- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The Hawkeye State is one of America’s child-abuse hotbeds, at least according to the latest federal statistics from state child welfare agencies. Iowa authorities have been forced to remove children from their homes at a rate twice the national average in recent years. Roughly 50,000 of the state’s 3 million residents have been placed on a “child abuse registry” used to warn off some potential employers and focus state resources on protecting the victimized children. The numbers make the problem appear so bad that in small-town Clear Lake, there may be more than 120 abusers lurking among the population, numbered in the thousands.

How has Iowa gone from heartland to hellhole? The answer is that it hasn’t. And the millions of Americans on such lists in 45 other states reflect the same imaginary tide of abuse. Later this fall, a U.S. Supreme Court case will bring national attention to the issue.

Iowa’s parents are no worse than any others. A combination of a callous bureaucracy and poorly written laws has failed to put children’s interests first and torn families apart. People whose names are added to Iowa’s registry and may lose jobs or child custody as a result most often aren’t accused of a crime, let alone indicted or actually convicted. An investigator determines whether 51 percent of the evidence points toward a case of abuse, a supervisor signs off, and the name goes on the list. If the “perpetrator” wants to appeal, instead of going to court, he first has to appeal to the same agency that pinned the scarlet letter to his chest in the first place. Child sex predators who are actually charged with a crime have more protections.

Iowa’s system is hardly among the worst. Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that many states put residents on such lists with ridiculously little evidence. In some states, “abusers” aren’t told they are on the list and don’t get to know whether their appeal, sometimes consisting of a single conference call, is successful or not. Producing a federal list - to track abusers who move from state to state - would be impossible, the agency said, until some “minimal due-process protections were available to the [alleged] perpetrator.”

Iowa’s Supreme Court last month handed this system an important defeat, and the legislature is finally, tepidly talking about minimal reforms - though the bureaucracy charged with protecting Iowa’s children continues to drag its feet. What’s needed is a system that protects children while still offering due-process protections that will prevent the registry itself from being abused.

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