The number of Iowa children who were abused or neglected declined last year, reversing two years of increases.
The Iowa Department of Human Services released its annual report on child abuse today and spokesman Roger Munns says abuse cases were down nearly 7% from 2010. “We can’t make too much of this,” Munns says. “Obviously the numbers are going in the right direction, but there are a lot of factors involved and the numbers have waffled back and forth for the last decade or so.”
The primary reason for the decline in child abuse cases, according to Munns, is the state’s improved economy. “It’s pretty well known when families are under financial stress, there’s more stress in every area of their lives including their kids,” Munns says. “So when economic conditions improve, some of that stress is removed.”
The number of children in Iowa who were subjected to either a “founded” abuse or a less serious “confirmed” abuse last year was 11,747. Around 79% of all abuses were cases of neglect. “Neglect can mean a lot of things. Many times it’s the caretaker or parents who’s capacities are compromised by drug or alcohol abuse,” Munns says. “But, there are other examples too. There are cases where mom or dad goes to the casino and leaves the kid in the car…somebody finds them and no harm is done, but the kid was placed in harm’s way.”
Ten-percent of abuses were physical, while 4% were sexual — similar to past years. Slightly more than half of all abused children, 51%, were age five or under.
Munns says Iowa’s numbers continue to be consistent with national trends. “We send out social workers to do assessments on abuse and two-thirds of the time there is a finding of ‘no finding.’ This is comparable to what we see nationally as well,” Munns says.
Polk County, Iowa’s most heavily populated county, recorded the most child abuse cases in 2011 with 4,147. That was followed by Scott County (2,194), Linn County (2,016), Black Hawk County (1,613) and Woodbury County (1,244). Ringgold and Worth Counties recorded the fewest child abuses last year – each with 38.