The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

February 18, 2013

Residents: Help the children

Advocates speak to legislators about ways to protect children and improve their daily lives

By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — For former Clinton foster mother Merlyn Law, the effects abuse and the current Iowa adoption system can have on a child are far too familiar.

Among the 25 teens Law and her husband fostered throughout the years was a young girl who suffered years of abuse, being separated from her birth mother and sister. Once the young girl came into Law’s home, she told her foster mother that she had began cutting herself and was sent to a program where she would receive help for her self-injuring. The abuse and moves from home to home eventually overwhelmed the teenager and she took her own life.

Abby's story is just one tearful account of the children Law has seen move in and out of her home with what she saw as little regard from the agency determining their fate.  

“Life could have been different because we loved them,” Law said. “They weren't just a body. We fell in love with the children that came into our home.”

Law was one of more than 20 community members and professionals who spoke to local legislators on Saturday at the First United Methodist Church. Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland and Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, attended a roundtable hosted by the Rainbird Foundation to discuss children's issues with people who work to improve children's lives daily.

“We relate to child abuse as if it is not a significant problem. This lack of acknowledgement results in an ignorance and inactivity,” Rainbird Foundation founder Hanna Roth said. “Thousands of children slip through the cracks in our system because our system was not designed to handle the stress of the numbers that we're getting and were not funded appropriately enough to get along.”

Participants cited issues with the Department of Human Services and the negative effects those problems have on children. For more than two hours the group discussed the perceived flaws in the system that they said often does not serve those it is intended to serve: the children.

“We must try to make children our number one priority,” local Rainbird Director Shirley Darsidan said.

Wolfe speculated that the low pay and large workloads given to social workers who handle cases at the DHS level could play into the problem.

One problem that became apparent during the roundtable was parents’ inability to see their children who are being housed and treated in other counties.  

Along with the work to ease transportation for parents, Iowa legislators are also working on a system that will increase the mental health care children receive.