — seven months — during July 2007 and February 2008.

“We had five child deaths in the circuit, four in Miller County,” said Tammy Walden, chief juvenile officer for the 26th Judicial Circuit in Camdenton. “They were all directly related to abuse or neglect.”

The Miller County citizens’ group organized in response to the public outrage over the deaths of the five children and the heightened awareness of the child-abuse problem.

“That’s the reason we have the coalition,” said Partridge, who is the community source director for PAVE AmeriCorps, a program for at-risk students, which is associated with the Eldon R-I School District.

To symbolize the 65 children who are in foster care/protective custody in Miller County, the citizens’ group recently held a balloon release on the grounds of the Miller County Courthouse in Tuscumbia. April is Child Abuse Awareness Month.

“There are now 344 children in foster care in our circuit,” said chief juvenile officer Walden. “We’ve had 37 kids in the last 30 days who have come into care in our circuit. In all my years, I don’t remember taking so many kids in such a short period of time.”

The 26th Judicial Circuit includes Camden, Laclede, Miller, Moniteau and Morgan counties.
Earlier this week, representatives of various groups affiliated with the coalition met to discuss the child-abuse problem in Miller County and what progress has been made since the group was formed.

“We’re not perfect by any means, but we’re working on it,” said Dee Ballard, executive director of Lake Area SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) and a registered nurse with Lake Regional Health System. “It was so fragmented before. Now everyone is more on the same page.”
“We’ve been out in the community more, raising awareness,” added Stacy Sederwall, who is also a nurse with Lake Regional.

That’s one of the objectives of the citizens’ group, to draw attention to the child-abuse problem and spread the word about resources that are available to help children and families.

“Our main goal is to create awareness,” AmeriCorps’ Partridge said. “The problem is still there, but kids are not dying.”

But even with the increased attention, the number of child-abuse cases has continued to trend upward.

“We’re going to be off the charts again,” said SART Executive Director Ballard.

SART provides assistance and support to victims of sexual assault and their families. Ballard is also the program coordinator for SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner).

Another community partner in the effort to create awareness and provide help in child-abuse cases is Kids Harbor Child Advocacy Center, which has offices in Osage Beach and St. Robert.

“Just out of Miller County, last year there were 79 children referred. In 2009, there were 75 referrals. In 2008, there were 54,” said Lake Regional nurse Sederwall, who provides medical examinations for Kids Harbor.

While the number of child-abuse cases in Miller County has continued to rise, the numbers may not tell the whole story.

Improved public awareness has increased the reporting of incidents of child abuse and neglect, which, in turn, has had an impact on the higher numbers of cases.

“I think the numbers are higher because of awareness,” Sederwall said.

Walden agreed, saying, “I don’t think these numbers are a reflection, other than the good work that is being done. … It means we’re doing our job, not that we aren’t.”

Said Sederwall, “Everybody is doing the best that they can for these kids, but (the system) is not perfect by any means.”

“More can always be done,” Walden said.

While a concerted effort has been made to increase public awareness of both the problem and resources available to help families, child abuse can be a hard subject for people to talk about.

“It’s not fun to sit down and talk about kids being abused,” said Partridge.  “We don’t talk about it at the coffee shop.”

“It’s not a pleasant topic,” Walden said.

On the front lines of combating the problem of child abuse and neglect are people like Kay Reed of the group Eldon Parents as Teachers.

“We’re in (the schools and in homes) and we see it all,” Reed said. “If we observe or suspect any sort of abuse, we are required by law to report that.”

Social services professionals are on the lookout for signs of child abuse or neglect. If they notice abuse, they are required by state law to report it.

“Doctors, nurses, pastors, teachers, anyone who works with children or in an environment where children are present … If you have a reasonable suspicion a child is being neglected or about to be neglected, you are statutorily required to call in and report it,” Walden said.

There can be many issues involved in child-abuse cases, including economic factors, alcohol and substance abuse, and lack of positive role models at home, but the problem is also cyclical in nature. All of the representatives of local agencies who met this week agreed the issue of child abuse and neglect is generational and is a difficult pattern to change.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” said parent educator Reed.

“We’re putting kids in foster case whose parents we had in care, whose grandparents may have been in foster care,” Walden said. “We’re going two generations back and we can’t find someone to take these kids, or they have a history of child abuse or neglect and we can’t ensure their safety, so they go into foster care.”

Poverty is one of the primary stress factors that can contribute to child abuse or neglect, Partridge said.

“In Miller (County), yeah, it’s tough here,” Partridge said. “Our free and reduced lunch program, which is how we gauge poverty, we were at 52 percent in 2006 and now we’re at 66 percent (of students) who are receiving.”

For those working in the trenches, it can be difficult to evaluate success when dealing with child-abuse cases.

“We see the initial phase, that trauma,” Sederwall said. “We don’t really get to see the final picture.”

“I don’t know if there is ever a happy ending,” Ballard said. “I guess if someone is in jail, they are no longer causing harm.”

“We do adoptions and those are happy cases … if you don’t let yourself think about all the stuff that led up to (the adoption),” Walden said.

While there seems to be consensus among child advocates that progress has been made in the areas of reporting and there is improved communication between social services agencies, public awareness still lags, despite efforts to better inform the public.

“We’re right about at the same level of (public) awareness,” Partridge said. “That’s extremely frustrating to our committee.”

While there was an accelerated push to address the child-abuse problem in Miller County after the highly publicized children’s deaths in 2007 and 2008, the problem existed long before.

“What I know is, everyone (here) will tell you they were aware of this issue before 2008, we just weren’t talking about it as much as we do now,” Partridge said.
Now they’re talking about it. And they plan to keep on retalking about it.

Because, at the end of the day, if through their combined efforts members of the child protection coalition can save even one child from abuse or neglect, then it will have all been worth it, Sederwall said.

“We all go home thinking, if we help just one of those children … we know what we’re doing is important and we’re making a difference,” she said.

Or, as AmeriCorps’ Partridge said, “You have to be strong for those kids, because no one else will be strong for them.”
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For more information, here are some suggested websites:, and To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call Missouri’s toll-free hotline number: 1-800-392-3738.

Contact Weekly Standard Editor Jeff Burkhead at