DSS investigated 215 child protective reports in 2012

Published 10:11 pm Monday, May 6, 2013

Community child protection team gives annual report

There were 280 child protective reports made to the Polk County Department of Social Services (DSS) during 2012 with 215 of those reports meeting the legal criteria for an assessment/investigation on allegations of abuse, neglect or dependency by a parent or caretaker.

The Polk County Community Child Protection Team presented its annual report to Polk commissioners on April 22. The child protection team met five times during 2012 and reviewed four of the reported cases, all of which had been substantiated for child sexual abuse. The annual report from the team includes contributory factors, gaps in services and strategies to address gaps in services.

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The contributory factors the child protection team identified included substance abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, physical abuse, financial stressors, family discord, emotional abuse and unstable and inadequate living arrangements.

During 2012, Polk County’s DSS conducted approximately 115 investigations, assessments and in-home services per month for child protective services which grew to approximately 120 per month beginning in July 2012, the start of the county’s new fiscal year.

There is an average of 22 new child protective service reports made each month, according to Polk DSS director Lou Parton.

Child placement, or foster care currently includes 38 children in custody. Parton said beginning July 1, 2012, there were 30 children in legal custody of the agency and as of April 24, 2013 an additional 27 children had been placed in custody due to neglect/abuse in the home. Of those, 15 achieved their permanent plan of either reunification with their parent, adoption, custody/guardianship or emancipation, Parton said. Of the total children in custody since July 1, 2012, four children were transferred back to their home county.

The Community Child Protection team is a multi-disciplinary team involving various agencies working with children and families. The team includes staff from DSS, the health department, the DSS board, Western Highlands, Polk County Schools Head Start, a mental health and medical provider, juvenile court counselor, the state bureau of investigation, Steps to HOPE, EMS, the county manager and the sheriff.

Polk County’s Community Child Protection Team was established in response to Executive Order 142 in May 1991. The purpose of the team is to promote a community wide approach to the problems of child abuse and neglect by bringing together designated community representatives to meet regularly and review cases of abuse and neglect and to review all child deaths in which a child/children have been involved in reported neglect or abuse.

Following the child protection team’s report last year, the Polk County Board of Commissioners sent a resolution to the state in support of lowering the mandatory school age requirement from 7 years old to 6 years old.

“Many of the issues presented in previous reports to commissioners still remain the same,” states the 2012 report. “Substance abuse, mental health, unstable living situations, inadequate parenting, domestic violence, etc. all impact the health and wellness of families affected by child abuse and neglect and thus our entire community.”

The child protection team asked commissioner to be aware of the needs that are prevalent and the opportunities they have to make a difference. Specifically, the team asked for the county’s participation in child abuse prevention and awareness events and funding of staff at schools to develop prevention education programs focusing on parent and community engagement.

“We want all of our children to live in stable, loving and stimulating environments-at home, at school and in the community,” states the team’s report. “It is only in our ability to provide a safe and secure environment for them that they will learn and grow and meet their potential. Our children are the future and their vision for Polk County will be a reflection of our efforts.”

Recent child awareness events included Join the Movement on April 18 where approximately 40 individuals attended and 24 committed to additional training to learn more about the steps that can be taken to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to the reality of child sexual abuse.

Several county agencies also participated in pinwheels for child abuse awareness month and held the county’s first child abuse awareness day last month.

Agencies participating in placing pinwheels recognizing child abuse awareness month included the Partnership for Children, who planted pinwheels at four Polk daycares, the Polk County EMS, Seasons Home Care, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, who shared with police departments and democratic women, St. Luke’s Hospital, Steps to HOPE, Polk County Schools Pre-K, Polk County Clerk of Court, Polk County Cooperative Extension, the Town of Columbus and Polk County DSS.

The month of May is Foster Parent Appreciation Month.

Polk is in great need of foster homes. Of the total children in foster homes, 18 of Polk’s children are placed outside the county.