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SBJ Editor Eric Olson interviews Child Advocacy Center Inc. Executive Director Linda Saturno.
SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton
SBJ Editor Eric Olson interviews Child Advocacy Center Inc. Executive Director Linda Saturno.

CAC director charts course as cases rise

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The Child Advocacy Center Inc. has served 5.6 percent more children so far this year than in the same time period of 2017, according to the nonprofit’s executive director.

Linda Saturno, who in October marks her one-year anniversary as the leader of the local CAC, spoke before an audience this morning as the monthly guest for Springfield Business Journal’s 12 People You Need to Know live interview series. Saturno leads a nonprofit with a roughly $2.5 million budget that conducts forensic interviews and medical evaluations in partnership with law enforcement officers and prosecutors in child abuse and neglect cases.

CAC served 1,600 children last year, Saturno said. Of those children, CAC conducted 1,450 forensic interviews and more than 1,200 medical exams. The numbers are rising, she said, and that doesn’t take into account all of the incidents that may be occurring without the CAC’s knowledge.

“What keeps me up at night is we know one in seven — and some people say one in four — children are experiencing some kind of abuse. We’re not seeing those numbers, so where are those children?” she said. “There are some counties that don’t refer. They’re short on staff. They’re short on social workers. They’re short on law enforcement.”

Greene and Christian counties, Saturno said, do a great job of identifying cases and referring them to the correct sources. But that doesn’t happen in some of the 16 counties the local CAC covers.

“They don’t hold back, they send everything to the CAC, whereas other counties don’t,” she said. “In some counties, referrals are much lower than they should be. I’m concerned about some of the counties.”

While not all incidents of child abuse and neglect get reported, Saturno said the local CAC is still the largest child advocacy center in the state and one of the biggest nationwide. Missouri’s 15 CACs last year served 8,500 children, meaning the local nonprofit accounted for 19 percent of the total, she said.

“We have one of the largest data sets in one location,” Saturno said.

Moving forward, Saturno said the CAC and its board of directors have “a goal for this coming year is to do a deep-dive analysis in all of the 16 counties we serve.”

The ideal result, she said, would be to determine the barriers to utilizing the CAC and to meet the number of cases.

“If they all came in today, there’s no way we could do it,” Saturno said. “But that doesn’t stop you from determining what the problem is. You have to know what you’re dealing with so you can prepare for that — whether it’s a mobile unit, whether it’s expansion somewhere else.

“With the board, we’re really looking at what does our landscape look like.”

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