CPC meets with John Norris

On Tuesday May 8th, members of the Children’s Policy Coalition sat down with John Norris to discuss the issues facing children and families in our state, including child trafficking, early education, and the cycle of poverty.

Norris group pic_edited

Pictured: (back row, left to right) Denise Rathman, National Association of Social Workers, Iowa chapter; Sheila Hansen, Child and Family Policy Center; Mary Nelle Trefz, Child and Family Policy Center; Dara Madigan, Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children; Britney Samuelson, Iowa Afterschool Alliance; Deann Cook, United Ways of Iowa; Charles Bruner, former Iowa state senator; (front row, left to right) Jill Applegate, Every Child Matters in Iowa; Angelica Cardenas, Child and Family Policy Center; Abby Patterson, Prevent Child Abuse Iowa; John Norris, democratic candidate for governor; Lana Shope, Iowa Community Action Association; Barb Bremner, Polk County Early Childhood Iowa.

Read the full transcript of the meeting below:

Jill Applegate: Well I just want to say thank you everyone for being with us this morning. And thank you John. We’re so excited to welcome you to the third single candidate forum that the Children’s Policy Coalition has done in this primary season. So welcome and we really appreciate you taking the time to talk about the issues facing Iowa’s children and families. We know that children’s health, education, safety, general well-being should be a top priority. And to ensure that all kids have what they need to thrive, the Children’s Policy Coalition has invited all candidates in the gubernatorial race to meet with us and to talk about these urgent issues facing our kids and families. And so just to tell you a little bit about the Coalition, it’s a group of 30 state based organizations that are committed to raising the profile of kid’s issues during both state and federal elections. And we won’t endorse any candidates or score anyone in any way. We simply just want to get more information into the hands of voters so that they feel confident when they go to vote on June 5th and in November that they have everything that they need to know to make the best decision, in their opinion, to who’s going to be the best person to support kids and families. So, we’re excited to have this conversation with you today. I just want to note you know we want it to be comfortable, no one feel like it’s super formal or anything, it can be a dialogue.

John Norris: No endorsement, I can’t blow it too badly!

Jill Applegate: And so I’ll start I’ll have everyone introduce themselves so you can get to know us and then we’d love to hear a little of it from you and what your priorities are in your campaign. So, I’m Jill Applegate, I am a Program Manager for Every Child Matters in Iowa and I am the co-chair of the Children’s Policy Coalition.

Lana Shope: Lana Shope with Iowa Community Action Association and Iowa Head Start.

Abby Patterson: Abby Patterson with Prevent Child Abuse Iowa.

Denise Rathman: Denise Rathman, National Association of Social Workers Iowa Chapter.

Angelica Cardenas: Angelica Cardenas, Child and Family Policy Center.

Charlie Bruner: Charlie Bruner, freelance child policy agitator.

Stephen Dykstra: Stephen Dykstra, Child and Family Policy Center.

Barb Bremner: Barb Bremner, Polk County Early Childhood Iowa.

Deann Cook: Deann Cook, United Ways of Iowa, which is statewide association of all twenty-five United Ways.

Britney Samuelson: Britney Samuelson, Iowa Afterschool Alliance.

Dara Madigan: Dara Madigan, Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children.

Sheila Hansen: Sheila Hansen, Child and Family Policy Center, and I’m co-chair with Jill of the Coalition.

Mary Nelle Trefz: I’m Mary Nelle Trefz, Child and Family Policy Center.

Jill Applegate: You have the floor!

John Norris: Do you just want me to tell you a little about my campaign? Well you know I will say that, I don’t know at one point last fall I kind of, as you start one of these campaigns, now this wasn’t on my bucket list and I had to get my head around the issues. You know, what they’ve done the Capitol obviously has gotten all of us worried about Iowa’s future. But I have led with breaking the cycle of poverty since last fall. Tonight, if you go to my Iowa Futures Forum at the DMACC campus, my first slide is on education, second one’s on income and poverty. It is what I am talking about throughout the campaign. And a heavy focus on children and heavy focus in education, on all those contributing factors to the cycle of poverty. I lead most of my speeches with, nearly half the babies in Iowa are born eligible for Medicaid, free and reduced lunch has doubled in the last fifteen years, which presents a whole different set of challenges for our classroom teachers. You know, and I grew up going to our public schools. When half our children arrive even either food insecure or from a single parent home who’s working sixty hours a week to make an hour low-wages or a substance abuse home, a domestic violence home. That is a different set of challenges for a teacher. You layer upon that the fact that our English Language Learners have nearly tripled in the last seventeen years. That’s an additional set of challenges for our classroom teacher. The kicker is we have one in five who have some form of mental health illness. Even more profound amongst our children coming from home stressful environments, and we have no children’s mental health system. We are not equipping our teachers, our schools or our society what it takes to break that cycle of poverty. You just heard the opening of my stump speech have been given the last seven or eight months. It is core to our future and it’s central to why I’m running.

Jill Applegate: Yeah, you touched on a lot of the things we’ll talk about today!

John Norris: Here’s the slideshow for tonight if you want to see it. It’s all what I just went over. We’ve been covering around the state with this slide show, Iowa’s Future Forum and leading with those issues.

Jill Applegate: We all here, we know that they’re important and so I think I’ll start off with, so one of the major parts of what the next governor will do is set a new budget for the state. And so, we’ll start off with talking about budgeting for Iowa’s priorities and I’ll have Charlie lead the discussion on this topic.

Charlie Bruner: Thank you. As you know I think about ten percent of the federal budget is directed to children. I believe seventy percent of Iowa’s budget is directed towards children. But really the federal budget supports the decisions that are then made around the state budgeting, to augment our efforts. It’s really directed to the health, safety, education, economic security and development of children. Over the last twenty years however, Iowa’s experienced several budget crises and across the board cuts affecting children and some cuts that have been made have yet to be restored, let alone enhanced. State budget growth overall has lagged the growth in the state’s economy. Lawmakers have enacted and often phased in tax cuts that have made it difficult to maintain let alone enhance existing programs. So, the real question to you is, what is your plan to tackle tax policy issues to ensure a stable and adequate state general fund to pay for Iowa’s priorities, particularly children’s health, safety, education, economic security and development?

John Norris: So we can’t continue the path they just did last week, which is going to make it more complicated. I’ve laid out many potential revenue sources that, we obviously must have revenue to address issues we just talked about. One is to cap the business tax credits, I would change many them to deductions so that companies that aren’t paying taxes here do not get a check from our taxpayers to subsidize their business. There was now topped for three hundred million dollars since then, well just the commercial property tax cut in 2013 has topped three hundred million dollars. I’m advocating for rolling that back. We have the business tax credits that now exceed two hundred million dollars. That’s the research credits, a number of the business tax credits. I’m also advocating for capping the manufacturing sales tax exemption which expected to be twenty-five million is now over eighty million. We cap that at twenty-five. That we do combined federal income tax on corporations, out of state corporations. Forty-six states tax corporate taxes only twenty-five to a combined. We don’t. That puts our state businesses at a disadvantage. We have out of state corporations that are shifting their income out of state and their expenses in the state to capitalize on are non-combined federal corporate reporting, that’s a revenue generator of over a hundred million dollars. That again I can argue that helps Iowa businesses to not be a disadvantage. Regional and national banks franchise fee puts our Iowa banks at a disadvantage. I think we should increase fees levelized the fees on regional and national banks, and that’s a revenue source of between twenty and thirty million dollars. Raising the minimum wage lowers the Earned Income Tax Credit eligibility, so that’s the savings there as well. I’ve also advocated raising the Earned Income Tax Credit. I do have some concerns about some people who are capitalizing on that that don’t actually have low incomes and have large net wealth, figure out how to get at that problem. So those are just a few examples of what you’ll see in my slideshow tonight of why I am advocating for sources of revenue to address these needed investments in education and mental healthcare.

Jill Applegate: The other side to what we budget for it would be then family economic security. I’ll Lana talk about that.

Lana Shope: Currently in Iowa we have about fifteen percent of our children living in poverty and many more are living right on the edge of poverty, if not below the poverty guidelines. And they’re all struggling to make ends meet. And particularly for families when their children are very young, it’s the hardest time for them to have enough economic resources to meet their needs. The growing inequality of income and wealth in America is developing disparity in opportunity for kids as well who come from lower income households. Persistent poverty is one of the strongest predictors of future health, education and social well-being and strong work support programs and policies focused on family economic security lower the rates of children living in poverty and enable families to meet both their caregiving and breadwinning roles. What actions will you take to reduce multigenerational poverty and ensure that all children have access to equal opportunities in order to succeed?

John Norris: Well certainly our education formula needs to take into account where we have underserved and lower income populations and ensure the resources there, that those children get adequate education. We have three elementary school districts in the same part of Des Moines that the classroom turns over sixty percent a year. If you’re a teacher and your class changes sixty percent during the school year every year, which is a housing, affordable housing problem in our inner city, and so we have to address affordable housing, so we stabilize these children and remain in the same house, same school throughout the year.

I mentioned, raising the Earned Income Tax Credit and increasing child tax deductions above forty dollars a year, which is just crazy. I don’t think they did that in this bill, did they? They did, I forgot to include the sales tax on internet that they did this year. That’s also a revenue generator. So I advocate for increasing that Earned Income Tax Credit, child deduction. We need to raise the minimum wage. I’ve advocated for tagging it to the federal poverty level index at 130 percent of poverty level, for a family of four which is fifteen dollars and 37 cents an hour over five years. I’d like sooner, but you know the realistic opportunity for doing that on less than that timeline. None of that will happen if we know what the Democratic legislature or a more progressive legislature. Funding PreK through 12 at a level that enables it to meet those challenges I talked about. Eliminate the child care cliff is in my slide show and you can see tonight if you came as well, so that you don’t lose all benefits at eleven dollars and seventeen cents an hour, we stair step that down over time. I’d like to say, I have been saying across state for the twenty million dollars we gave Apple we could eliminate the child care cliff for the parents of five thousand children. But five thousand more, up to five thousand more people in the workforce versus the fifty jobs we gained from that twenty million dollars. So I’m doing some comparative out there so people see it’s not just impacting our, breaking the cycle of poverty, it’s impacting our existing businesses who need workers and can’t find them who are here paying taxes. We have a non-sustainable economic strategy which is to hand out tax breaks to out of state corporations. I’m advocating doing it like Colorado does to make sure that children who aren’t going on to college are in a job skills and life skills training program by the junior year in high school, before they graduate, they’re earning a paycheck so they can see a different path forward. But too many them making life choices right now and making them less employable or unemployable. And that’s another concern I hear from employers across the state, are too many of our applicants can’t pass a drug test. That’s related to poverty and really a lack of mental health services and lack of job training skills that enable them to see a different path forward. So those are, I’m probably leaving some out, but those are issues I’ve been addressing and trying to raise amongst Iowans of how we break the cycle of poverty.

I’ve also advocated that if we, I support, I have come out and support IWiLL [Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy], which I’m generally very opposed to regressive taxes but I advocate for increasing it beyond three eights to at least five eights cent so the additional quarter goes to tuition and income assistance for low income families, for those children who want to go on to college, that we lower the burden for tuition for those families in the short term. Long term we got to bring tuition and funding support for regents and community colleges up so that those tuitions come down. Given our current budget situation, I think our first focus has got to be on PreK through 12 and early childhood and the child care tax cliff. I love getting in the weeds but I guess, I hope I’m not too dry for you all!

Sheila Hansen: It’s alright, we live in the weeds.

Jill Applegate: And you just spoke a lot about early childhood and childcare and so I’m going to turn it over to Dara, and then Barb if you’d like to contribute as well, to talk a little bit more about child care and what that means to both children and our working parents.

Dara Madigan: So clearly you understand that working parents depend on accessible childcare in order to participate in the workforce and provide income for their families. You talked about Pre-k through 12 a lot. Eighty percent of the brain develops by age three so waiting until PreK is a little too late, if you look at these vital early learning opportunities. So effective early care and education is like a four-legged stool, it requires affordability, accessibility, high quality, and a supported workforce. Twenty four percent of Iowans live in a childcare desert where there are too few or no providers in their area. The cost for center based and family based child care is out of reach for many families, and we have some of the lowest eligibility in the nation at one hundred forty five percent of the federal poverty level. Iowa’s providers also struggle to make ends meet and attract professionals to the field with an average income of just over twenty thousand dollars a year, and are not reimbursed at the current market rate for enrolling children with assistance benefits. So how will you support affordable child care and access to programs, promote the importance of quality in those programs and address the needs of the child care workforce?

John Norris: Well a number of things. One is, and I’ll start with the PreK because, then I will go back to the younger years. Fully funding PreK which, I was over the Bidwell Center awhile back and talking to them about their challenges. And you know, ten hours a week is just, I mean it helps supplement the childcare, but the combination of the rate that we provide for the rate of child care assistance and the offset of the ten hours in Pre-k still make it difficult for families to get their children in full time daycare, enabling the parents to be in the workforce. Eliminating the child care cliff as I talked about which is critical that we stair step that down over time so it pays to stay in the workforce, and adequate funds, make sure adequate funds quality child care. Its revenue, it is a revenue issue meaning that we’ve got to find the revenues to be able to support fully funding child care throughout the state. One proposal I’ve talked about for rural Iowa is capitalizing on our new revenue source of wind turbines. We’ve got about thirty-five counties in the state now, almost all rural, or they are all rural. There’s a few in Blackhawk and a few, one turbine in Polk county, but thirty-five rural counties where you have a very difficult time finding adequate child care assistance. Those counties that have those wind farms will see over two billion dollars in property tax revenue the next 20 years. What I want to do is empower those counties to turn that, treat that wind farm revenue off budget, so they’re not capped with the county spending levels and they can have a vision Iowa exercise in each one of those counties to how they can change, transform their counties with that additional source for revenue per county. Like O’Brien county, it’s a hundred million dollars, five million dollars a year of next twenty million dollars. And I’m one of the things I’ve cited for them is to expand child care for their communities because they have workforce needs and they have child care needs. And so you’re solving multiple issues with the investment in child care. And so again we’ve got to find funding sources that, there’s not a lack aware, I don’t think, maybe you guys will tell me differently, I don’t know there’s a lack of awareness of the need for child care. There’s a lack of funding and, which is going to be more difficult next year after these cuts. So we’re looking for sources of funding. But I have met with a number of Chamber of Commerces and manufacturers and businesses across the state where this is one of the critical areas they point to. So how do we leverage resources, public resources. One is that wind tax turbine I just talked about, with local manufacturers and businesses to fund child care in our communities. I don’t have any secret weapon here except we’ve got to have the revenue sources and make it a priority.

Jill Applegate: Well and a similar issue then to child care as well would be the availability of afterschool and summer learning opportunities, because as kids age they don’t, that doesn’t mean that they lose that need for more supervision. So I’ll have Britney talk a little bit about Iowa’s need for afterschool.

Britney Samuelson: So as you know John, before school, afterschool and summer learning programs are crucial support for families by kind of filling in the gaps between work times and school times, and providing additional learning opportunities for youth beyond the classroom that are enriching and also providing a place where kids can be safe. Seventy-five of Iowa parents a support public funding for afterschool, and yet the need for programs far exceeds the funding available. Among Iowa’s K through 12 students, about one hundred forty thousand are waiting for an available program and one hundred fourteen thousand are alone and unsupervised afterschool. Iowa provides some support for afterschool and summer learning programs but needs to do much more, particularly to meet their goal of literacy by third grade. How would you ensure that all children have access to high quality before school, afterschool and summer learning programming?

John Norris: I would double and triple the Iowa Afterschool Alliance program. I assume you all know our connection, right? * I get it, it’s that same issue. How do we generate the revenues to make sure it’s available? Certainly, the integration of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] in afterschool has been an exciting project for us to work on and find that incredibly valuable to augment those, especially those children that have fallen behind and utilizing that afterschool time, that afterschool care time to catch them up. So quality afterschool is particularly critical for those of children who haven’t made their grade reading level. Fifty seven percent for students on free and reduced lunch. It’s ninety percent for students who aren’t on free and reduced lunch. It’s a pretty obvious, data indicators of where we have to focus our efforts to enable those, to get those children coming from low income families to catch up. I mean, I’m preaching to the choir here but you know, it starts early. But it’s a continued effort throughout the afterschool care which their in school to create a learning environment and to capitalize on integrating those learning environments with real content, so there’s extra assistance for those children to catch up or maintain.

Jill Applegate: Well let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about health and well-being. So I’ll have Mary Nelle talk about that topic for us.

Mary Nelle Trefz: Sure. Well you pretty much stole all the talking points and referenced in your opening.

John Norris: That’s what I tried to do!

Mary Nelle Trefz: Yes. So you mentioned that almost half of all babies in Iowa are born eligible for Medicaid and if you look at the Medicaid population as a whole, about half of all Medicaid members are kids. So we know Medicaid is a really critical source of health insurance coverage for children in Iowa and allows them to access those well child visits so their physical and mental well-being can be assessed and identify any sort of conditions early on and hopefully connect children services as needed. You also referenced that one in five children suffer from a mental health condition in this state, but less than two percent of those actually access services, pointing to the lack of a children’s mental health system here in our state. So our question for you: What actions will you take to ensure access to services to address the developmental, emotional, and mental health of infants, children, and young adults?

John Norris: Well certainly the privatization of Medicaid has been a critical factor in this. With nearly seventy percent of our mental health patients on Medicaid. We are driving health care providers from the state. So that’s one of the most, in my mind the most critical pieces is to bring back in most or all of Medicaid to a state administered. And use that to help address the short fall in the children’s mental health system, because many of those children are on Medicaid, and we’ve got to have reimbursement rates and a commitment to providers that make them want to stay in Iowa or practice in Iowa. I mean it’s twofold. One is the rates don’t even cover their overhead. More importantly I think most people go into mental health services, particularly children’s, go with the goal of making impact on someone’s lives, and we’re not creating an environment in which they can feel like they can make an impact. And so the provider levels are critical. And particularly in rural Iowa it’s just nearly impossible to find mental health services for children. Partnering with our schools, providing as much in school opportunities we can for evaluation, treatment. Utilization of telemedicine in rural areas because we know we can do quality evaluations through [Telemedicine], which helps reduce some of that burden or some of the challenge for getting mental providers into rural areas. I think those are all steps we can take and the Telemed piece is not even a high cost piece. We’re just not initiating enough action, and Medicaid commercial MCOs [Managed Care Organizations] are reluctant to reimburse or cover any of this. So that’s, you know you look at the organizational behavior of any organization and you look at the behavior of the Medicaid system. There’s just, you know the Pulitzer Prize winner, right, with the Des Moines Register and exposing the failure of what they were doing. So if you understand the organizational behavior and look at organizational structure, and the structure of our privatized Medicaid is inherently wrong and not going to succeed when the motivating factor for managing it is for profit, as opposed to health here. So we have to begin to bring back, within a state a d ministered system, those most severe cases of mental health illness and disability. First because we have to stop the continual disruption of the care coordinators amongst the families who are under stress and can least deal with the stress of the constant changing of care coordinators. This has been traumatic as you all know for many, many families in the last two years in Iowa, this transition, and it’s got to stop.

Jill Applegate: On something related to health and well-being would be safety, children being safe in their homes and in their communities. And so I’m going to turn it over to Abby to talk a little bit about safety and security in Iowa.

Abby Patterson: In 2015 almost eighty-three hundred children were found by the state to be abused or neglected by caregivers and nearly six thousand children were placed in foster care system. Iowa has rates the national average in both abuse and neglect rates, and out of home placements for children to be found to be victims of abuse. Child welfare services are intended to prevent or respond to abuse and neglect and provide safety, permanency and provide for the well-being of children removed from their homes. Yet too many children enter and remain in the foster care system and don’t have permanency in their lives. Each year children age out of foster care with major barriers to success, and current investments place greater emphasis on placement than prevention. Additionally, two high profile deaths of children who were adopted from Iowa foster care system, and the investigations that followed raise concerns about the capacity of our current system. So my question is what actions would you take to reduce the number of children who are subject to abuse and neglect, and how would you ensure that youth aging out of the foster care system have a promising future?

John Norris: I’m not as familiar with the foster care system to be honest with you, other than if I hadn’t run for governor my wife was really serious about trying to get a foster child this year, so I kind of screwed that up for the family! And I’m not going to pledge today as governor I would do that, but it’s something we’ve talked about. I think raising the profile of the need for finding homes for folks, for kids would be one thing, as a non-cost, I trying to think of non-cost items. And not just, you know so much of this comes with funding and the caseload for our DHS workers. I don’t know how much this directly impacted the placement of foster children but I would, I’m just going to make the assumption that globally that’s including the money, many of the functions we expect DHS to be able to do and it’s nearly impossible for them to manage their caseload today. So I assume that impacts their ability to find homes and care for foster children. So again it’s a funding issue, but you also have raising the profile of the need to find, and I don’t know the data on this. Is it difficult to find foster homes? Is that a complicated by the payments system, or just on the willingness of finding enough people who would take in foster children?

Abby Patterson: I can definitely say I’m not an expert in foster care. I know that there’s-

John Norris: Your made me feel better, then!

Abby Patterson: That I know that there’s a shortage of homes for children who need foster care services.

John Norris: It’s got to be the most challenging.

Sheila Hansen: I think a lot of it has to do with the unique needs of a lot of the kids that are coming out of, that are needing foster care, too. And that you mentioned drug, I think you mentioned drugs and the impact on babies. And we have the opioid crisis too. And so you have this need for people who can really be there twenty-four hours a day and take care of that child that’s in care. So I’m a registered foster parent, too. One of the things when we decided to become registered is reading a newspaper article that said Webster County has the most infants and toddlers in need of care, you know foster care and so like, you know I think they still do need, the counties and they have a need for foster care.

John Norris: So if you don’t have enough families where do the children go? What’s the system, what is the system?

Sheila Hansen: That’s a good question. I can tell you it can get, probably some days seven or eight calls, can you take Johnny? We have a two-year-old. And believe me, I think about what happened to Johnny. Or you know, can you take Sophia? She’s one years old, are you interested? And they just go down the line and you know, I know some of them out in offices of the DHS building, some of them do go to emergency care and short-term placements and they move from one home to another because people can only take them, like I can take them for a couple of days, I can take them for a couple of days, until they find a more permanent placement.

Charlie Bruner: One of the things, I know Sheila and her circumstances. She’s not only in foster parent but she’s really a unification, a reunification partner with the home from which child was taken, really working in that two-generation approach. And I think that there are issues around how we finance the foster care system but also how we really support and value and respect foster parents and provide them what they need. The work around reunification and the context of how you build that relationship, often barriers are placed on families when they train them, rather than being supported in how they achieve those things. One of the things I was really pleased when Governor Vilsack was governor was, he was, he knew the foster system, and he spoke to I think in a real way the needs of kids and their families and the role foster families can play, not only in providing a safe, secure environment, but also in supporting that child’s ability to come to grips with and understand and really heal from the placement and sometimes enable that reunification. We have very few, historically, governors who been child welfare governors. It’s kind of a, something, it’s almost, it’s not a great boon to be a child welfare governor, because things can go wrong in the system. But I think that’s one of the things that we really need is to have an attention given to the child welfare system, to the players in the system as you mentioned: the workers, the foster families, and the birth families who have things going on in their lives that have caused the need for intervention but who still need to have supports and many can grow to be, they want to love their kids but they need the supports that enable them to exercise that and to find that support.

Lana Shope: I think a lot of it can be resolved if we resolve some of the other issues we’ve spoken about. And Charlie’s right. I mean we have three hundred thirty thousand people who walk through our seventeen local Community Action Agencies in Iowa and I’ve yet to meet anyone who said, you know what I really want to mess up my kid’s life. You know, I’ve not heard one person say that. And yet things happen or they get desperate and they feel they have no choice but to do something that then jeopardizes the well-being of their child, because they’re in crisis. They’re desperate and they do desperate things. So if there’s something done on the front end before they get to that crisis situation, we’re less likely to need as many foster homes. And I think Charlie’s right. You know, in our Family Development Program we’ve been doing this for thirty years probably, was it 1989 Charlie? We passed in 1989 which was also the last year we increased the FIP [Family Investment Program] payment. You might want to keep that your back pocket. And you know some of the hardest situations in that self-sufficiency program are the ones where moms have lost their kids and yet they continue to stay enrolled in the program so that they can change. They want to change. But they need support to be able to do that. And they’re not getting it from DHS. We had a conversation with DHS last week about doing a focus group, and they’re like, well we never see families, we never see families. Our emergency maintenance workers just do everything over the phone. And as the state institution that works with families in poverty that really bothers me, that families can’t even go to an office and talk to somebody for help. Which then sends them to our agencies because we’re the only nonprofit left out there in rural Iowa. And the churches can’t meet the emergency needs because the churches are going away and they don’t have the resources they used to have, because families don’t have the money to give to the church. So you know something on the front end that makes it easier for families to succeed is a key part of the success of foster care.

Sheila Hansen: And DHS has a great program called Parents as Partners. A lot of times if you have a birth parent who’s lost their child to the system, they’re very angry and they don’t want to talk to DHS, they don’t even want to talk to the foster parents and that relationship is hard. So they have parents who have experience losing their child to the system and getting their child back. So they, they’re peers and they know what they’ve been through and they will talk to them and work with them through what they need to do to get their child back. And I think that’s a promising, a promising program.

Denise Rathman: But. They don’t pay them enough.

Sheila Hansen: Right.

Denise Rathman: So they can’t get a living wage and doing this fantastic service. There’s a lot of attrition-

Lana Shope: Turnover.

Denise Rathman: Of that program as I understand it. Another issue for those same folks who they would be excellent people to come into work at DHS in different capacities can’t because they have this background of child abuse. They’re not allowed to work in the child welfare system, so that is a real a punishment for them as well, and impacts the people with lived experience who might be able to work and impact the system.

Angelica Cardenas: So I know that we’ll probably be moving to another question, but I just wanted to also share that the child welfare, children of color are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system. If you look at states, we’re at the bottom for what’s happening with our African America, Latino, Native American kids. And as kids get older you’re more likely to stay in foster care and there is very little support around families of color. The other thing is, this is just a note regarding the two deaths we had. These two girls were adopted out of the foster care system, but they were also homeschooled which is another issue. So you know thinking about the child welfare system and how it impacts families of color.

Lana Shope: You asked!

John Norris: I know, I asked for a reason! It is equally important, just not much in the discussion.

Jill Applegate: But as Lana mentioned, it’s what do we do on the front end. And I think all of these issues are connected. And if we can get families to be economically secure to start off with then we can mitigate many of these problems that we’ve talked about. So that’s why we do the work that we do. But I guess, so we only have just one other set question for you. And it’s on a similar topic. I’m going to have Denise talk about the very urgent issue we’re facing here in Iowa of human trafficking.

Denise Rathman: I think, some people don’t have any sense of the problem here in Iowa around human trafficking, because I think it’s a horrible subject and they don’t really want to think about the fact that could be going on in their back yard. And it is. Forty percent of the victims of reported human trafficking cases in Iowa do involve minors. Factors that make children particularly vulnerable to trafficking include a history of abuse, patterns running away, unstable home life, and involvement in the child welfare system. Perpetrators do target children because their age makes them more vulnerable and they are easier, can be easier to manipulate. They could be recruited from schools, parks and other public places, including foster care and group homes. Human trafficking could happen anywhere at any time. How will you address the issue of human trafficking and ensure the broad-based training needed to educate all Iowans who serve, teach, protect, respond, or utilize our natural resources.

John Norris: Well let me ask you, is this, is, so creating public awareness I presume is necessary so we increase the spotting or identifying. And help me out here on which way, I don’t know the best indicator or best procedures. Just do an open thinking here on policy. So I would presume increasing public awareness, and I’ve heard a little bit of human trafficking. It’s only been raised with me three times on the campaign. So I interpret that to mean there’s not a great deal of awareness about it. And then educating the public, creating awareness and educating the public about how to spot it.

Denise Rathman: I think part of the problem is that people don’t think about that time spikes and when that happens. You’d be quite, I personally was quite appalled to learn that A) it spikes during state fair. But what was really appalling to me is it spikes during Drake Relays. I don’t know why I felt those were different but I did. And also how hard-

John Norris: Would that be because you have people not living here coming in from out of town. Behavior changes for some folks that can’t do it in their own community, I don’t know?

Denise Rathman: Possibly, and I think the I thought of as far as the state fair, and I’m not an expert in trafficking clearly. But with the State Fair, just like domestic violence abuse calls go up. It’s a lot of it’s due to loosening of inhibitions due to alcohol consumption. That could apply as well for trafficking. And then we’ve got the geographical pattern that people don’t necessarily think about. We’ve got two intersections of major interstates and so it’s easy to come in and out. We’ve got here in town obviously I35 and I80 corridor. And then on the western side of the state we’ve got I29 and I80 corridor. So that makes it a little bit easier to, for the mobility of the traffickers.

John Norris: So you got public workers piece, which is, so you engage in community policing if you will, kind of theoretically. So what’s the law enforcement piece, and is there just, is there not sufficient resources, not sufficient law enforcement officials that are tasked with this or engaged in this? Or is it lack of cooperation between federal and the state, do you have any indicators?

Lana Shope: Well, what do we have on the patrol at night now in Iowa? What is it, the number of highway patrol vehicles out from two to six is like five or something. Some unrealistic, ‘safe’ number. So you know I do think that’s part of it. I think, they are the ones that are going in and out at the rest stops and, just having an awareness, making sure the staff who work in those facilities know what to look for. But I think increasing public safety and their in-depth understanding. I don’t mean just a peripheral understanding, but I mean an in-depth understanding of signs of human trafficking is key.

Denise Rathman: And I think one of the best practices is that actually as I understand it has come out of state of Iowa and so it can be applied to other population is working with truck drivers, because they are in places where this is occurring and so we can raise the awareness of them to be paying attention. And I would think that some of the same strategies could apply to the general population, they just aren’t at the truck stops as often. But that was a good target. There is a guy in the Attorney General’s office who does training around human trafficking. One guy, who’s willing to go statewide, I would say that increasing that. We’ve got several different groups scattered across the state that are working with survivors. That’s awesome and absolutely needed. But again, getting in on that prevention. What is it that we can do to keep these kids who are suspect to be recruited safe so that they don’t feel like they have to do that in order to escape whatever it is they’re trying to escape.

John Norris: So, we’re talking adult education and the general public awareness. What’s in place now in schools?

Sheila Hansen: Well we’ve been trying to pass legislation around sex education training, or sex education and other resources that does training in schools with, so teachers could recognize it, other nurses, other folks could maybe recognize signs or I guess, I’m not the expert on it either, our expert isn’t here. Some other risk factors that they might see around human trafficking. And the other thing too and I know there had been some legislation floated the last couple of years around increasing penalties for human trafficking. And I can’t tell you a whole lot about that. But that has been a difficult one to get passed, some reason I don’t know what that reason is.

Denise Rathman: Also you educate the DHS intake workers. I heard one horror story which is only one story, right, but usually if there’s one there’s more. Of where a DHS worker, they got a call that a sixteen-year-old had been human trafficked by her own parent, with a much older, like single man, I guess I shouldn’t assume that. And that answer from DHS was, well you know she was of age and consented. Well fortunately the law enforcement in that area picked up on it. And so I think you know really, getting everybody up to speed on what is truly human trafficking versus, oh she’s at the age of consent so that was alright.

Charlie Bruner: Human trafficking is an industry, and it’s a shady industry that’s profitable. And it preys upon, not the people from Taken or other movies but preys upon those who are not in the, I mean kids who are already struggling-

John Norris: Rural populations, yeah.

Charlie Bruner: Who lack those supports. And I think that there have been bipartisan support for doing something about human trafficking. But mostly that’s been reflected in, we’re going to enact tougher criminal penalties which, in addition to that you have to have more actual enforcement and education that we talked about. But I also think one thing that’s really been missing here is the commitment of resources to those people who have become victims of trafficking and to help them get their lives back together and so forth. And I think it was mentioned that there are some support groups and people go out there and do this work. but that hasn’t been fronted, that hasn’t been a major emphasis upon public policy, how do we create that healing capacity and response. As well as the preventative response. One of the things Iowa has which I think is great, is it’s made a commitment to foster youth and former foster youth in terms of supporting them through the Achieving Maximum Potential, through Youth and Shelter Services, and youth policies that are actually combined to provide support for kids who are in foster care and have been in foster care to connect up with each other in social support activities and also in making recommendations to the system about what should exist for kids and families. They’ve been some of the most outspoken people around what we need in order to prevent and respond to human trafficking. And some of those kids have been human trafficked. You know, I think their credo is ‘don’t make decisions about us without us’.

Lana Shope: Yeah.

Charlie Bruner: And what Iowa’s distinguished itself from most other states is providing support that goes beyond having a once a year gathering of a bunch of youth to get them to make recommendations to the system but to having twenty chapters around the state which meet on a monthly basis and connect with one another. One of the first things that happens when kids get into the foster care system is their lives, their connections with others are disrupted. From their neighbor, from their, from somebody who might be a mentor, from a cousin or uncle or aunt who might provide support.

John Norris: That’s interesting, because I was thinking, there’s some good in that and bad in that. So if you’re a care provider or foster care parent, how do you, are you trained enough to know which ones those relationships are important for the child to maintain and which ones do you spot are important to try and sever. I would assume there is some balances-

Charlie Bruner: There’s some, I guess, experience, and Sheila can speak to this, too. Yeah, I think there is, as far as foster families kind of a feeling like there can be a kind of, I’ve rescued them from this home and I don’t want to do it. Most foster families, if they would say, can we have a safe environment where we can meet the foster parents and understand what’s going on, and be supported in doing, find that they do become those agents. Often that family does love the child, whether or not they can bring the, whether or not they can be a full partner and raise their child. That child also wants to know and have some closure around what happened with my family. Maya Angelou said it’s hard to convince a child of his own worth if he’s been told that he’s not worthy to live in the only home he’s ever known. And that’s what the disruption and separation causes harm that may be necessary. But the more you get and nurture and support the voice of those foster kids and have them recognize and have them be able to connect and speak their minds. The more you give, I mean foster families often go to lengths of retaining these connections when they have to pay for it out of their own pocket. And they got to drive their kid fifteen miles to visit his foster parent. I mean the whole system needs in some ways to be redirected toward what’s in the best interest of the child, is supposedly what the system’s about, but then let’s really talk and know about the child and the child’s experiences and what the child is feeling and that, kids becoming system’s kids where they don’t have any outside group of people who they know can look after them, like my son had a next-door neighbor, a teacher and a coach in addition to us. When they’re severed from that, that makes it lonely growing up-

John Norris: Sure.

Charlie Bruner: And I think our systems have to be redirected there, and the same goals in terms of kids in preventing and responding to trafficking. We have to have more of those watchful eyes and mentors and supports and have to have that our system that’s geared to that.

Sheila Hansen: I think just to add that, I think as a foster parent, I think just as a human being your instinct is to protect. And so you think you’re protecting them from what they were just taken from because somehow it was harmful and so you want to protect them from that. But I think the you know you get to realize that there is a relationship there-

John Norris: That relationship is important.

Sheila Hansen: That they deserve to know and have that have that opportunity to figure out whether or not, if it’s that ties are severed via the state or whatever then, you know, there are some things you have to follow but, you know, trying to keep that relationship going the best you can.

Lana Shope: I think it’s a frightening too. I mean I think sometimes, if we frame it as ideally, in the perfect world parents with not or children would not be separated from their parents. But in reality we know they are, and if we can frame it in the process of, how do we get these back, how do we get this family back together? So what do the parents need in order for the child to be safe and loved by their parents.

Denise Rathman: One of the issues that puts kids at risk is the fact that they’re moving from foster home to foster home-

Lana Shope: The stress.

Denise Rathman: And they don’t have that continuity of care. They don’t have that continuity of relationships, be it schools, neighbors.

John Norris: Such as kids moving in those elementary schools, it’s just the same-

Lana Shope: Exactly the same thing.

John Norris: It’s the disruption, and-

Denise Rathman: Right. And so that makes it really hard for them.

John Norris: The development that comes with that, the sense of-

Lana Shope: Connection.

Denise Rathman: Yeah, so looking for that sense of connection I think is one of the risk factors for the kids who are in the foster care system.

John Norris: Yeah. That sense of connection is, you can see the non-poverty children losing that sense of connection, that you see it everywhere. It’s a dangerous time.

Jill Applegate: Well I want to be cognizant of everyone’s time and your time as well. I just want to see if there were any last questions that any of our members would like to bring up, or you John if you have any questions for us about any issues since we do have many experts in the room. But to have the opportunity, yeah-

Angelica Cardenas: Actually I just have a comment and I know I mentioned a little bit about disproportionality in child welfare. But if you look at all these issues, there is disproportionality in what happens to families of color in all these different issues. So just wanted to bring it up in thinking about these issues, really thinking about how there’s communities that, well it isn’t, it won’t float all boats, that whole thing-

John Norris: What, what-

Angelica Cardenas: And we really have to be more intentional in the way we think about what Iowa families need.

John Norris: I presume you’re familiar with the One Economy Study that we did at my business. The Black Polk County One Economy Study.

Angelica Cardenas: I don’t think so.

John Norris: I’ve got one brochure left. But it was on, it was more specific to the African-American and refugee community in Des Moines. But some very informative data there about poverty and additional barriers for success.

Lana Shope: Is it on your website too?

John Norris: Yeah, yeah. Obviously, that’s where I, it wasn’t from that study but that was a more recent conversation that I had with Isaiah about the elementary school turnover. But we’ve got to, I get so frustrated with Des Moines. I’m sure it’s elsewhere besides Des Moines but their idea of trying to make Des Moines a more diverse community is to recruit professionals from out of state to come here. We’ve got a diverse community already. Why don’t we invest in their success? And then maybe those other people, professionals, will come here because it’s an inviting community for people of diverse, all diversities. So we’re missing the boat and how we become more successful diverse state. And that’s generally always through helping people up the economic ladder, and that’s where we’re failing in too many areas in Des Moines, statewide, but Des Moines is a glaring example, I consider a powder keg. If we don’t address those disparities which are noted in that study.

Jill Applegate: Well I just, thank you everyone so much again for being here this morning. And John to you thank you for taking your time again to talk with us today. We look forward to our continuing conversation with you as we move to the primary-

John Norris: I look forward to this meeting in the Governor’s office!

Jill Applegate: If there is anything we can ever do for you, let us know. We have many other organizations other than what’s represented in the room that is part of the Coalition and we can connect you with anyone that you might want some information from or advice so, and then just my last request is if we can get a photo with you, and we’ll get all of this information out from the meeting today to you and to all the members so we can share that with voters as we get really close to the primary day now.

John Norris: Thank you all for, first of all what you do and for the opportunity to share with you. If, I’m doing my best as I said in this campaign to, part of the responsibility I think of campaigning that is to advance the agenda that you want to get the public behind when you get into power. So I’ve been very focused on these issues for that very purpose. Having said that, you’re the experts. I’m not the policy wonk on this. If you find something that helps me tell that story more effectively or something I’m saying wrong, please please I’m want to get this right. And I want to get the public behind recognizing how important this is. So I ask you, that you don’t have to do it because you’re helping endorsing me or supporting me but just make me a better advocate for the causes that you’re working on because I want to help advance that cause.

Jill Applegate: Absolutely think he can do that. Thank you so much.

 

* John Norris is a Partner at the State Public Policy Group, which hosts the Iowa Afterschool Alliance.

 

 

 

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