Committee advances bill to strengthen support for victims of child abuse

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced bipartisan legislation on Thursday that was co-sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to increase support for programs that serve victims of child abuse.

Blunt and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) co-sponsored the Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA) to increase funding and support for Children’s Advocacy Centers, which help child victims of violent crimes and assist in the prosecution of the perpetrators.

“There are 22 Children’s Advocacy Centers funded by public-private partnerships in Missouri that serve around 7,000 of our state’s most vulnerable children each year by coordinating the investigation, treatment and prosecution of child abuse cases,” Blunt said. “I’m pleased to see my colleagues support this bill so we can continue to provide a safe haven for our children and help law enforcement hold perpetrators accountable for their actions in Missouri and nationwide.”

The staff members of Children’s Advocacy Centers conduct forensic interviews of child victims that are admissible in court. The interviews prevent children from having to recount stories of abuse multiple times.

Coons said there is a shared responsibility to protect children from violence and abuse.

“Though we can’t prevent every tragedy, we can make sure that children and families have the resources they need to heal and obtain justice,” Coons said. “Children’s Advocacy Centers bring all of these resources together under one roof for one mission – to serve justice for children. Demand for these services has only grown since the Victims of Child Abuse Act was enacted more than two decades ago. Children’s Advocacy Centers served close to 300,000 children last year and 1,000 communities still have no access to a center when a child is the victim of a serious crime.”

The measure would increase funding for Children’s Advocacy Centers from $20 million to $22.5 million per year, which would be the first increase in approximately 25 years. The bill would also implement stronger accountability provisions and limit conference expenditures.