Iowa’s Department of Human Services will start handing off some child welfare cases to private agencies. D-H-S director Kevin Concannon says this will give child protection workers more time to focus on the most critical cases.He says they’re not spending as much time as he’d like with the most serious cases, saying research shows the more time a caseworker spends face-to-face with a family, the more impact for the better. Concannon says the agency will check out every report but if it’s not a case involving imminent danger, drug abuse or young children, it may be referred to a nonprofit community service agency. For example, children under 6 are considered more vulnerable since they’re not in the school system and thus seen by more people outside the family, and those young children are much less likely to be referred to an outside agency. D-H-S investigates more than 15-thousand reports of child abuse each year and director Concannon estimates about 13-hundred of those can be referred to community service groups. He says when the state agency intervenes in the life of a family, it’s a serious thing. In cases of abuse or neglect, it’s necessary, but in cases where a family’s trying to resolve a “parenting challenge” he thinks counseling agencies may be in a better position than the state to meet the family’s need. He says investigators will consider several risk factors first…including the age of the child, the risk of neglect, and whether or not there is domestic violence or drug abuse in the home. He says in a case where a child of perhaps 8 or 9 is struggling in school they simply may be looking for help, and in such a case where caseworkers don’t find abuse or neglect, they’re much more likely to try and line up the family with a community counseling agency. Concannon says as the latest step in the rollout of Iowa’s redesigned child welfare system, this is not expected to save money or reduce staffing needs but is intended to provide better care for kids. Steven Scott, the executive director of “Prevent Child Abuse Iowa,” is taking a wait-and-see approach. Scott says he’s sure DHS workers have long been forced to limit their attention to lower-risk child abuse cases, so this may be nothing new.Scott says his group’s not necessarily critical of what D-H-S is doing because it’s probably better to “ration” services in a planned way but Scott says he’s not pleased the budget is so tight that services for children who’ve been abused have to be rationed. Scott says he doesn’t know how private institutions that care for abused children will be able to “pick up the slack.” Jane Hartman, the CEO of Lutheran Services of Iowa, says nonprofit could be a good fit with the state in helping families. They’d have fewer federal and state rules limiting how they can provide services, and hope to use creativity and community resources to strengthen the families so they don’t become at risk for child abuse. What’s still unknown, says Hartman, is how it will be funded. The child-welfare system in Iowa is severely under-funded, she says, and though they hope the DHS redesign will help kids and families, the agencies are concerned there won’t be enough money to do the job right. Faith-based organizations and other nonprofits in Iowa already do lot of fundraising to support the services they provide, and her question is whether, as state funding continues to dwindle, how much they can continue to fill the void. With more work and no more money, she says there may be a risk that some kids at risk “slip through cracks.”