Textline to allow Missouri children to report abuse

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COLUMBIA - The non-profit ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline has come up with a text line for Missouri children to seek help if they are in an abusive situation.

 

ChildHelp created the text line because kids might feel more comfortable reporting abuse over text than over the phone. Missouri is one of the states where the company is testing how this new service will work.

 

Joy Oesterly, executive director of Missouri KidsFirst, a state wide organization that provides training and public policy support for child advocacy centers in the state, said she could see how the text line might be helpful to kids.

 

“I think for a lot of kids who might be in situations where they’re in trouble, it might be a lot easier for them to text somebody than to call,” Oesterly said.

 

KidsFirst was developed in Missouri to improve the social services and criminal justice systems’ response to children and families who have had to deal with abuse.

 

Jessica Seitz, the director of public policy at KidsFirst, said she is happy there is a service children can use to feel more comfortable. But she said Missouri has its own services for children, and she does not those to be forgotten in favor of the national services.

 

“I think while the national hotline is really helpful…but I encourage the national hotline to work closely together with what’s here in Missouri because if children are not connected to what is here locally, it’s a really missed opportunity to protect them,” Seitz said.

 

More than 5,000 children in Missouri were involved in incidents involving abuse or neglect in 2017, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services. This is about a 3 percent drop from previous years.

 

Seitz said the bulk of the cases child advocacy centers receive are from the statewide hotline, Missouri Children’s Division. If the text line does not also connect with the Children’s Division, Seitz said the advocacy centers may miss some cases.

 

“We feel very strongly though, that any kind of disclosure that’s made to ChildHelp gets funneled to the proper authorities in Missouri,” Oesterly said.

 

Both Oesterly and Seitz said the service is still very new and they do not much about how it will work in Missouri. They both encouraged adults to continue to report any sign of child abuse.

 

“Any adult, we believe should be reporting child abuse and neglect when they have a suspicion that that’s occurred,” Oesterly said.

 

The text hotline started in Missouri on Feb 1. The text number is the same as the phone hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD 

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