CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – An improving economy may be to thank for a reduction in child abuse last year, according to the Department of Human Services.
“We’re real confident that’s one of the major factors,” said DHS spokesman Roger Munns. Economic conditions are a leading cause of family stress, which can lead to abuse or neglect.
The agency found evidence of abuse or neglect in the cases of 11,747 children in 2011, down 7 percent from the previous year and ending two years of increases, according to a report released today.
“I hope the trend continues, but it remains clear that far too many Iowa children are being placed in harm’s way,” DHS Director Chuck Palmer said.
Munns said DHS caseworkers assessed 30,747 reports of child abuse or neglect last year, finding no evidence of abuse or neglect in 68 percent of initial reports.
Of those cases investigated, 8,757 cases were founded, down 12 percent on the year. The cases of 2,989 children were “confirmed,” meaning their abuse or neglect was “minor, isolated, and not likely to re-occur.”
Seventy-nine percent of cases involved neglect by a parent or caretaker, usually due to drug or alcohol use. Ten percent of the cases involved physical abuse, and 4 percent sexual abuse, both categories little changed from previous years.
Just over half of all abused children were 5 years old or younger, also a typical share, Munns said.
Staff at St. Luke’s Child Protection Center in Hiawatha saw 1,085 children last year, according to supervisor Rosanne VanCura. The center’s staff investigates sexual abuse allegations referred by DHS staff across the eastern half of the state.
Cases reported to the DHS’ hotline center in Des Moines are assessed by local child protective workers. When abuse or neglect is founded, case managers supervise long-term services for the child and family, provided by non-profit agencies.
“They’re the ones who make the call, ‘do we have to remove these kids,’ or they make the call, ‘is it safe to end the services and get out of their lives?’” Munns said.
The 202 DHS protective workers handled an average of 14.2 new cases a month last year. The 383 case managers had an average caseload of 26.