JOHNSTON — In the wake of the starvation deaths of two adopted girls, policy changes and more money are needed to revamp Iowa’s system for recruiting and retaining parents who adopt foster children, a state senator said Friday.
Those tragedies, said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, have pointed out the weaknesses of having the Iowa Department of Human Services “outsource” the selection of adoptive and foster care parents to private and nonprofit agencies, and of gradual government workforce reductions that leave fewer child-abuse investigators working more hours.
McCoy said he believes the deaths of the two 16-year-olds — Natalie Finn of West Des Moines and Sabrina Ray of Perry — and the subsequent criminal investigations have highlighted the need for significant reforms in Iowa’s child-protection system.
“I think it's going to take tens of millions of dollars,” McCoy said during Friday’s recording of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press,” to provide adequate staffing and resources for Human Service officials to take back the full oversight responsibilities of placing children in safe homes and monitoring their care.
“They're understaffed, they're underfunded and they need more emphasis being put into training, and all of that takes resources,” McCoy said. “And we have cut $124 million from the DHS budget over last year,” which has led to 56 counties in Iowa without child abuse investigators.
Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven, who appeared with McCoy on the show, said a number of changes have occurred since he came on board in June and “there’s more to come.”
Most notably, he said, his agency is taking a closer look at the people receiving adoption subsidies and making sure adoptive parents “have some continued responsibility” by taking children to the doctor at least once a year.
Foxhoven, who estimated his agency is down about 900 caseworkers since 2012, said there also has been increased efforts to remove “bureaucratic and troublesome” duties so social workers can focus on managing their cases.
The state has hired a consultant to make recommendations on ways to improve Iowa’s system, and that report will be made public once finalized, he added.
“Right now, it's important for us to take a look at what we do and let our people get things off of their plate that eats up their time, that doesn't make any sense, and then we could be able to really assess if we added more people,” he said.
After the show, McCoy told reporters he wants to see the state have professional, licensed social workers doing home visits and assessments for placement of adoptive or foster children. He said he believes most Iowans want lawmakers to revisit the oversight required of children being educated at home.
“The fact is that once that child leaves the school system, they lose their safety net, they fall off the radar. It’s like a plane falling off the radar. They go dark and nobody sees them, and so nobody knows what kind of a hell they’re going through, nobody knows what kind of abuse they’re going through,” he said.
“... I know the home schooling coalition is working overtime right now to try to debunk a lot of the fear that people have of home schooling, but most Iowans feel that we should have some safety net and some oversight of these kids.”
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