(ST.JOSEPH,MO)- Missouri will be used as a test state for a new text line that could make reporting child abuse easier.
The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline launched the first emergency text line in Missouri on February 1 to encourage young people to report child abuse.
Melissa Birdsell, Executive Director the Voices of Courage Child Advocacy Center, said the new textline will make kids feel more comfortable with reporting.
"Kids just haven't be brought up to use a telephone, or to talk on the phone. It's always through chat in some fashion. I think it would be more comfortable for them to be able to do things that way," Birdsell said.
The textline allows kids to report abuse without feeling uncomfortable to be on the phone discussing traumatic events. The goal of the new system is to make reporting less intimidating, but it does take more time. The average call time to make a report is approximately 9 minutes, while a reporting an event through a text conversation could take 45 minutes to an hour to get the same information.
"Fewer children are going to be helped if you've having to take up to four, five, six times as long to get to the information you need or else they are going to have to hugely expand their capacity," Birdsell said.
Birdsell said she is concerned information could still be misunderstood when conveyed through text messages.
"I think we get lots of misunderstanding through either email or texting messaging, because you can't read it. You can't hear inflection through voice. You maybe don't know if someone is being serious or not," Birdsell said.
The line was created to encourage more children to report abuse, but Birdsell said it is unclear if the hotline works directly with the Missouri Children's Division hotline, local authorities or is used solely as a crisis counseling service.
Birdsell said she also worries victims might become overwhelmed if they are required to make an initial report to the hotline and then a second report to local law enforcement.
"They do refer them to other services, but I don't know if that means that the child has to take that next step on their own, or if they provide that next step for them,"Birdsell said.
The Childhelp Hotline will receive $3 million over the next three years from the Department of Health and Senior Services to help support additional staff and research opportunities to improve services.
The Childhelp text line officially launched on February 1 and, is available at the same number as the phone hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453). For more information on local services for families and children contact the Voices of Courage Child Advocacy Center at 816-233-0771.
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