Greene County advocates notice huge increase in the number of children who entered foster care last year

Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 9:20 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Child experts feared it at the start of the pandemic. Greene County has seen staggering numbers of kids going into foster care. Experts say there is a range of issues and there are signs of abuse everyone should know.

“It’s hard to talk about. It’s a sad subject,” said Laura Farmer.

Farmer is the Executive Director for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, also known as CASA. The organization recruits volunteers to advocate for foster children in court.

“These are kids here locally. They didn’t ask to be abused or neglected. They need support to heal and move forward in their life,” Farmer said.

The Missouri Children’s Division reports a very small jump in the number of children who entered foster care in 2020, less than a half of a percent. Farmer said Greene County had a 44% increase. She said on average, there are about 36 children entering the foster care system every month and so far, this year is set to match last year’s numbers.

Farmer said, at this point, there’s no clear reason why.

“Kids may be isolated, families may be isolated and stressed more than ever. Kids may be left at home with unsafe caregivers,” she said.

Farmer said many families have substance use disorders, while another problem could be chronic neglect.

“Extreme poverty, unsanitary living conditions, lack of supervision. So kids at a very young age being left at home alone,” Farmer said.

She said more children are facing physical and sexual abuse, which is more severe than ever before.

“One child who has been hurt is one too many,” said Brandi Bartel, Executive Director at The Victim Center.

Bartel said The Victim Center has advocates stationed at its headquarters and at Harmony House and The Child Advocacy Center to help the children process what has happened to them. Bartel said there are signs of abuse and neglect anyone can look for.

“Children or adolescents may sometimes become secretive, much more withdrawn and less forthcoming in conversation,” she said.

Bartel said ultimately, look for changes to the child that are substantial for them.

“They might difficulties eating or sleeping or, if they’re a potty-trained child, maybe they’re having accidents,” she said.

Bartel and Farmer say, if you see something, say something and let professionals investigate or offer help to the family.

Farmer said there are other ways you can help. She said CASA already has 47 children on its wait list, in need of a mentor. She said there are other organizations accepting donations that provide clothes and hygiene products to families in need, and foster parents are always in short supply.

“Really, anyone can make an impact. It just takes willingness to do something about it and to take action,” Farmer said.

CASA is teaming up with Community Partnership of the Ozarks, and other groups for a virtual event Thursday morning. It’ll start at 9 a.m. They’ll discuss more about how to spot the signs of abuse and experts will talk about how to get involved.

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