When the DHS won't investigate child abuse reports - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

When the DHS won't investigate child abuse reports

DUBUQUE (KWWL) -- Three high-profile cases of child abuse have made news this summer.

4-year-old Collin Holdgrafer from Andrew drowned in a bathtub, Cecilia Harris from Dubuque is missing and, most recently, we learned Kamryn Schlitter in Hiawatha died from non-accidental head injuries. Charges have been filed in the Holdgrafer and Harris cases, while the investigation in the Kamryn case continues.

The Iowa Department of Human Services responds to reports of possible child abuse, but doesn't investigate every claim.

DHS Spokesperson Roger Munns said in each report of possible child abuse, the worker taking the call must decide whether what the caller is describing would qualify as child abuse if the claim proved to be true. If the answer is yes, then the DHS investigates.

In order for a report to qualify as child abuse, it must fulfill three criteria.

"The caller has to actually allege an action that would be abuse, if proven true. The alleged victim has to be a child, obviously. And there has to be a caretaker arrangement. In other words, someone who is supposed to be looking after that child," Munns said.

In the state of Iowa, child abuse includes physical abuse, finding drugs in a child's system and neglect. All of those can result in the crime of child endangerment.

When calling to report possible child abuse, Munns said, "did you actually see what it is that's going on? And, if you did, tell us details, not just generalities."

According to Munns, the DHS receives approximately 35,000 calls every year reporting possible child abuse. Of those, the DHS looks into about 25,000. From that, Munns said, only about one-third are found to be actual cases of child abuse.

Again, at the start of every child abuse investigation, the DHS worker must decide, "is this a credible call and are the elements of abuse present?" Munns said.

According to a March 2009 report from the DHS, the number of investigations into reports of child abuse rose in 2009 - up more than 10 percent from 2008. That 2009 number, however, is comparable to the 2007 number and less than the 2006 number. DHS director Charles Krogmeier said the spike in 2009 is likely from the recession placing greater strain on more families.

Starting in July, the DHS started the process of consolidating its call center. Soon all reports of possible child abuse will come in to its Des Moines location, which Munns said should increase the consistency of response.

The number to report child abuse in Iowa is 800-362-2178. The DHS has people waiting 24 hours a day to take calls.

Click the links on the left for more information on the numbers of reported and investigated child abuse cases.

Online Reporter Becca Habegger

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