Child Safe of Central Missouri, Inc., showed off its new facility with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 3309 West Main in Sedalia on Tuesday afternoon.

The new 4,000-square-foot location effectively doubles the space of the old facility at 10th and Ohio, and has been needed for quite some time, according to Executive Director Mari Asbury.

"That building was purchased in 1998, and Child Safe did their first interviews in 2001," Asbury said Tuesday morning. "When they purchased it was condemned, they had to remodel it."

The old building is owned by Child Safe and has been on the market for about five weeks.

"When I started at Child Safe five years ago, I was the number seven employee (as a forensic interviewer and then as an advocate).  And so we've now grown to 13 employees and so there has always been a need. We just had to wait until the right time," Asbury said.

"When I came on as director three years ago, the board wanted us to move towards finding someplace else for Child Safe. And that's what we did. We talked about expanding, but it was going to be about $400,000, and there wasn't a whole lot of space to expand. And the parking was horrible," Asbury recalled.

So two years ago, Asbury approached Josh Krueger about finding a building Child Safe could move into or purchase. And about 18 months ago, Kreuger informed that he was building a new structure on West Main, and asked if Child Safe would like to share space.

"He asked if we would like to move into the back half of it, and I said 'heck yeah!'" Asbury said. There will be another organization locating in the front half of the building, she noted.

KP3 Properties is owned by Josh Kreuger, Kevin Kreuger and Ken Weymuth.

"We just ran with it. He gave us the opportunity to design this building the way we need it. Even though we were just leasing from them, this is our floor plan. We did this," Asbury recalled.

"You are the only one who knows what your needs are," Asbury remembers Josh saying to her.

"We worked with the architect a couple times, and they found out real quick what we needed," she said.

"We broke ground last August," Asbury said, and now nine months later Child Safe is occupying its brand new space. "We're super excited."

Previous to Child Safe, Asbury worked in the Children's Division, and prior to that, worked for the Boys & Girls Club of West Central Missouri, Inc. "So I've always worked in some kind of non-profit social services," Asbury noted. "This is my wheelhouse."

ChIld Safe serves 11 counties and sees around 400 to 500 kids per year. "We interview children who are suspected victims of child abuse or neglect. About 85 percent of our cases are victims of sexual abuse. That's the need. The need (for Child Safe) is there," Asbury stated.

"We're not the investigators, we're the middle people, so to speak. So we collect that evidence. Because what we know, especially in sexual abuse cases, is that there's not a whole lot of evidence," Asbury said. The human body heals really quickly, and so there's not a lot of evidence."

Most surprisingly, "over the past 20 years, we figured that Child Safe has served 7,119 children and their families," Asbury said.

All of Child Safe's services are free. We also offer therapy, because we know that abuse affects the whole family, not just one person," Asbury stated. "We are busy non-stop with our therapy program." Child Safe employs two-and-a-half therapists.

The new facility has two interview rooms, which is one more than the old facility had. Scheduling was difficult, but now it's possible to conduct up to eight interviews a day. Conducting an interview with a victim of sexual assault in a timely fashion is paramount.

"We don't want a big lapse in time. It's just like everybody else, kids forget things, too. And so we want them to be able to remember those details about what happened to them," Asbury said. "So we want to get them in as quick as we can."

In addition, Child Safe conducted five interviews with witnesses to homicides last year.

"Our numbers (overall) were lower in 2020 in the beginning, but then we picked right up, so we still saw 419 kids last year," Asbury noted.

Even though Child Safe serves an 11-county region, the bulk of the kids seen are from Pettis, Saline and Johnson counties. "So we see about 100 kids from each one of those counties each year," she said.

"We get our referrals from Children's Division and law enforcement," she noted. "We don't take anybody juts off the street," Asbury emphasized.

Jim Cunningham, president of the board of directors for Child Safe, noted that when he came on the board three years ago as president, making this new facility a reality was a top goal of his.

"It really is amazing that we're here today. The progress that we've seen and the building is just beautiful," Cunningham commented after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"We've doubled our space, we have two interview rooms, so we can basically double the amount of work we do," he said. "It's going to be a great experience for Child Safe and the community. It's a great day, and we thank the community for being here, it's a great turnout."