Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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July 7, 2017

Sullivan’s Salvos     7/11/17

In this edition:

*Foster Care Challenges
*Solon Beef Days
*Community ID Celebration
*Did You Know?

*Foster Care Challenges
         There has been a great deal of discussion over Iowa’s foster care system. We have witnessed a series of events that simply should never happen. What is going wrong? Why? How can we fix it?

         These are important questions. Though the numbers wax and wane, Johnson County consistently has about 150 children in foster care at any given time. That is a significant number! How can we do better by these kids?

         I can answer all of those questions. Melissa and I have been foster parents since right after we were married. We have provided care for just over 50 children during that time. I also worked for DHS for several years, and spent several more years in the private nonprofit sector. But a person need not be a foster parent to figure this out. It all comes down to budget priorities.

         The Iowa Department of Human Services has cut almost 1200 jobs since Branstad-Reynolds came into office. 1200 jobs! Think about that for a moment! This Governor has overseen cuts equivalent to 12 employees in each of Iowa’s 99 counties!

         Do not discount this example. Iowa used to have a DHS office in every county. No more. A concerned citizen used to be able to speak face to face to a social worker. No more. A person who needed help could go to their county seat and talk to someone. No more.

         While these people were not all child protective workers, they were still trained social workers who lived in the community. Having those eyes and ears in your community makes a HUGE difference!

         Additionally, the elimination of offices and cuts to other services makes child abuse much more likely. I’m not making this up – the statistics are clear: people who struggle with money, substance abuse, mental illness, and other challenges are much more likely to abuse children.

         When I was a young social worker, I provided all sorts of services to families in need. We worked on budgeting, food shopping, parenting, job hunting, dealing with crisis, and much more. If I saw something of concern, my supervisor would frequently make referrals to other services. All of it was paid for by the State of Iowa, through DHS. And you know what? These interventions work! They keep families together, and keep kids out of foster care. None of these services exist any more. They have all been cut.

         The spokesperson for DHS says, “Yes, those supportive services were cut, but we have not cut child protective services.” That is a blatant lie! DHS workers now work crazy amounts of overtime, and cover huge swaths of territory. That matters! It also functions as a cut in service!

         And cuts do not just hurt rural areas. In fact, cuts are probably more devastating to the residents of urban counties.

         We had a friend who was a local Child Abuse Investigator for DHS. When he started, he would give us lots of notice and lots of information on pending placements. We would know the things we needed to know to provide care. Toward the end of his career, it had devolved into a “drive-by”. He would literally call us on the way to our house, drop off a child, and speed away to a call 4 counties away. No one was well served by this.

         DHS still has a lot of employees; this is true. But there are not enough. And those that are in place are horribly utilized. There are people in Des Moines who create useless forms, just to force people in the field to fill out said form and return it to its’ creator. It doesn’t matter. It does absolutely nothing to keep a single child safer. It simply wastes valuable money on bureaucracy.

         I recently spoke to a local service provider who shared a fascinating anecdote. His agency realized they were asking people to fill out forms that had over 1000 data points. This included your NAME 51 times! To their credit, this agency has changed. They now use iPads, enter the info once, and update only as needed. No one wastes time reviewing, filing, and storing paper. And clients avoid having to fill it all out. I know DHS would say they cannot afford to do this. I argue that they cannot afford NOT to do this!

         We just finished filling out all our paperwork to renew out foster care license. The process is ridiculous! Rather than reams of paper, we need trained social workers who will drop in on us unannounced. That is the intervention that matters. That will keep children safe!

         Each foster child should be visited at least once per month, and at least half of those visits should be unannounced. We need similar interactions with Medicaid recipients and other DHS clients. Do away with paperwork, and put boots on the ground!

         We have helped a few young people transition into adulthood. In the case of foster children, this used to be a huge problem. These kids turned 18, then had nothing. The Vilsack Administration turned this around, and put in place many important benefits that remain with us today. Now foster children who age out can get medical insurance, free college, and help with rent.

         Despite these funds, almost every foster child struggles when aging out of care. The statistics are abysmal. Why? There aren’t enough workers to give these kids the guidance they need. The money is worthless without caring adults to help the kids work through challenges. We need more DHS workers!

         There is an old saying: “Don’t tell me about your priorities. Show me your budget, and I’ll show you your priorities.” That was never more true than in our current DHS fiasco. Governor Reynolds MUST add staff to DHS! There is NO other answer!

*Solon Beef Days
The 46th annual Solon Beef Days runs Friday and Saturday July 21 & 22 in Solon. Steaks, rides, entertainment, a parade, and the now-legendary hay bale toss are just a few of the items on tap.

         I say this every year, and it is because it comes from a place of pride: I can honestly say that I have been to roughly 42 of the 46 Beef Days. I wear it like a badge of honor! Unfortunately, I’ll be away this year. Make this the year to start your own streak!

         For all the details, including a full schedule of events, see:

*Community ID Celebration
         We are celebrating the 2 year anniversary of the Community ID on Monday, July 17 from 2-5 at the County Administration Building.

         There are lots of cool things happening as a part of this: the Antelope Lending Library will be there. There will be science activities provided by the UI STEM group. There will be a kids’ tour of County government. There will be cookies, popcorn, and cotton candy. And – this is pretty awesome - there will be one free family pass to the Children’s Museum for every child ID issued during the party!

*DID YOU KNOW?  The Iowa Department of Human Services has responsibility for the safety of children and dependent adults, child care, child support, services for people with disabilities and mental illnesses, insurance (Medicaid) for the poor, food assistance, and much more.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



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