Child Abuse and Neglect

Recently, the Des Moines Register published an article regarding two lawsuits filed against the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS).  The lawsuits allege that children in Iowa are being removed from their homes as a result of voluntary agreements signed by non-custodial parents.  Voluntary removal agreements are not part of any official court proceedings.  They are used outside of formal court supervision to remove children from reported harmful situations.

DHS explains that voluntary removal agreements are used as a first option in an attempt to place the child with relatives or foster care parents.  They believe that with the agreement being voluntary, DHS will be able to remove the child from any perceived harm more quickly than if they had to file a formal Child in Need of Assistance petition and have the child declared a ward of the state.

Concerns

More Children Being Placed in Foster Care

There are, however, concerns about the voluntary removal process.  There are more foster care placements because of the voluntary agreements.  An Iowa City attorney, Natalie Cronk, has filed the aforementioned two lawsuits claiming that as a result of the voluntary agreements, children are being placed in foster care without proof that they were unsafe in their original home.  Cronk states that the burden of proof has shifted to the parents to prove that their home is unsafe, rather than DHS having to prove there are unsafe conditions in the home.

Non-Custodial Parents Signing Voluntary Removal Agreements

Also, a major concern with voluntary removal agreements is that non-custodial parents are allowed to sign them.  In the two lawsuits filed, non-custodial parents signed voluntary removal agreements causing the child to be removed from their custodial parents.  DHS states that they cannot know who has custody when they respond to allegations of abuse.

Voluntary Removal Agreements and Parents’ Rights

Cronk believes that voluntary removal agreements violate parents’ rights, however, parents sign them because they are at risk of losing their child permanently.  Another concern is the lack of court supervision and lack of representation with the agreements.  Children do not have their own guardian ad litems, and it is DHS social workers who make decisions rather than judges.  Some in the child welfare system are concerned because there are voluntary removal agreements being used in cases involving serious risks to children, including meth, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

DHS attempts to take parents’ rights into consideration by involving them in family team meetings.  These meetings involve all of the parties and involved professionals of a case together to make decisions about the child’s welfare.

Violation of Parents’ Rights or Focusing DHS Services?

The question raised by these two lawsuits is whether the voluntary removal agreements are a threat to parents’ rights or a way for DHS to better focus their attention on very high risk cases and provide attention to all children who need it in Iowa.

There has been a similar situation in Illinois where a class action lawsuit against the use of voluntary safety plans (Illinois’ equivalent to Iowa’s voluntary removal agreements).  The Family Defense Center out of Chicago won that case against the State of Illinois, however the decision was overturned by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled that any safety plan is voluntary under the law.

 

 

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Recently, CNN reported on a disturbing story  involving a set of Egyptian parents in a United Arab Emirates airport who, rather than waiting for their son’s visa paperwork to process, decided to put him in one of their suitcases and continue with their travels.  Their 5 month old son was discovered by a baggage x-ray machine and had been in the parent’s carry-on luggage.  The boy was reportedly in good health when found, however, the airport police reported that this was the first incident of its kind.

Child Abuse in the Middle East

The United Arab Emirates is a country consisting of a federation of seven emirates with a single national president.  With just a quick Google search, one can find many child abuse stories originating in this part of the world.  Although it does sound like efforts to minimize and eliminate child abuse are increasing, the religious and political institutions that exist in the middle east may make it more difficult to control.  Many acts that would be considered criminal in the United States (and even in the middle eastern countries) are kept secret within families because of a concern to protect an individual’s or a family’s honor.

Child Abuse in Iowa

Here in Iowa, Code section 232.68  provides the definitions of what is considered child abuse.  The Department of Human Services (DHS) has the legal authority to conduct an assessment of child abuse when it is alleged that:

  • The victim is a child
  • There has been:
    • Physical Abuse
    • Mental Injury
    • Sexual Abuse
    • Child Prostitution
    • Presence of Illegal Drugs
    • Denial of Critical Care
    • Manufacturing or Possession of a Dangerous Substance
    • Bestiality in the Presence of a Child
  • The abuse is the result of the acts or omissions of the person responsible for the care of the child

If the incident that occurred in the United Arab Emirates had happened in Iowa, it certainly could have been reported to DHS for physical abuse of a child as well as the denial of critical care.

Reporting Child Abuse in Iowa

If you believe you have witnessed child abuse in Iowa, call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-362-2178.  It is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and you may remain anonymous if you choose.  However, if the child is in imminent danger, it is important that you call 911 immediately.

 

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