Des Moines Register. June 15, 2017

Why won't Iowans adopt these children?

Iowans are trying to understand the deaths of two teenage girls adopted from foster care. This state may certainly need statutory, policy and funding changes to improve the long-term safety of adopted children. Sorting through that falls primarily to a handful of child welfare experts and lawmakers.

The harder work of providing good homes for abused and neglected children falls to the rest of us. It is up to the people of this state to step up and commit to being foster and adoptive parents. That is our job.

Iowa's child welfare system can only be as good as the families willing to open their homes to children. And Iowa does not have enough of these families.

There are now 750 children whose parents' rights were terminated by courts and have not been adopted. Though many live with relatives, many seek to be adopted by forever families.

These include 9-year-old Cassie, who is looking for a home with a dog or cat. They include 12-year-old Ryan, who loves Boy Scouts but needs parents who can provide support with academics and behaviors. They include 16-year-old Zion, who says she wants a fun, affectionate family who will be active in her therapy and hold her accountable without yelling.

In a state of 3 million people, there should not be a single child waiting for an adult to offer a permanent home. And in a state with many retirees, empty nesters, active churches and generous people, it also should not be so difficult for social workers to find good families to temporarily care for children removed from unsafe environments.

But these families can be hard to find, even among the more than 2,200 licensed foster homes in this state.

"It's really tough to get families, and it's really easy to get the wrong families," said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines.

Many foster parents may welcome an infant or toddler, but not a teenager. Families must be willing and able to transport kids to visits with biological parents, doctor's appointments, therapists and court hearings. Ideally, homes would be located near a child's current school so that aspect of his or her life isn't also disrupted.

"We need foster families willing to take sibling groups, older teens, kids with special needs and mental health issues," said Kelli Malone, a child welfare staffer with Four Oaks, an organization contracted with the state to recruit and train foster families. Many of the families she has worked with said they felt a calling to volunteer.

Foster care is a calling. Though families receive a monthly stipend, taking on the responsibility of a child you have never met is a public service. It requires a willingness to be part of the solution in a sometimes ugly world. It means upending your daily routine for kids who may arrive with few possessions and many bad experiences. It means having your heart broken when a child returns home, but remembering the primary goal is to reunify biological families.

And even as the public's attention is captivated by recent tragedies in a few adoptive families, thousands of other families are success stories. They helped children make emotional, physical and academic gains. They provided stability and safety. They worked with birth parents so families could be reunited. They adopted the children no one else wanted.

Lisa Clapp and her husband were living in Des Moines and already had two young children when they decided to become foster parents. She said it was just something they always wanted to do. They filled out the application and went through the licensing process, which includes fingerprinting, background checks, interviews, a home study and 10 weeks of training. Iowa requires more hours of training than many other states, and Clapp said it prepared them well.

"The classes opened my eyes to how to deal with children who have been through traumatic issues," she said.

Months later, she was pregnant with their third child when a social worker called needing a foster home for an infant. The couple said yes. Then more and more calls came, including one from a worker seeking a home for a sibling group of nine. In the end, the Clapps adopted two children from foster care who are now 8 and 10 years old.

But where did the nine brothers and sisters end up? And where does a social worker turn when trying to keep children together? The worker needs as many options as possible to find the most appropriate home for each child.

That means Iowa needs as many good foster families as possible. This state can have them if more of us are willing to open our hearts and homes.

Foster parents provide care for a child while social workers work with the child's birth family to ensure the child can return to a safe environment.

Placement is frequently temporary. The goal is always and rightly to reunify families. In some cases, that's not possible and a judge terminates the biological parents' legal rights to a child. Then he or she is legally free to be adopted.

Foster and adoptive families can be single, married, homeowners or renters. They come from all racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds and sexual orientations.

Iowans seeking a license to be foster parents are fingerprinted and subject to background checks (criminal, child abuse, sex offender charges, convictions or deferred judgments). If cleared to proceed, they attend 30 hours of training over 10 weeks and undergo a home study. They complete continuing education to maintain their license.


Quad-City Times. June 16, 2017

A worthy but troubled effort to save Iowa's exchange

Doug Ommen's chances are slim. But one can't fault his last-ditch effort.

Iowa's health commissioner is watching a slow motion car wreck as the state's health insurance exchange crumbles. It's a reality brought on, in part, by the very party to which he answers, the GOP, that dominates Iowa and Washington. And Ommen is doing everything he can to clear out the bystanders.

All three statewide insurers, Medica, Aetna and Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield, have either said that they will leave Iowa's insurance in 2018 or that they're seriously considering it. It would be a tragic result of national political chaos that would leave 72,000 Iowans without access to health care.

In a very real sense, this is about lives.

A dearth of young, healthy customers of the Obamacare market predate the uncertainty now sowed by Republican dysfunction in Washington. That fact is a structural failure within President Barack Obama's hallmark domestic policy. But make no mistake, the recent announcements by the three insurance providers are directly tied to the GOP's breathless attempts to, somehow, do away with the Affordable Care Act.

Without Obamacare, the financial incentives for the carriers probably disappear. One can't fault the insurance executives for the sudden pivot after Republicans seized total federal control. They have shareholders and boards to whom they answer.

Enter Ommen, who last week petitioned the federal government to allow him to tinker with how Affordable Care Act subsidies are distributed. In effect, Ommen's stop-gap would shift subsidies from those who most benefit, primarily — the elderly and infirm — to that young, cheap population that never bought it. The pitch would, for now, cost those most reliant on the system but could, potentially, keep it operational into 2018.

It's not even clear whether Ommen's move would work. The reactions among the three providers ranged from full-throated support to non-committal dismissiveness. It's also unclear if the subsidy shift is legal under ACA. Ommen could be setting himself and the state up for a lawsuit.

All that said, Ommen is a man with few options.

Think about the reality within which Ommen is operating. ACA has deep-seated structural shortcomings, because of its reliance on healthier populations. It's stated Republican policy that ACA should die. But the version approved by the House of Representatives was immediately rejected by the Senate. In turn, whatever the more moderate Senate comes up with is almost bound to face pushback from House conservatives, a key block. And, all the while, the corporations through which more than 70,000 Iowans receive health care hate nothing more than market instability.

Ommen admits that his waiver is nothing but a crutch, which would hopefully keep the Iowa exchange breathing through 2018. After that, it's up to Congress and the White House to keep all the many promises, which appears more impossible by the day. It's increasingly likely that congressional Republicans are unwittingly laying the ground work for single-payer system with their flailing attempts at drafting an alternative to Obamacare.

Federal regulators should, at the bare minimum, grant Ommen's request and let him respond to the burdens outside his control. The very well-being of thousands of Iowans depend on it.


Sioux City Journal. June 18, 2017

Changes strengthen ag center project

From the beginning of this discussion, we have supported construction of an ag center at the former site of the John Morrell plant in Sioux City.

We embrace the need for continued local economic expansion and recognize the crucial role quality of life plays in community growth and prosperity. To these ends, we believe the ag center would represent still another in a growing list of local amenities important to drawing visitors and new residents and retaining the residents we have.

Changes have been made to the proposed ag center since the project was first introduced, but we believe those changes — described in a June 11 story by The Journal's Ian Richardson — make sense and will, in fact, strengthen the project by broadening public support.

Those changes include:

- To meet an expressed local need, additions were made of temporary turf and removable sports flooring for soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball practices and games, including camps and tournaments.

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- Reasonable reductions in square footage, arena seating and parking were made, resulting in a smaller project pricetag of $15 million.

These changes, combined with a restated commitment to securing the final $2 million necessary to reach the private fund-raising goal for the project, give us optimism the ag center will become a reality and provide a significant, needed boost to development of the former stockyards area.

The ag center is one piece of a dynamic overall $72 million local plan to revitalize three key geographic areas for which the city seeks $13.9 million from the state's Reinvestment District Program. In addition to the ag center, the proposal includes a new hotel or remodeling of an existing hotel in proximity to the ag center; a hotel and parking ramp next to the city's downtown Convention Center; and redevelopment to residential and commercial use by Ho-Chunk Inc. of former industrial buildings in the 100 block of Virginia St.

We, again, raise one note of caution about the ag center. Our support for the project is based, in part, on an understanding the building will fill community voids by focusing on popular local, regional, state, and national agriculture-related events, including 4-H and FFA activities, livestock shows and sales, equestrian events, trade shows, farm equipment expos, and, with the recent changes, will meet youth recreation needs.

We do not wish to see the ag center compete with or otherwise negatively impact the Tyson Events Center or Convention Center.

Rather, we believe the best strategy for our community is one in which each of those venues communicates with the others and books events that speak to its unique attributes and visions so everyone enjoys success.


Burlington Hawk Eye. June 18, 2017

Calling it what it is

James T. Hodgkinson was a terrorist.

There, we said it.

One who commits an act of terror, whether a jihadist from the Middle East at a European arena or a disgruntled white guy from the Midwest at a suburban Washington, D.C., baseball diamond, is a terrorist.

It's about time we got over parsing the words terrorist and terrorism based on the religious or national identity of who fires the gun, wields the knife, sets off the explosive, crashes the plane or drives the truck into a crowd.

Hodgkinson, of Belleville, Ill., an Illinois suburb of St. Louis, carried a loaded gun to the place where members of Congress were practicing for an annual charity baseball game, determined it was members of his despised Republican Party on the field, then opened fire. Several, including the House Majority Whip, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, were wounded before Capitol Police ended the threat.

Without the presence of Scalise's protection detail, the toll Wednesday might have been even higher.

By taking his anger about today's political dysfunction out on members of the GOP, the 66-year-old Hodgkinson added his name to a list of infamous characters that includes such notables as Osama bin Laden, 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, the 1985 hijackers of TWA flight 847, the knife-wielding British ISIS member in the beheading videos known as Jihadi John, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Ted Kazinski, the Unibomber, was a terrorist. Jeremy Joseph Christian, the anti-Muslim slasher who killed two last month aboard a Portland, Ore., commuter train, is a terrorist. Dylan Kleibold and Eric Harris, the shooters at Columbine High School, Newtown mass-murderer Adam Lanza and every other school shooter, are properly labeled terrorists. Members of every lynch mob ever formed with the purpose of killing someone for being black, gay or some other brand of "other": terrorists.

Some might look at these other names and consider comparisons to Hodgkinson misplaced. But the only real difference among them is the scale of their acts, not the proper name for what they engaged in. The Illinois man went to a public place to target innocents and send people running for their lives, just as the hijackers did on Sept. 11, 1991, when they sent thousands fleeing from Lower Manhattan and government buildings across the nation's capitol.

Yet when we say "terrorist," the image that comes immediately to mind is that of a Islamic radical clad in a suicide vest and blowing up a marketplace, or wielding an AK-47 and shouting "Allahu Akbar" while shooting up a concert.

By failing to label any act of terror perpetrated by someone not fitting that description as terrorism, we over-inflate the jihadist threat while diminishing the more clear and present danger of domestic acts of terror by casting them as the one-off acts of disturbed individuals.

On any given day, you're much more likely as an American to be killed by a co-worker, domestic partner, family member, random psychopath or errant bullet through the living room window than by a misguided follower of Allah. While failing to focus on the root causes of these more common sources of violence and death (economic despair, political dysfunction, income inequality, inadequate mental health care among them and our apparent national inability to be civil to anyone with whom we disagree), we let our fear of the other close off our hearts to helping people next door and around the world who want no more or less than we do.

And that is the chance to raise their children, go to work and come home, get an education, enjoy time with family and friends and countless other happy, memorable or mundane pursuits in peace.

Calling a terrorist a terrorist, and identifying and addressing the most serious threats that face us, might well be the first step in achieving that peace we all so desperately desire.___

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