Kevin Concannon's Comments in Full
I want to alert you to a sensationalized story on Iowa's child welfare system that is set to air beginning tonight on WHO Television in Des Moines. This is part of the periodic "sweeps week" programming in which television news stations air sensational stories in a battle for market share, the success of which drives advertising revenue. WHO is using outdated numbers and unsupported allegations to draw extremely negative conclusions about our child welfare system.
WHO reports: "Iowa now ranks 3rd in the country on re-abuse."
This is based on three-year-old data showing that 11.2 percent of abused or neglected children were again abused or neglected within six months. The national standard is 6.1 percent. Iowa is still out of compliance, but because of all the attention on this measure, the gap is finally, and quickly, closing. The latest figures (June 2005) show that the re-abuse rate is 9.3 percent. The rate would be even lower if Iowa, likesome states, didn't count abuses that occur while a child's family is receiving services. We hold ourselves to a higher standard in this regard than many states.
(WHO reports:) "The DHS is not providing stable placements in foster care."
Again, the reporters get it only part right. The federal target is to avoid more than two placements within 12 months for 86.7 percent of cases. In Iowa, it's 89.1 percent. Iowa meets the goal. The federal review three years ago also required Iowa to show 90 percent compliance in a random selection of cases. Our 82 percent random sample rate did not pass. Thus Iowa "failed" the measure.
(WHO reports:) "Iowa is not investigating reports of child maltreatment in a timely manner."
Iowa has imposed on itself some of the nation's most demanding standards regarding the speed at which we must respond to an accepted intake report on child abuse. Iowa struggles to meet its own standards, but Iowa is far faster than most other states. We seek ways to do better and continue in our efforts to improve.
WHO implies that the department was somehow at fault for the death of two little girls. While the DHS is judicially prohibited from specifically defending itself and outlining its involvement in these cases, I and the governor have reviewed these files and found the department acted appropriately. When prosecutors give permission, the record will be laid out for the public to see.
(WHO reports:) "Child abuse is up."
It certainly is, especially since Iowa is dealing with the scourge of meth and sex abuse, and especially since the death of Shelby Duis six years ago caused Iowans to report more and more suspected cases of abuse. More reports lead to more investigations. The number of cases is deplorable but it is due to forces beyond control of the DHS.
WHO is apparently uninterested in other stories about Iowa's child welfare system, which was completely redesigned and officially launched last spring. We keep constant watch on all of the major result areas, including re-abuse. As the saying goes, things that get measured get done. I'm happy to say that in the last couple of years, all of the results indicators are moving in the right direction.
Here's what we are doing:
Requiring DHS services in all cases of founded abuse of a child under age six regardless of risk. Half of all abuse occurs on children in that age range.
Providing voluntary, free assistance to hundreds of families where there is a risk of abuse and who were never served before. These are families in which there was no abuse but risk is high, or there was abuse on an older child but risk of re-abuse is low.
Surrounding the most troubled families with intense "family team" meetings that draw on strengths and gain buy-in of plans to improve safety.
Supporting two pilot programs to reduce disparity of minority families in the system. Preliminary results are very encouraging.
Revamping the documentation system to make "paperwork" an integral part of best practice, not just an added chore.
Child welfare is one of government's most difficult jobs.
The sheer volume is daunting; there were over 37,000 reports of abuse or neglect last year. Each case involves tough decisions. The DHS and all of its partners, especially the courts and county prosecutors, are working together to do an ever better job. But government cannot do it alone. We rely upon a broad partnership of parents, schools, churches, courts, and others, including the media, to help protect children and to support families. We welcome oversight. We also believe in telling the full story, not editing out factors that provide evidence on the strengths and positives of Iowa's child welfare system.