Ombudsman calls for vigilance in fighting child abuse

By: - April 24, 2020 2:45 pm

A former employee of the Woodward Resource Center for disabled individuals, fired for having assaulted an 85-year-old female resident of the home, is fighting to get his job back. (Photo by Getty Images)

Responding to a sharp decline in child-abuse reports, Iowa Ombudsman Kristie Hirschman is calling on the public to remain vigilant in watching for and reporting child abuse.

With the mid-March closing of Iowa schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of child abuse made to the Iowa Department of Human Services have fallen dramatically. They decreased from 5,033 in February to 4,209 in March — a drop of more than 16%.

“Please do not let social distancing be an excuse to engage in social isolation,” Hirschman said. “Each and every one of us needs to be vigilant and supportive of our neighbors, friends and families.  We owe that to Iowa’s children.”

The Office of Ombudsman’s recent public report on the starvation death of 16-year-old Natalie Finn, and its pending report on the death of 16-year-old Sabrina Ray, highlight the importance of a watchful community to keep kids safe, Hirschman said.

The number of reports made in March are also well below those of March 2019, when 4,813 reports were made. The trend mirrors that in other states, many of which saw even sharper decreases in April. Thus far in April, Iowa has seen fewer than half the number of child-abuse reports as it experienced during the same period last year.

In neighboring Missouri, reports of child abuse and neglect are down 50% since mid-March. Normally, the state’s child abuse hotline fields 650 calls per day. Now, the calls are averaging 335 per day.

Kelly Garcia, director of the Department of Human Services, has said “we don’t believe that abuse has gone away — but the reports have.” The department is working with the Iowa Department of Education and school districts across the state to encourage “comfort calls” to students.

“We’re also putting out the call to communities, neighbors, faith-based organizations, and all Iowans: If you hear something or see something, say something,” Garcia said.

The Iowa Department of Human Services and Office of Ombudsman encourage anyone who believes a child is in immediate danger to call 911.

People who suspect child abuse or dependent-adult abuse can call DHS’ abuse hotline 24 hours a day at (800) 362-2178.

Resources for families needing assistance with finding child care, food assistance, Medicaid, mental health resources and more can find a list on the DHS coronavirus website.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.