Child abuse incidents increasing in Washington County

Kristy Pike, director of the Washington County Children's Justice Center, tells the Washington County Commission that the center has seen an increase in child abuse incidents of various types, St. George, March 18. 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Children’s Justice Center reported seeing an increase in certain allegations related to child abuse over the last year. The center’s director attributes the increase to an overall increase in child abuse incidents, as well as better reporting of such incidents and expanded onsite services at the Justice Center.

The Washington County Children’s Justice Center, St. George, Utah, Sept. 3, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Earlier this month, center director Kristy Pike addressed the Washington County Commission with a report on the justice center’s progress and status between 2018-19.

Giving the report is also a requirement of the federal Victims of Crime Act grant which supplies the nonprofit center with 45% of its annual funding.

“Our mission at the Children’s Justice Center is to collaborate with multi-disciplinary partners to protect each child, advance justice, promote healing and educate our community,” Pike said.“Because this is kind of the beginning of the year, I want to give you an overview of what we did at the Children’s Justice Center last year.”

In 2019:

  • The Justice Center served 501 victims, which increased from 364 the year prior.
  • Nearly 300 interviews were conducted, which is down from 2018’s rate of 315.
  • 142 medical examinations were conducted, which Pike said was a significant rise from the 27 medical exams done in 2018.
  • The Justice Center offered mental health screenings for the first time for over 160 children and identified signs of PTSD or thoughts of suicide. This allowed for the creation of 20 safety plans for those children.
  • 431 mental health therapy hours were also supplied through the Justice Center.

The most common allegation of child abuse the Justice Center recorded last year was child sexual abuse and assault, Pike said.

Of those allegations, 88% involved someone the victim knows, while 50% were a relative of the victim. Of these cases, 103 of the victims the center served were younger than seven.

“Those are some pretty sobering numbers,” Pike said.

The Children’s Justice Center recorded just under 1,100 different allegations of child abuse in 2019, Pike said, and noted additional changes in the allegations reported between 2018 and 2019.

Incidents of physical child abuse and neglect went from 78 reported incidents in 2018 to 142 in 2019. Cases of domestic abuse also increased from four to 36, and instances of human sex trafficking went from two to 12 over the year.

“Just to put that into perspective, in 2018, for the entire state of Utah, there were 11 (sex traffic victims) seen by children’s justice centers across the state. Last year in Washington County, that was 12,” Pike said.

Stock image | Photo by Barbol88/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Pike went to the county’s police chiefs about why they were seeing an increase in child sex traffic cases and asked if it was because there was an actual increase, or if more incidents were being recognized and reporting was getting better. It turned out to be all three.

“We are seeing more of it and we’re are better educated in how to classify all those cases,” Pike said.

This also applies to the overall jump in abuse allegations the center has dealt with as better reporting and expanded services offered victims onsite like the dedicated medical room and staff.

“We’re seeing so many more children now that we our dedication medical room and we have our providers who are there full time. DCFS, law enforcement and others are recognizing them as an amazing resource for them and these kids,” Pike said. “So, we’re seeing way more kiddos, and its partially because the increased services.”

Additional children the Justice Center may not have otherwise seen have come through expanded mental health services that began last year. This came in the form of two new school-based therapists who are contracted to provide counseling to children at their school during school hours.

Having in-school therapists allows children to see a therapist without having to be transported to a therapy session by a parent, or potentially having to deal with a parent or relative who may be the possible cause of the abuse.

Outside of the schools, the justice center works with 12 therapists throughout the community they are able to refer children to for mental health services.

However, while there has been an increase in children the center has seen and helped over the past year, Pike said they can only help those they know about.

Only 1-in-10 children ever report incidents of child abuse, and that’s often after they become adults, Pike said, adding 1-in-5 children are victims of sexual assault by the time they turn 18.

“It is a sobering topic, but it is not without hope,” Pike said, adding she and the staff of the Children’s Justice Center love what they are able to do for children impacted by abuse.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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