The University of Iowa

Child Neglect in Keokuk - Systems Mapping and Advocacy through a Legal Lens

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College of Law students in the Community Empowerment Law Project will work with Keokuk officials to map the existing system for addressing child neglect in the community, and to creating a local advocacy strategy to increase system transparency.

Committed local leaders are working hard to revitalize Keokuk.  For example,  Keokuk was the final stop on the 2019 RAGBRAI ride, bringing more than 10,000 riders to the city.  Also in 2019, the Keokuk Economic Development Corporation and Area Community Foundation provided funding and support to open the nonprofit Keokuk Child Development Center to address the daycare shortage in the city.  The Keokuk City School District recently underwent a $14 million renovation and the high school graduation rate, steadily increasing, is at 93%.

While the community is making significant strides toward revitalization, many challenges remain.  Lee County has one of the highest child poverty rates in the state, and 28% of children in southeast region live in poverty.  Lee County also has one of the highest child neglect rates in the state of Iowa at 25.3 per 1000 children, a sharp increase since the county’s lowest rate in 2014. (For comparison, Osceola County has the lowest neglect rate at 2.9 and Johnson County’s neglect rate is 12.7.)   The Department of Human Services (DHS) oversees Child Welfare services and programs throughout Iowa, including the Child Protective Services (CPS) unit, which receives and responded to reports of suspect abuse and neglect, Community Care prevention services, and Crisis Intervention, Stabilization and Reunification services, which provides temporary interventions. 

According to DHS statistics, the Lee County office responded to 551 reports of abuse/neglect in 2018, including 189 reports of neglect, 31 reports related to physical or sexual abuse, and 121 reports related to dangerous substances or the presence of illegal drugs in a child’s system.  The majority of confirmed or founded cases related to children under the age of 10.  Anecdotally, though, residents and city officials express frustration at having made well-documented reports of abuse with the agency, but seeing no action taken. 

The client retained CELP to:

  • Understand the complete trajectory of an abuse/neglect report in Lee County:  Who has formal and informal decision-making authority? What criteria do decision-makers rely on?  What organizations are involved?  How are they funded and to whom are they accountable?
  • Identify ways for local government to have a more effective voice in the creation and implementation of child welfare policies
  • Compare Lee County policies and practices to those of other Iowa counties and out-of-state jurisdictions and identify best practices
  • Determine where interventions can occur to make the child welfare system more transparent and accessible to Lee County residents
  • Assess the legal and policy changes necessary to improve the system and how to get the necessary support for these changes

Relevant Subjects/Areas of Law:  Family law, juvenile law, criminal law, administrative law, poverty law, domestic/family violence, inter- and intra-agency relationships and dynamics.