Children’s advocacy multidisciplinary team members, law enforcement officials, community leaders and members of the University of Missouri–St. Louis community gathered outside the Kathy J. Weinman Children’s Advocacy Centre Friday morning.
They held silver and blue pinwheels, spinning in the breeze, as they listened to Jerry Dunn, the executive director of Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis and a clinical professor in UMSL’s Department of Psychological Sciences, commemorating Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“Today, we want to remember and honor the 77,000 children that last year were the subject of Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline calls,” Dunn said. “Each of the pinwheels that were distributed today as you came in represents 250 of those children.”
She then invited attendees to “plant” their pinwheels in the garden outside the building before inviting them inside for an open house at the center, one of three locations operated by Children’s Advocacy Services. The others are in Kirkwood and the Central West End.
The staff at Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis helps over 800 families impacted by child abuse or neglect each year, providing forensic services, clinical services, training and grant-funded programming.
“Over 25 years ago, St. Louis as a community, in partnership with the University of Missouri–St. Louis, committed to establishing and supporting a single agency whose job was to assist and coordinate the multidisciplinary team that was charged with the difficult job of investigating child abuse and neglect allegations,” Dunn said. “The dream was to have one place where those investigating professionals could come to the child, rather than the child having to go to all of those investigating professionals. It was meant for this to be a place where children could come, feel protected, feel safe and, most importantly, feel heard.
“It was also meant to be a place where caregivers could come for support, for education, for information during a time and a crisis that no caregiver should have to face alone. And finally, it was meant to be a place where that multidisciplinary team could come together, share information, and assist each other in working those cases that ultimately would protect children and keep them safe.”
Dunn was delighted to have representatives from each component of that multidisciplinary team: law enforcement from across the region and staff members from child protection services, criminal courts, family courts, medical providers and the staff at Children’s Advocacy Services.
“As county executive, one of the things I get to do is recognize important events,” Page said. “I have here today a resolution that says all of the appropriate things to recognize child advocacy in St. Louis County but also allows me as county executive to declare April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in St. Louis County.”
Dunn believes Child Abuse Prevention Month provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on what more the agency and university can do to help prevent child abuse in the St. Louis region.
UMSL’s Child Advocacy Studies program prepares students across multiple disciplines – including psychology, social work, criminal justice, sociology, education, nursing and public policy – to be trauma-informed professionals who respond appropriately to experiences of traumatic stress and maltreatment in children and adolescents. CAST majors, minors and certificate holders become part of the first line of defense in strengthening families and preventing child abuse and neglect from occurring in the first place.