Editor’s Note: This the final in a 3-part series looking at child maltreatment in Lee County
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Data being poured over as part of a countywide needs assessment to help curb child maltreatment in Lee County shows advocates have their work cut out for them.
As part of a Resilient Communities Demonstration Project grant managed by the Lee County Health Department, the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Lee County, and the Community Partnership for Protecting Children are working with ISU Extension Community Development Specialist Shelley Oltmans to sift through the data and come up with strategies to move Lee County in the right direction.
The grant pays for the salary of Breanna Kramer-Riesberg and the contract with ISU for two years in fiscal year 2021 and 2022. There is an option for renewal for three years after that.
The needs assessment survey was completed in the past year and the groups are planning to start cultivating a strategic plan in July.
As part of the survey, Oltmans put together an executive summary of the results, which pointed to many strengths, but also about a dozen risk factors that are tipping the scales in the wrong direction to correct Lee County’s worst in the state ranking for child neglect. The county is 99th out of 99 counties in neglect and 79th out of 99 in child abuse.
But Oltmans said the county is primed to tackle the poor performance.
“This community of people is ready to start having a conversation,” she said. “We’ve had 47 different individuals from 25 different organizations working the past nine months of the needs assessment. The community is ready to start addressing these issues.”
But she said the group is still far from determining what the strategic plan will look like.
The plan will be geared toward addressing the top risk factors facing parents in the county.
The percentage of families in Iowa living below the federal poverty level, which according to the US. Department of Health and Human Services is $26,500 for a family of four and $21,960 for a family of three, is 11.9%. Lee County’s rate is nine points higher at 20.8%.
Lee County has also traditionally had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. A related figure to that is the civilian labor force. The state shows of all people 16 and over, 67.3% are employed, while in Lee County that number is 60.6%, meaning the county lags behind the state average in the people that participate in employment.
Lee County also is showing 16.4% of residents 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The state average is 28.6%.
With regard to mental health issues, 11% of respondents in the needs assessment stated they had frequent mental distress, and the county has one mental health provider for every 1,380 residents.
Other issues reported in the assessment were alcohol, tobacco and other drugs; domestic violence and crime rates; generational cultural norms of accepting violence, aging housing stock, incarcerated family members, and pandemic-increased parenting stress around education and child care.
The report also showed the 17.5% of owner-occupied homes and 40.6% of renters were spending more than 30% of income on rent or mortgage.
Oltmans said she agreed other advocates that the issues are generational, but she said they are also systemic.
“We found Lee County is ready and prepared to address this issue and support these family and these systemic issues. Poverty, mental health, substance abuse – a lot of those are generational,” she said.
“But it’s also systemic. Poverty isn’t just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
Oltmans said as an outsider helping facilitate the process, it interesting that families are nervous to take advantage of resources because maybe they’ve had an experience and it wasn’t good.
“To be honest, a lot of these children, even before they’ve reached preschool, have had these aces against them. Adverse childhood experiences, poor nutrition, abuse…their brain development isn’t where it should be.”
Otlmans said the assessment has generated more than 60 pages of data and it will take some time to synthesize the data into a plan to move forward.
“Where do we stop? All of it’s important.”
The assessment included interviews with caregivers and parents, and an inventory of services. The summary included 12 different organizations and nine different evidence-based programs that are working together to minimize the impact of child maltreatment. Those organizations include:
- Child Abuse Prevention Council of Lee County
- Lee County Health Department
- Early Childhood Iowa – Children First
- Community Action of Southeast Iowa
- Southeast Iowa Children’s Mental Health and Well-being Collaborative
- Quad-County Community Partnership for Protecting Children
- Decategorization – Scott County Kids
- DVIP – Domestic Violence Intervention Program
- RVAP – Rape Victim Advocacy Program
- ADDS – Alcohol and Drug Dependency Services of Southeast Iowa
- Community Health Centers of Southeast Iowa
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
The evidence-based programs linked in the summary include:
- Hopes program
- Family Connections – Nurturing Families
- 1st Five Healthy Mental Development Initiative
- Maternal Health
- Child Health/Care for Kids
- Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT)
- 24/7 Dads
- Parent Partner
Parents can access all of the organizations at their respective websites or by phoning Kramer-Riesberg at the Lee County Health Department at 319-372-5225.
Oltmans said the other hurdle is overcoming the stigma associated with asking for help, and those efforts could come forth in a public information campaign.
“The public needs to have this information. If they don’t have it, they can’t engage. How do we de-stigmatize the conversation? A lot of families are falling through the gaps and aren’t accessing the service they need to be successful,” she said.
“One of the biggest challenges we hear from providers is that families are saying they don’t trust us and we’re not a diverse group, that is oftentimes serving families that are diverse. So there’s that gap there.”