Lake of the Ozarks region combats spike in child abuse

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OSAGE BEACH - Lake Regional Health System forensic nurses reported a disturbing rise in child abuse cases in mid-Missouri this year. 

Child abuse cases have been steadily rising in Central Missouri since 2015 when from January to September, Lake Regional nurses treated 173 cases of child abuse in 22 Missouri counties. Since then, pediatric abuse cases have gone up nearly 80 percent.

This year, Lake Regional forensic nurses treated 316 cases of child abuse and neglect between January and September. The majority of these cases involved sexual abuse.

Dee Ballard, a registered nurse in Lake Regional Emergency Department, said in a news release that a combination of things could be to blame for this sharp rise.

“We don’t know if more people are feeling comfortable coming forward or if the rate of abuse is increasing or if it’s some of both.”

The executive director of the local child advocacy center Kids’ Harbor, Cara Gerdiman, said it might be because of greater awareness of available services.

"Abuse thrives in secrecy," Gerdiman said. "The more we talk about this, the more we can prevent it."

Kids' Harbor has served 574 children who have become victims of child abuse this year alone.

"Child abuse investigations can be frightening for kids," Gerdiman said. "Every child deserves to have a happy safe childhood, and we help as much as we can."

Most of Kids' Harbor's referrals involve reports of sexual abuse. Nearly 66 percent of all reported counts of child abuse this year alone involved sexual abuse of some kind.

Gerdiman said she hopes that through increased awareness, child abuse will end. 

"Kids are not responsible for their own safety," Gerdiman said. "It's up to us to take care of them."

Kids' Harbor has sought grant funding to start an in-depth prevention program that would provide education to adults who are responsible for child safety.

Gerdiman said Kids' Harbor helps children free of charge until they reach the age of 18. Their methods of early intervention and critical support systems have proven to lessen the negative side effects that children face as a result of the traumas of the criminal justice process.

(Editor's note: this article has been updated to clarify the date range for abuse treatment)

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