Justice for Children: Reporting Abuse and Neglect - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Justice for Children: Reporting Abuse and Neglect

WATERLOO (KWWL) -- Nearly 80% of child abuse cases in Iowa are actually cases of child neglect - when a parent or other caregiver puts a child in a dangerous situation. Many times that revolves around drugs or alcohol. Sometimes those cases are never reported until it's too late.

Iowa Department of Human Services officials say the number of neglect cases in the state rose 79% last year. The number of physical abuse cases dropped. Only 9% of cases in 2009 were from physical abuse. DHS officials say the top factors in abuse and neglect cases are alcohol and drugs.

"If we could, by the magic wand, get rid of these drugs that are so debilitating and cause people to make such bad judgments, if we could get rid of that, the temptation to use them, we would halve the rate of child abuse or neglect or more," said DHS spokesman Roger Munns.

DHS hasn't reached federal benchmarks for the child welfare system, but no state has. State officials say it's nearly impossible, but they say the numbers are improving. DHS took a 10% budget cut last year. It's hiring half its workforce back, but some say any cuts were too much.

"There's no question there are resource issues and we happen to think there was no fat in the DHS budget to be trimmed. There's always the possibility because of resource issues that response will be slower. Unfortunately, we'll find that out when it happens," said Prevent Child Abuse Iowa Executive Director Stephen Scott.

DHS says it can respond at a moment's notice to an urgent child abuse situation. They say caseloads are up and that it's a stressful time for social workers who make tough decisions every day.

"If they get a removal from a family because of abuse, there's somebody who's furious about it. If we do not remove, then someone else is furious. I hope people can understand they're highly trained, feel passionate, and make the right call almost all the time," said Munns.

But an estimated 70 percent of child abuse cases go unreported.

"I think they're hesitant because they often think well, that's something that happens within the privacy of the family and it's probably not what I think it is so they don't report because of that," said Family and Children's Council Executive Director Julie Pitzen.

Other times the witness may be the only person to see the abuse and fear retribution.

"I suppose in those circumstances, there might be some people who say I'm not going to get myself involved here. We hope that they do. After all, these are kids here, many of whom can't defend themselves," said Munns.

If you suspect child abuse, experts say you should call the Iowa child abuse hotline no matter what. The number is 1-800-362-2178. DHS staffs it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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