SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — According to the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, investigators on domestic violence calls often get the most truthful information about what happened from children on the scene.

We wanted to ask the experts about the affect domestic abuse has on child abuse and the foster care system in Greene County.

“One of the things we see, primarily in moms, is that women have been beat down so much mentally and physically, that they just can’t care for themselves and they can’t care for their children,” says Beth Atchison, executive director of CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates. 

And when that happens, children in homes where there’s domestic abuse often end up in foster care. Currently there are more than 700 children in foster care in Greene County.

The job of CASA advocates is to be a voice for children in foster care as they move through the court and family support system.

Atchison says people who foster children who come out of a domestic abuse situation often have a hard road ahead.
“These children have so many needs, and it tough to handle all of those needs.  plus foster parents have to be willing to take them to those doctor visits, therapist visits.  go to the different court meetings.”

Atchison also says foster kids who witnessed domestic abuse before often have a higher chance of becoming abusers themselves down the road.  “When you’re talking about domestic violence, children act out.  And as they become to feel safe, they actually begin to act out more.  And that’s why we have problems with kids in foster care who get kicked out of the classroom, because why?  They’re hitting people. They’re pushing people. Because that’s what they have seen modeled for them.

And some children in foster care are victims themselves, being abused at the hands of someone in their former home.
That’s where crisis counseling comes into play at the Springfield Victims Center.

“When you think about the dynamics involved in domestic violence, those same dynamics of power and control are going to be at play in the household, so children can be the victims of that directly,” says Lisa Ellsworth of the Victims Center. 

Ellsworth says the victim center has seen a 20-percent increase in demand for its services over last year — and much of that can be linked back to instances of domestic abuse.

She says they have 4 specially trained counselors on hand who only handle cases involving children. And they get 100’s of calls for help each year.

“They can have nightmares…trouble focusing at school, they’ll have social or behavioral issues sometimes. That is a result of what we call secondary trauma.”

So clearly there are local resources to help children affected by domestic abuse.  But both Ellsworth and Atchison say the key is for all of us to be aware – and say something if you see something.

“If you see someone that you know, and you think they may be in a domestic violence situation, try and be a support to them in the ways that you can.”

“Domestic violence and other trauma that children experience affect our education system, our healthcare system, mental health system, and it affects our workforce.  the productivity that people have down the road, it affects all of those things.”

Researchers have found that as children incur additional trauma, like domestic abuse, they tend to have issues in life with obesity, health, and mental issues.  And that in turn can decrease their length of life.

And Greene County continues to have one of the highest rates of child abuse in the state based on numbers from the Missouri Department Of Social Services.

See all of our special reports about domestic violence in the Ozarks here