Child protections cannot wait

If we want to protect Iowa kids from abuse, neglect and potential death, it’s time to provide adequate funding for the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS). That is the #1 takeaway from a heartbreaking report released by the State Ombudsman this week.

It’s clear many mistakes were made in how DHS handled child-abuse reports about Natalie Finn, a West Des Moines teen who died in October 2016 following years of abuse and neglect.

In “A Tragedy of Errors: An Investigation of the Death of Natalie Finn,” the Ombudsman makes several recommendations—some of which DHS has already implemented—including:

  • Thoroughly review DHS’s child-abuse intake operations.
  • Keep records of child-abuse reports and assessments for longer periods so that patterns can be identified.
  • Require intake workers to read their notes back to callers reporting abuse over the phone to ensure accuracy.
  • Train field workers on legal tools available to them when faced with resistance from parents.
  • Provide resources to help child-abuse workers cope with their job-related stresses.

Increasing funding is a must if we’re going to give these workers the support, resources and numbers they need in the critical task of protecting our most vulnerable children. The number of child-abuse intake workers at DHS has not increased since 2011, but reports of abuse have.

The death of Natalie and other children in our foster system has prompted many Iowans to be more vigilant. According to the Ombudsman’s report, child-abuse call volumes and accepted intakes have increased significantly. Already over-taxed field workers saw their caseloads go up 36 percent between 2016 and 2018, and the centralized child-abuse intake unit is strained.

As we begin hammering out the state budget, we will be fighting for these workers and kids. Ensuring protections for vulnerable Iowans will always be a top priority.