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Missouri organization puts kids first to prevent child abuse

by Brittany Hilderbrand | November 5, 2016 at 2:45 a.m. | Updated November 4, 2016 at 7:09 p.m.
In this photo published Nov. 4, 2016, Jeni Sommerfeld-Sager, left, and Annie Wilson discuss action items with Matt Kempf in the Missouri KidsFirst conference room.

Missouri KidsFirst has taken child abuse prevention to a new level.

Over the past eight years, the organization has expanded to a network of 22 child advocate centers across the state, offering training and assistance to child protection professionals throughout various communities.

Through their training, they have created a safe space for adults to talk about sexual and physical abuse of children.

Cherisse Thibaut, manager of prevention and community outreach, and Nathan Kempf, development manager at Missouri KidsFirst, talked to the News Tribune about the organization's unique mission-based formula for protecting the state's children.

QWhat are Missouri KidsFirst's unique mission and programs?

A. "Our mission is to empower adults to protect children. It may seem strange that an organization that calls itself KidsFirst has a mission to empower adults, but we believe that the responsibility for protecting children falls on adults. We believe this to be true on every level with families locally, across the state and throughout our child welfare system. Our programs toggle between three very distinct focus areas of intervention, advocacy and prevention.

"When it comes to intervention, we have developed a SAFE-CARE Network. SAFE-CARE stands for Sexual Assault Forensic Examination-Child Abuse Resource and Education. This program is funded by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and is essentially Missouri's medical response unit for child abuse. Our partners include the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Mercy Hospital, St. Louis Children's Hospital and Cardinal Glennon.

"For us, advocacy takes place in the General Assembly. We have a strong and effective public policy presence that affects our state's children. When a law passes that further promotes awareness of our mission, it doesn't just affect one child or one territory - it affects all of the children in the state.

"Through our prevention efforts, we have a national child abuse training program called Stewards of Children where community members can sign up for a two-hour professional training to increase their knowledge of how to protect children, and we also provide comprehensive training for mandated reporters."

QHow does Missouri KidsFirst use a donation?

A. "We use donations to ensure that we can continue to provide programming and professional development for those working as advocates for abused children."

QWhat percentage of the organization's donations are used locally?

A. "Eighty-six percent of every dollar that comes to Missouri KidsFirst supports our programs."

QWhat is the greatest challenge facing the agency?

A. "The greatest challenge that we have is trying to educate all reporters with a small staff. Our goal is to reach more people. To extend our reach, we will soon be offering online mandated reporter training."

QWhat is the agency's biggest fundraiser?

A. "Our biggest fundraiser to date has been our 2015 Hope for Children. It was held in Columbia at Orr Street Studios. It was a success, and we had great sponsors."

QHow much of a donation goes for general administration and fundraising expenses?

A. "Less than 15 percent of our expenses are used for admin and fundraising costs combined."

Q. Is a contribution tax deductible?

A. "Yes."

QCan a donor see the agency's financial report?

A. "Yes. Our annual reports are available online on our website. Our 990s are also available."

QBesides donations, how can someone get involved in the agency?

A. "There are lots of ways the community can get involved with our agency. Organizations can volunteer to host a Stewards of Children training session, call in and give us new ideas for what kinds of changes can be made to further protect children, and people can also help by referring local community organizations to us so that they can become trained on how to help prevent child abuse. One of the best advocates may be your local state representative or senator; feel free to give them a call and ask them what they have done to make sure children in our state are safer. All it takes is one adult to save a child. Everyone can get involved by watching out for the children around them and having the courage to report and confront adults who have violated boundaries or are hurting children."




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