Henry County child abuse numbers decline, but problem remains
By MEGAN COOPER
Mt. Pleasant News
Child abuse numbers have dropped, but that doesn’t mean the issue is gone.
During Thursday’s Henry County Board of Supervisor meeting, several child abuse advocates gathered to discuss the ongoing issue with the board and to encourage the board to sign the Child Abuse Prevention Month Proclamation, which it did.
By signing the proclamation, the board established that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and the county will recognize this and encourage organizations within the community to help protect and cherish the children of Henry County, thus strengthening the community as a whole.
“The numbers of child abuse have gone down since 2010 or 2011,” said Arin Jones, QUAD County Community Partnerships for Protecting Children (CPPC) Coordinator. “Sometimes things change on how they are qualified — even when numbers go up, it doesn’t mean the occurrences have gone up — but maybe people have become more aware of when to report and are reporting more.”
According to Jones, information she received at her last meeting stated that reports of child abuse for the months of January and February have gone down drastically.
“Russ Hayes, who is with the Department of Human Services, blames this crazy winter for the low numbers,” said Jones. “People have been isolated and not out where others can see them and make reports. That kind of stuff can affect the numbers too.”
Board chairman, Marc Lindeen added, “We were once high in the state for child abuse and I feel the work of Healthy Henry County Communities (HHCC) is responsible. More people are aware and we are getting better numbers reported than most people. Some would say it’s a negative, but I think it was a positive and we were taking care of those who needed the help.”
With April being Child Abuse Prevention Month, Jones will be placing blue pinwheels on the lawn of the courthouse.
“The Pinwheels for Prevention symbolize the carefree childhood that all children deserve,” explained Jones. “Besides the pinwheels, we do other activities, like parenting classes, all to raise awareness of child abuse and to prevent it.”
Travis Johnson, community health director, stated that, “A better job on the front end is needed to prevent it. We don’t need to beef up the response. We need to educate parents and have resources in the community so they can get help when they need it. Families need places to go and things to do, because if they are healthy and happy then it will help to reduce child abuse.”
Jones then mentioned that the efforts of Henry County were the highest in the six-county region and were people were working to get information out.
“The main issue we have is community awareness and we are working on that,” said Jones. “The true issue is to support each other and prevent child abuse. It is the key, with that we won’t have so much to treat and follow up on.”
With the number of cases of child abuse dropping, workers are seeing a decrease of children in foster care.
“The foster care numbers are down drastically in the last few years,” said Mike Steele who is a member of the Child Abuse Board. “In Henry County and in Louisa County, there is a minimum amount compared to the bigger counties.”
According to numbers presented by Becky Keeley program coordinator for the Iowa Child Advocacy Board, Henry County has 16 children in supervised foster care, and of those 16, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) represents eight. In Lee County, there are 55 children in supervised foster care and six CASA’s represent them. Finally, in Des Moines County, there are 44 children in supervised foster care and of those 16 are represented by CASA’s.
“CASA’s are my volunteers,” explained Keeley. “Not every child is appointed a CASA, and our new administrator wants to have 100 percent of them supervised. It’s a matter or recruiting, training and supervising that many people though.”
Keeley added that another reason for numbers of children in foster care to be low is because more children are being placed with relatives.
“Once a child goes into the court system, they become a Child in Need of Assistance (CHINA), they can then be placed with a relative,” said Keeley. “This has been happening more and it’s a good thing. The courts really try to do that a lot as well.”
“Overall, prevention is what we need to have,” concluded Johnson.
The Henry County Board of Supervisors will meet again in regular session on Tuesday, April 1, at 9 a.m. in the board room at the courthouse.