Pubdate: Thu, 02 Mar 2006
Source: Des Moines Register (IA)
Copyright: 2006 The Des Moines Register.
Author: Jennifer Jacobs, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Youth)


The number of Iowa children who were victims of abuse hit an all-time 
high last year, but fewer of them suffered repeat abuse in the state 
child welfare system, according to new statistics.

On Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Human Services made public 
numbers from last year that show:

A 57 percent drop in the number of children exposed to 
methamphetamine-making. Child welfare officials say they believe the 
trend reflects a state law that has restricted the sale of certain 
cold medications that contain a key ingredient for making meth.

Cases of physical and sexual abuse dropped sharply. Reports of 
physical abuse were down 20 percent, and reports of sexual abuse, 24 percent.

Cases in which children were denied proper food, clothing and safe 
living conditions were up. Three of four cases of confirmed child 
abuse fell into the category of "neglect" last year.

Iowa's social workers are overburdened. They juggle an average of 45 
child welfare cases at one time. National standards define 15 to 18 
cases as manageable. Licensing activities, home studies, child care 
regulation and other services combine to drive the average case load 
to 103 for each of the state's 455 social workers.

Fewer than 1 percent of children were abused in foster care, and 
children are moving through the adoption process more quickly.

In the last calendar year, 13,544 Iowa children were abused or 
neglected, up 2 percent from the previous high of 13,288 in 2003, 
according to the statistics.

For a decade, about 13 percent of children suffered maltreatment 
again within six months. Officials couldn't get that number to budge. 
But the repeat abuse number dropped to 9.5 percent last year.

While they cheered the numbers, child welfare officials said 
Wednesday that there are still too many children abused in the first 
place. And, they said, it's unacceptable for any child to suffer 
abuse a second time.

"I'm happy we're headed in the right direction, " said DHA Director 
Kevin Concannon.

Factors that contribute to abuse include poverty, single-parent 
households and drugs, he said.

There were 128 cases of abuse that involved people "cooking" meth in 
the presence of a child last year, down from 299 in 2004 and 400 in 2003.

The drug is still the leading cause of child abuse in the state, 
Concannon said. Users have trouble being good parents, said Mary 
Nelson, an agency administrator. She said abuse investigators are 
finding unsupervised children, spoiled food, dirty diapers and 
sometimes bruises and broken bones caused by adults who can't control 
their tempers.

The fact that sexual abuse continues to decline is "a paradox to me," 
Concannon said. "Our society, we sort of sexualize everything from 
hamburgers to tables."

Concannon said he believes child welfare workers have improved the 
situation because they better recognize situations that are dangerous 
for children, and offer services that strengthen families.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman