Polk child protection team asks for family resource center

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2017

COLUMBUS – The Community Child Fatality Prevention and Protection Team asked the Polk County Board of Commissioners last week to fund a family resource center for the county.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met April 3 and approved a resolution in support of child abuse and prevention month as well as heard the annual child fatality prevention and protection team report.

Polk County Department of Social Service (DSS) Director Lou Parton told commissioners a family resource center could help to provide educational information and could lead to prevention efforts pertaining to child abuse and neglect. Parton said during the month of March, DSS received 32 reports of child abuse and neglect in Polk County.

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“We have 47 children in foster care right now,” Parton said. “Since July (2016), we’ve had 59 children. We respond to the reports that come to us. The family resource center could help us to develop programs to help prevent child abuse and neglect.”

Parton also reviewed the child protection team’s report, with every year the report naming issues such as substance abuse and mental health having gaps in services that are barriers to child protection.

During 2016, 260 child protection reports were made to the Polk County DSS, according to the child protection team report. Of the total, 188 met the legal criteria for an assessment/investigation to be conducted on the allegations of abuse, neglect or dependency by a parent or caretaker. Polk County DSS provided child protective services to an average of 102 children each month, according to the annual report.

The child fatality prevention and protection team reviewed five child protective services cases during 2016 and one child fatality prevention case.

The child fatality prevention case involved the death of an infant caused by child maltreatment, according to the report. The team identified that there are gaps in services, system deficiencies or other barriers to child fatality prevention including adequate community services to address substance abuse, transportation, on-ongoing parent training and support, housing and lack of access to nationwide criminal record checks on adults involved in child protective services assessments.

The team identified several strategies to address the barriers to child fatality prevention, including training for all community members specifically on adverse childhood experiences and trauma-based focused interventions and therapy; to develop a family resource center with programming to reach high risk families; transportation to out of county intensive out patient substance abuse services; dedicated law enforcement presence at DSS; DSS access to nationwide criminal history and background checks and a county-wide grant writer to assist agencies and nonprofits to access funds to creatively address local issues.

The child protective services reviews for 2016 included two cases involving allegations of sexual abuse and all five cases involving allegations of neglect. Contributory factors founded by the team included substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, under/unemployment, absent father, criminal activity, unstable, inadequate and overcrowded living arrangements, poverty and sexual abuse, according to the 2016 report.

“The issues presented in previous reports to commissioners remain the same,” states the 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. In your role as Polk County Commissioner, we ask each of you to join us in a serious commitment this year to make actual changes in the lives of our children and families.”

The report continues to say that an investment in prevention now and for the next several years will be much more cost effective than waiting until after abuse or adverse experiences occur.

The benefits of prevention far outweigh the costs of remediation when our society continues to pay for the results of child abuse and neglect,” states the report.

This year, states the report, the community child fatality prevention and protection team would like to focus its request specifically for the county to take action on funding and continuing support of a family resource center; to increase county funding for mental health services to develop local Polk County prevention and treatment options and to increase funding to provide expansion of the public transportation hours of operation.

The family resource center would provide ongoing prevention and child advocacy services including community and parenting education, coordination and facilitation of support for children and families affected by child sexual abuse and a venue for supervised visitation for court involved families, according to the report. The center would require an investment in a building and furnishings and funding for the necessary staff positions.

Expanded transportation hours is needed to enable greater employment opportunities for parents and scheduling medical or mental health appointments for themselves or their children, according to the report. The current limited hours of operations of the public transportation system are a barrier for families trying to meet their needs, court mandates and reunification efforts, states the report.

“Our children are the future, and their vision for Polk County will be a reflection of our efforts,” says the report.

Mary Edwards, child protection team member and with Be A Voice 4 Kids, told commissioners she hopes the county supports a resource center.

“If we’re not part of the solution then we’re part of the problems,” said Edwards.

County chair Tommy Melton said he has zero tolerance for child abuse in this county. He said he appreciates all that the child protection team and DSS does, as well as Sheriff Hill, Capt. B.J. Bayne and officers of the sheriff’s office.

Commissioner Shane Bradley said he agreed with Melton.

Child abuse and elder abuse are the “most rotten things I’ve seen,” said Bradley. “Please be aware of all kinds of abuses that are out there.”

Commissioner Myron Yoder commended the protection team, DSS and all people the county has working on child abuse.

“The thing about child abuse is they always blame themselves and it stays in darkness,” said Yoder. “It’s a very important service in this county to bring those children out of the abuse so they can be productive adults.”

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said the bulk of what those who work at social services do is with children and elders.

Commissioners declared April as child abuse and prevention month in Polk County and also displayed pinwheels at the meeting.

Commissioners did not discuss last week whether or not they are in favor of funding a family resource center in Polk.