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Iowa Law Enforcement Leaders Urge State Legislators to Support Proven Strategies To Reduce Child Abuse and Neglect

DES MOINES, Iowa (Feb. 16, 2012) — Calling child abuse and neglect an epidemic that causes harm to an average of one child every 45 minutes in Iowa, law enforcement leaders went to the State Capitol this week and encouraged legislators to strengthen family support resources including voluntary home visitation to combat child abuse and neglect.

The law enforcement leaders told legislators that high-quality voluntary home visiting programs can reduce child abuse and neglect by as much as 50 percent, while also saving millions in taxpayer dollars over the long term.
Law enforcement leaders met with eight legislators at the State Capitol on Wednesday.

Council Bluffs Police Chief Ralph O’Donnell and Osage Police Chief Russell Slight met with Sen. Amanda Ragan, Rep. Mark Brandenburg, Rep. Greg Forristall, Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa and Rep. Josh Byrnes.

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner met with Sen. Wally Horn, Sen. Liz Mathis and Rep. Nathan Willems.

Representing more than 150 Iowa police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and crime survivors, who belong to the anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, the law enforcement leaders told legislators of the latest research that more than 12,000 Iowa children were victims of abuse or neglect in 2010, over 230 per week, and that eight Iowa children died that year from abuse or neglect. The figures are for unique victims and do not count multiple incidents involving the same child. Nationally, one third of all victims are younger than four years of age.

The legislative meetings this week follow a major press conference last December when more than a dozen sheriffs from across the state called for more support for strategies proven to help reduce child abuse and neglect.

Law enforcement leaders want to prevent abuse and neglect of children because it poses an immediate threat to thousands of Iowan children and contributes to future crime. While most survivors of childhood abuse and neglect never become violent criminals, research has shown that approximately 29 percent more of these children will become violent criminals — which equates to more than 480 Iowa children — than children without a history of abuse. Survivors are more likely to abuse their own children, creating a cycle of violence that can span generations.

The law enforcement leaders said voluntary home visits for at-risk families could prevent many cases of abuse and neglect from ever occurring. These programs pair nurses or trained paraprofessionals with pregnant women and new parents to teach them how to meet their child’s health and developmental needs.

“The number of reported cases of child abuse and neglect in Iowa is staggering, and I should mention these are only the reported cases,” said Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner. “Many incidents go unreported. We are meeting with state legislators today in support of quality home visiting programs, because research shows these programs are highly effective in reducing abuse and neglect in the home.”

A study of one program model, the Nurse-Family Partnership program in upstate New York, compared at-risk children whose mothers received visits with similar children whose families did not participate. Children in participating families were half as likely to be abused or neglected. Children in families that participated in the program had half as many criminal convictions by age 19 as those in families who did not receive the visits. In a separate study of a quality home visitation program, researchers found significantly fewer cases of childhood injury and child mortality among families who participated.

“Besides causing terrible harm to children, child abuse and neglect also has a tremendous impact on Iowa taxpayers,” said Council Bluffs Police Chief Ralph O’Donnell. In fiscal year 2006, he noted, the total cost to taxpayers from federal, state and local child welfare spending reached over $348 million.
O’Donnell noted an analysis from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy that found the Nurse-Family Partnership program producing a net savings for taxpayers of almost $21,000 per each family served. “Such returns, however, can only be realized through evidence-based programs,” O’Donnell added.

“There are few crimes more shocking to the conscience than child abuse and neglect,” said Osage Police chief Russell Slight. “We need to do all we can to address this epidemic.”
Iowa currently offers a broad array of home visiting programs and initiatives focused on improving prenatal and infant health and preventing child abuse and neglect, among other outcomes. These programs served approximately 15,000 Iowa at-risk families in FY 2009.

Among the national program models serving Iowa families are Nurse-Family Partnership, Healthy Families America, Parents as Teachers, Early Head Start as well as other national or state-developed initiatives. In FY 2010, funding for home visiting in Iowa totaled more than $15 million, which came from a variety of sources, including state general funds, several federal funding streams and birth certificate fees.


Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is a national anti-crime organization of 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and violence survivors, including over 150 in Iowa.

Learn more and read the report at