Hotlines Link Public with Resources, Answers



AMES, Iowa – Legal and gambling questions; health, teen and family questions; federal aid, human service and agricultural questions: The Iowa Concern toll-free hotline is prepared for all these and more. Answers are one phone call away.


“We find a lot of people who say it’s nice to have someone to talk to them,” said Margaret Van Ginkel,director of Iowa Concern and other Iowa State University Extension hotlines.  “When they call our lines they get a person instead of ‘press one for this or two for that.'”


The 24-hour, seven day-a-week phone line began as Rural Concern during 1985 in the midst of the '80s farm crisis. With additional financial grants over the years, more lines have been added. Now the chief line is called Iowa Concern and includes a teen line, healthy families line, gambling line and Story County human services line. 


Additionally, the lines have grown in breadth and reach since 1985. Van Ginkel has seen an increase in users over the years and believes it is the human approach that has allowed them to become reliable and preferred resources for Iowa citizens.


The main purpose of the anonymous hotlines is to connect people with information and resources. Drake law students and an attorney are prepared to answer all kinds of legal questions from divorce to taxes, while trained operators provide answers to other inquiries and link the caller with additional resources when needed.


“We don’t do therapy over the phone, but we will hook up people with mental counselors if needed,” Van Ginkel said. “If they have a legal question that they want some information on or if they need another opinion, want to find out a law or feel stressed, then those are the right reasons to call us.”


Iowa Concern receives an average of 900 callers per month with a high percentage of the calls coming from the Des Moines area. These calls cover all topics and include but are not limited to legal, financial, mental, emotional and disaster areas. Additionally, there is a place on the Iowa Concern Web site that shares personal accounts of other Iowans receiving assistance.


Teenline is designed to help teenagers deal with health and emotional issues. A lot of calls in the past have been questions about eating disorders, relationships with friends and pregnancies, but the line is not limited to those topics. Teenline also welcomes questions on violence, relationships with parents, AIDS/HIV, alcohol or drug use, sexual relationships, stress and sexually transmitted diseases. Currently, Van Ginkel is working with school nurses to promote the Teenline in their schools and help market the available resource while increasing its use.


A part-time nurse helps answer health questions coming mainly from the Healthy Family Line, which include topics such as immunization, cancer, healthy living and more.


Lastly, the Bets Off line receives approximately 600 calls per month from people who are struggling with a gambling problem and need to be connected with a gambling counselor, while the 211 line offers simple contact information for services in Story County.


The lines also offer assistance to people with limited English speaking skills. A half-time employee speaks fluent Spanish, and the other operators have access to phones for translation into additional languages.


The toll-free numbers for the hotlines are

            Iowa Concern: (800) 447-1985

            Teenline: (800) 443-8336

            Healthy Families: (800) 369-2229

            Bets Off: (800) Bets off   (800) 238-7633

            211: 211 (in the Story County area)  


For more information and additional resources, visit:  

Iowa Concern Web site


Contacts :
Margaret Van Ginkel, director of Iowa Concern, (515) 727-0656,

Laura Sternweis , Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775,

Hannah McCulloh, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-7581,

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