Opinion piece published in July 1, 2003 paper issue of Des Moines Register
only. It is not available on-line.
Abuse I suffered still happens to other kids
by Shelly Terpstra (Member of Register's Young Adult Contributors Board*)
I was born in 1970. My parents were alcoholics and drug addicts, and
neither had the common sense to take care of a dog, let alone a child. By
the time I was born, my mother had two other children by different fathers,
neither of whom she had married. Our mother hated my father, so I was the
child she ended up hating the most.
The state human-services agency was involved with our family from before I
was born. Social workers were first called about our mother when neighbors
suspected neglect. The report read that when the social workers arrived at
the home, a young boy about 2½ years old had gangrene on his head and face.
Our mother's response was that she didn't think it serious, but my brother
was hospitalized. Thereafter, the human-services agency was involved with
our family with the idea of keeping the core family together at all costs.
There were, however, times when the human-services agency moved us to foster
homes. When social workers decided my mother's home was "suitable," we were
sent back. I was taken from the home more oten than my older siblings.
Once when a judge was about to send me home, my mother told him, "If you
give her back to me, I will hurt her." So they waited. Eventually they
gave me back.
Finally, my mother abandoned me at the age of 4, and I went to another
The human-services agency allowed my birth mother unsupervised visitations
with me for a number of months, when she was verbally abusive and neglected
my physical and emothional needs. Eventually, my mother must have grown
tired of the entire process. She took my older siblings and left the state.
It wasn't until I was nearly 10 that the state terminated the parental
rights of my birth mother and father. I was then able to be legally adopted
by my foster parents, which literally saved my life.
Shelby Duis died after suffering brutal abuse along with severe neglect.
The Iowa Department of Human Services had received more than 20 reports of
suspicion of abuse and neglect from neighbors and others concerned with what
they were seeing. Reports as of this year have shown an increase in child
abuse in this state of 22 percent over the last two years. In the case of
Jonathan Waller in 1992, his mother's boyfriend broke his arm, scratched and
brusied him, and beat his head severely enough to put him into a coma. When
he regained consciousness, he could not walk, talk, breath or eat on his
What happened to me 30 years ago is still happening to children now.
Gov. Tom Vilsack has publicly spoken of his own childhood abuse. I want to
know what he is going to do about this deadly trend in the failure to
protect this state's children. Abuse is an outrage and a disgrace to Iowa
and to the parents who do care for and protect their children.
The innocent should not die because the government programs, policies and
legislation do not have the time, money or workers to protect children.
*Thirty-five Iowans were selected to serve on the board to offer diversity
of opinions from writers who range in age from mid-teens to mid-30s.