In the 1990’s Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) were developed in Missouri to innovate and improve upon the social services and criminal justice systems’ response to the needs of children and families whose lives had been devastated by sexual abuse. The directors of the centers began meeting as a group in the early nineties to network, support each other and develop statewide training for multidisciplinary teams.
In 1999 the General Assembly revised Section 210.001 of the Revised Statues of Missouri to include language codifying what was then known as regional “child assessment centers”. Since that time additional regional centers have been added. Today, there are 15 regional CACs with 22 full-service, nationally accredited (National Children’s Alliance) sites across Missouri providing services to all counties in the state.
As they gained statutory recognition, the CACs continued to meet and organize a state office. On September 5, 2002, incorporation papers were filed with the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office to formalize the status of the Missouri Network of Child Advocacy Centers, Inc. In 2004, the Network received a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to build the state office’s capacity, hire staff, present training statewide, and create a structure for statewide advocacy. The first staff members were hired in late 2004, and in 2005 The Missouri Network of Child Advocacy Centers, Inc. became a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization.
In 2006, the Board of Directors voted to do business under the name Missouri KidsFirst and adopted a broader mission and purpose statement: Missouri KidsFirst is a statewide network of individuals, programs and organizations committed to protecting Missouri’s children by improving the response to child victims and ending the cycle of child abuse in our communities.
In July 2006, Missouri KidsFirst entered into a contract with the Children’s Trust Fund to build the prevention capacity of the organization. In 2007, the former Prevent Child Abuse Missouri Chapter dissolved; subsequently, Missouri KidsFirst was fully chartered as Prevent Child Abuse Missouri in 2010 and reaccredited in 2016. Additionally, Missouri KidsFirst achieved initial accreditation in 2010 by the National Children’s Alliance (NCA) as the state chapter for Missouri child advocacy centers in 2010. Missouri KidsFirst was reaccredited by NCA in 2015.
Since 2004, Missouri KidsFirst has invested significant resources in providing statewide training for CAC staff and multidisciplinary team members. Missouri KidsFirst is the state’s certified ChildFirst trainer, conducting the comprehensive training course designed for investigative teams of law enforcement officers, social workers, prosecutors and forensic interviewers. Missouri KidsFirst has partnered with the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services to conduct trial school for professionals testifying and prosecuting crimes against children. In addition, numerous trainings have been conducted to address forensic interviewing, victim advocacy, MDT facilitation, and child abuse investigations for hundreds of CAC staff and MDT members around the state.
Beginning in December 2007, Missouri KidsFirst has administered the SAFE-CARE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Child Abuse Resource and Education) program through a contract with the Department of Health and Senior Services. The primary objective of SAFECARE is to provide comprehensive, state of the art medical evaluations to alleged child victims in their own communities. The Network includes pediatricians, family practice physicians, and nurse practitioners. Members encompass a wide range of experience from urban to rural, small private practice to large children’s hospitals. Each plays a valuable role in providing a coordinated multidisciplinary response to child maltreatment in Missouri.
In 2011, Missouri KidsFirst was selected as the Presiding Officer for the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, created by the Missouri General Assembly to make recommendations for reducing child sexual abuse in Missouri. The Task Force was charged with gathering information concerning child sexual abuse, receiving reports and testimony from individuals, state and local agencies, community based organizations, and other public and private organizations, and creating goals for state policy. The Task Force met throughout 2012 and issued a final report with 22 recommendations to the Governor, General Assembly, and the State Board of Education on December 31, 2012.
Unlike many other states with similar task forces, Missouri KidsFirst used the state Task Force to catapult the issue of child sexual abuse to greater awareness and action by pursuing a very broad set of strategies to address and prevent child sexual abuse. Missouri KidsFirst has continued to convene the Task Force since 2012 and much of Missouri KidsFirst’s programmatic work supports Task Force initiatives. The Task Force has four working groups that meet regularly to focus on Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse, Youth with Problem Sexual Behaviors, Evidence based Mental Health Services, and MDT Best Practices.