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Results of Investigation Into Iowa DHS Show Overworked, Undertrained Employees

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IOWA --  The deaths of two teenage girls sparked an investigation of Iowa's Department of Human Services--one the DHS asked for.

On Friday, the 106 pages of documented results released by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group paint a picture of overworked, under-trained employees in a department with low morale.

Channel 13 sat down with a former DHS employee who backs up these results. Amy Sacco was Natalie Finn's case worker, and she ended up being fired by the DHS after Finn starved to death in October 2016.

"This is a horrific thing that happened to this child, and DHS is really good at sweeping things under the rug, and I feel that by firing myself was their answer to, you know, we'll fire Amy Sacco and maybe then it will show that we did something," Sacco said.

The study shows child abuse assessments in Iowa are up 43% compared to last year. Sacco does not find that hard to believe, saying employees typically get at least one new case each day.

"So if you think about that in a month's period, that's 20 new cases. I mean, there were some days where you would get two," she said.

According to the study, more than 20 cases per month is common in Iowa counties like Polk and Linn.

"It kinda felt like you were just chasing your tail. And then you'd go home and you'd finish up a report that was due the next day."

The investigation also found DHS staff believe their training is insufficient. Sacco also agrees with this, and often wonders if more training might have saved Natalie Finn's life.

"I couldn't get direction on what I was supposed to do, so I had this court order and no one was trained on it," she said. "I would ask my supervisor, and she would say, you know, let's get this served and keep going out to the home."

All of this created poor moral within DHS. The report blames "recent legislative changes in collective bargaining, budget cuts, workload and a culture that seems heavily compliance focused." DHS' new director, Jerry Foxhoven, has said improving moral is one of his goals, but has not commented directly on the report hat is critical of DHS.

Channel 13 reached out to DHS for comment, but had not yet heard back at the time of publication.