When I talked to Altoona grandma Jeanne Munson this week, she told me she has two college degrees, a solid career in information technology, a beautiful home and a clean criminal record — well, except for a couple of speeding tickets.
She said she works hard, goes to church and loves her family. So when her grandchildren needed a place to stay after the Iowa Department of Human Services got involved with their household, she opened her doors.
She wanted custody of all four kids. Instead, she says, on DHS’ recommendation, the courts gave custody of the children to another family. She hasn’t seen or heard from them since 2009.
The 57-year-old says she went bankrupt trying to fight DHS. And even though recently released DHS statistics show the agency is getting better at placing at-risk children with family members instead of in foster care, Munson is one of dozens of Iowans I’ve talked to who say the agency is far too quick to remove children from a family’s care.
Foster families serve a critical need when children have no relatives willing or able to care for them. But research shows children do better by nearly every measure when placed with kin. Iowa still has a long way to go to put family preservation in the forefront, as other states have done.
After Munson lost her grandkids, she says she sank into a depression that lasted for years. No more: “Now I’ve got my boxing gloves on,” she told me. “I’m ready to fight.”
She’s organized a protest against DHS on the west side of the Capitol in Des Moines next Saturday, Sept. 22, at 11 a.m.
Munson hopes at least 50 people show up to bring attention to problems with state child protective services. She wants stronger rights for grandparents and for trained police investigators to handle reports of child abuse, for starters.
“Causing harm to innocent children under the guise of erring on the side of safety is not acceptable or justifiable,’” she wrote in a news release — the first she’s written.
But why should average Iowans care about this, I asked her. People who have never been involved with child protective services and likely never will?
For one thing, the state spends an outrageous amount of money on these cases, she told me.
“When I was sitting in that courtroom. There were six attorneys,” she said. “Only one of them was being paid privately. That was my attorney.”
“I shouldn’t have even been in that courtroom because I shouldn’t have had to fight for my grandchildren,” she said.
No one should.
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