Child Abuse Cases on the Rise

Officials say publicity around high-profile child abuse cases in Iowa has caused a surge in such reports

Confirmed child abuse cases in the state increased 26 percent last year, from almost 8,900 in 2016 to more than 11,200. Child protection workers found more than 2,000 cases of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. There was also an increase in drug-affected children.

“We’ve just never had an increase like this. I don’t know how you absorb that,” said Stephen Scott, a consultant and former Prevent Child Abuse Iowa director who analyzes state abuse data annually. “These figures are beyond what I expected.”

Lawmakers have said they believe media coverage of the starvation deaths of Natalie Finn in 2016 and Sabrina Ray in 2017 increased public awareness of the issue. The teens, both 16, were adopted from state care.

The state’s child abuse hotline received more calls following media coverage of the deaths. The Department of Human Services accepts child abuse cases when a victim is younger than 18, the alleged perpetrator is acting as a caretaker and the maltreatment fits several abuse categories.

The higher abuse numbers released this month indicate a need for more resources, said Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann.

But Gov. Kim Reynolds cut $4.3 million in March from the Department of Human Services, which oversees child protection.

“I do not see how DHS can keep up with this demand with such limited resources,” Scott said.

The Child Welfare Group conducted a report of the state’ child welfare practices last December following the deaths of Finn and Ray. The consultant’s review found that child abuse investigations had increased by 43 percent.

The group also found the system faces challenges including poor morale among caseworkers, an old data system and high worker turnover.