The Child Center Supporting Healing and Justice

Time is a precious commodity. “When you’re responsible for a caseload of clients in the hundreds each year (surpassing 900 in 2020), anything that takes away from direct services is burning up those precious hours,” says Amy Robins, Forensic Services Program Director for The Child Center. Still, she understands that she and her team of Forensic Interviewers could not provide vital services to children facing abuse without adequate funding, and so, completing grant applications has become part of her routine.

“I’m grateful to YouthBridge for making the whole grant process so painless, and for recognizing our efforts to be good stewards. They haven’t bogged us down in paperwork, but rather gotten to know us on a personal level,” says Robins. This includes touring the center in Wentzville to experience activities firsthand. In 2020, The Child Center received a grant from the Wayne C. Kaufmann Charitable Foundation – managed by YouthBridge – along with COVID-19 relief funding through the YouthBridge Nonprofit Recovery and Resilience Fund. It also concluded the final year of its three-year $75,000 Heritage Grant, part of which involved an evaluation of organizational capacity.

“Barbara (Carswell) is knowledgeable about everything it takes for a nonprofit to be successful and spent personal time with us helping to assess our ability to sustain and grow our operations,” says Robins.

Unfortunately, perpetual growth has been a necessary thing in the 21 years of The Child Center, a child advocacy center (CAC) serving child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and children who witness violence. With staggering national statistics, such as 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday, the center has an overwhelming caseload covering 14 counties in Northeastern Missouri, which includes St. Charles. It is one of 15 CACs across the state.

When an allegation of abuse is referred to The Child Center, primarily by the department of social services or law enforcement officials, Robins and her team are the first responders. As expert Forensic Interviewers, they are able to uncover specific information and details from children that may be used as evidence in criminal proceedings. Often, authorities will observe the interview through closed circuit TV.

With colorful rooms and plenty of child-friendly items, the center has been intentional in creating a warm, non-threatening space where children and developmentally disabled adults feel safe to open up. “Thankfully, child protection professionals over time recognized the additional harm being done by interviewing children about these horrible things in cold police interrogation rooms or sometimes even the place where the offenses occurred,” says Robins.

The interview is the first step in the justice and healing processes, she says. “For victims of abuse, the hardest part is telling someone. The child has already done this, which prompted the investigation, so I would describe them mostly as relieved by the time they sit with us. Often, it’s the unoffending parent or caregiver whose world is crashing in.”

Robins says therapy services are provided to children and families, as is assistance navigating the criminal justice system and referrals to other community support. “It’s giving them the time, space and resources to process the trauma and develop healthy coping skills.”

Prevention education also is a major initiative of the center, which offers programming to students, school staff – bus drivers and custodians are key contacts, she says – along with parents and professionals working with children. The intent is to educate children about boundaries and empower them to seek help, as well as improve the intuition and response of adults to a child asking for help. “We have to remove the taboo and secrecy around abuse,” she says.

Seeing and hearing stories of abuse every day can take an emotional toll, but Robins says being part of all the stages of healing keeps her and her colleagues going. “Kids are amazingly resilient and watching children and families find peace couldn’t be more fulfilling.”

If you would like to donate or have any questions about this organization, please contact Allison McDonald.