Child protection requires some changes

By The Gazette Editorial Board


Child protection issues in Iowa are complicated, but that’s no excuse to throw up our hands.

Iowa’s children are counting on us to work through the complexities and find ways to address disparities and allocate resources in ways that keep them safe, while strengthening families wherever possible.

Those are the big take-aways from Wednesday night’s Gazette and KCRG-TV9 forum on child removals.

Nearly 200 people showed up and many more tuned in to hear expert panelists discuss practices and policies in Eastern Iowa. It’s an issue that affects all of us, if only indirectly.

As Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Grady, who has been a foster parent, said at the forum: “There are an awful lot of kids out there in their early 20s who have what we call ‘attachment disorder’ because their ability to attach was destroyed when they were taken out of their homes at an age when they already had an attachment.”

“If we don’t fix that, we’re going to have a lot of disconnected adults out there and that’s a huge crisis.”

It’s a fix that demands change on several fronts.

Take child mental health, just one part of Wednesday’s discussion.

It’s a significant factor in a number of child removals — a problem that can be compounded by the trauma of foster care placement and subsequent moves.

Still, a child’s mental health is usually not even considered until the child starts acting out in a foster home, said panelist Virgil Gooding, a counselor and member of the African American Family Preservation and Resource Committee. A local policy change could make mental health screen a routine part of initial assessments child welfare assessments.

State legislators have their own role to play by establishing an effective statewide mental health system and allocating resources for preventive services to families in need.

“As community mental health funding goes down, more and more kids come to the attention of the child welfare system because they haven’t been able to get help anywhere else,” said Lisa D’Aunno, director of the National Resource Center for In-Home Services.

Flexibility in federal funding would ease the state’s financial burden for preventive services — allowing us to address root causes of concern — often tied to poverty — and build families’ strengths. Community partners have an equally important role to play there, too.

A “chicken and egg” situation? We don’t think so.

Just further evidence that Iowa should do more to assist families in crisis while keeping children safe.

View replay of forum:

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