Child protection may be improved

Kili Schwantes

The Iowa Legislature and the Iowa Department of Human Services are discussing possible strategies to help the state respond more efficiently to reports of child and domestic abuse.Since the death of 2-year-old Shelby Duis of Spirit Lake, Ombudsman Bill Angrick and the American Humane Association has conducted investigations about the policies and practices of the Iowa Department of Human Services. Both reports presented similar solutions, including additional training for mandatory child-abuse reporters, such as doctors and case workers, according to the reports.”The DHS has asked for more staff, because the caseload is very high,” said Rep. Jane Greimann, D-Ames. “There are twice as many clients per social worker than is recommended by federal guidelines.”Scott Kiefer, public information officer at the Iowa Department of Human Services, said problems with the system in the past have stemmed from the fact that caseloads in Iowa are among the highest in the nation.”To get more employees you need legislative approval,” he said.On Wednesday, Kiefer said Gov. Tom Vilsack requested to add additional staff to the human services department and to promote a mental-health parody, which would require insurance companies to pay for mental-health services the same way these companies cover other health problems. The original request for $6.6 million for this program was reduced by 10 percent, he said.After the Duis case, Vilsack and Jesse Rasmussen, director of the Iowa DHS, discussed the “when in doubt, take the child out” policy, which would require children to be removed from abusive situations sooner, said Sen. Johnie Hammond, D-Ames.The human services department also is trying to improve the training of multi-disciplinary teams across the state, Hammond said. This entails more extensive training for case workers, physicians and others investigating child-endangerment cases to better evaluate the situation, she said.Hammond said evidence of abuse regarding Duis was overlooked by the physician.”The doctor [who] looked at Duis the night before she died found diaper rash and gave the mother some ointment, when Shelby actually had two broken hands and a hand-shaped bruise on her back, had other multiple injuries and had been sexually abused,” she said.Kiefer said the human services department is discussing a new centralized-intake system with one main unit to receive reports and complete intakes. In this system, highly trained people would make the same decisions about a case instead of different people making judgment calls on similar cases, he said. But while Missouri has used this system, Kiefer said it has not worked out as originally intended.Paula Heckenlively, area administrator for the Osceola, O’Brien, Clay and Dickenson counties’ human services departments, said a $600,000 grant from the Iowa Community Empowerment Program has enabled them to acquire new staff and programs. “When Shelby was born, we didn’t have these programs,” she said.