ST. GEORGE — While the Washington County Children’s Justice Center reported some “tough stats” related to child abuse Tuesday, the center’s director told county officials that the positive side to the numbers is that children in need were getting help.
Center director Kristy Pike addressed the Washington County Commission with a report on the justice center’s progress and status for 2020-21. The report is a requirement of the federal Victims of Crime Act grant that provided the nonprofit center up to 55% of its overall budget for 2021.
“We collaborate with multi-disciplinary partners to protect each child, advance justice, promote healing and educate our community,” Pike said as she recited the mission of the Washington County Children’s Justice Center to the commission before launching into the previous year’s statistics.
In 2020, the center served 502 primary victims, just one more than the number reported at a previous County Commission meeting in 2019 and a statistic that Pike said was “remarkable.”
“Given COVID, and everything that happened with COVID, that metric was down 9% across the county at children’s advocacy centers. And even here in Utah, it was down nearly 9%,” she said.
The numbers Pike showed the commission were similar to those presented for 2019, which she added was “a huge win for the kids in Washington County,” especially considering the unfortunate increase in reporting from 2018, when the center only saw 364 primary victims.
In 2020, Pike reported, the numbers were as follows:
- The Justice Center performed 302 interviews | 299 in 2019.
- Completed 144 medical exams for children | 142 in 2019.
- Completed 184 traumatic stress screenings with an average score of 20.22 – anything over 20 is considered high, Pike said. | 160 screenings were conducted in 2019.
The most common allegation of child abuse the Justice Center recorded last year was child sexual abuse and assault, Pike said.
Of those allegations, 90% involved someone the victim knew (compared to 88% in 2019).
Specifically, 60% were a relative of the victim (50% in 2019), and of the perpetrators, 32% were parents, stepparents or foster parents.
As for the children the Justice Center served, 102 were under the ages of 7.
“Those are some pretty tough statistics,” Pike said. “They’re tough, but they’re good, and I’ll tell you why they’re good – it means kids are getting help, that kids are getting services.”
As a part of its annual report, the Justice Center is required to provide a breakdown of the different types of allegations it receives. Last year saw 1,064 allegations of abuse versus the nearly 1,100 reported in 2019.
While child sexual abuse and assault remains the most common allegation, the 570 reports in 2020 represent a decrease from 2019, which saw nearly 700 reports.
However, cases of physical abuse and neglect rose from 142 to 174, and cases of domestic violence also increased from 36 to 60 in 2020.
“I don’t think there was necessarily more physical abuse and less sexual abuse,” Pike said. “I think that, probably, the reporting got skewed because of COVID.”
Other cases that saw an increase in 2020 over 2019 include bullying, siblings at risk, survivors of homicide victims and teen dating violence.
Allegations that saw a decrease included child endangerment, child pornography, human sex trafficking and stalking/harassment incidents.
Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson asked if Pike felt the isolation and social separation brought on by the pandemic had impacted victims. Specifically, he noted that it is usually someone outside of a victim’s abusive environment that tends to notice signs of abuse.
“Do you fear that maybe we’re not seeing things because we’re isolated as a community and victims are actually isolated?” Iverson asked.
Pike responded that last April and May when schools were closed, less allegations of abuse were reported, with the exception of internet crimes against children, “which went through the roof.”
However, as schools reopened in the fall, abuse reports went back up in September and October.
“Teachers and other school professionals are our No. 1 reporters of child abuse,” Pike said, adding that extended family, youth group leaders, therapists and others also report suspected abuse cases.
“They’re all big reporters, and we need kids to actually see those people for us to know what’s going on,” she said.
Pike further stated she was grateful that Washington County educators were among the first people to be vaccinated in order to help keep schools open.
Though she had no hard data to back up her own feelings on the issue, Pike did say she believed child abuses incident that went unreported due to the COVID-19 pandemic may fester for many years to come.
Concerning the Victims of Crime Act grant, the Justice Center received $376,200 for 2021. This covers 55% of their overall expenditures for the year, as well as 99% of the mental health services offered through the center, including contracts with two school-based therapists.
Other expenses include supplies, equipment, furniture and training.
Pike said federal funding for the Washington County Children’s Justice Center, along with others across the state, will begin to decrease next year by 10% – and then 15% the year after.
This has led to the Justice Center to find ways to shore up their funding for the future, which has included the hiring of an in-house therapist for the center versus a contracted one.
For those who believe they or someone they know needs the help of the Washington County Children’s Justice Center, call 435-634-1134, visit the center’s website or call Utah’s 24-hour child abuse reporting hotline: 1-855-323-3237.
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