On January 1, 2014, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) began using a Differential Response (DR) System to respond to allegations of neglect and abuse. The system uses two pathways: Family Assessment (FA) and Child Abuse Assessments (CAA) for responding to allegations of neglect and abuse (DHS, 2015a).
The DR System did not change the criteria for accepting a report for assessment but changes made to Iowa Administrative Code did affect worker response times. Labeling of perpetrators and victims, and the report conclusion categories for less serious cases once accepted for assessment. Code changes also were made to outline a clear path for reassigning cases from the FA path to the CAA path. The fundamental premise for decisions is that “safety of a child is first and foremost” (DHS, 2015a).
Findings after two years on the DR System “remain promising.” The system is working as designed and outcomes have been positive. Children who receive an FA are not less safe than those receiving a CAA (DHS, 2015a).
The new system was intended to be more family-friendly, flexible, and better able to engage and empower families in making changes to improve child well-being while still keeping children safe (DHS, 2013a). Experience and data for 2014 and 2015 so far suggest that these goals are realistic. Families are making greater use of voluntary services and children remain safe (DHS, 2015a, 2014a, 2014b).
All reports of child abuse received by DHS are immediately subjected to the intake process, and the decision to accept or reject a report of child abuse is made at this stage.
The purpose of intake is to obtain information to ensure that reports of child abuse meeting the criteria for assessment are accepted and reports that do not meet the legal requirements are appropriately rejected. DHS policy is to accept a report when there is insufficient information to reject it.
The first step in this process is to initiate safeguards for children who are at risk or have been abused. DHS staff will ask questions of the reporter, record necessary information, and discern between significant and extraneous information.
Information gathered at intake includes:
The supervisor is responsible for ensuring that accurate information is documented.
While it is helpful to be familiar with child abuse definitions to make a report, knowing the definitions and terminology is not essential. DHS will determine the type of abuse being alleged. It may be possible to make reasonable inferences that would cause a report to be accepted for assessment based upon the description of what occurred, so detailed and accurate information is essential.
You may be contacted when:
When more than one mandatory reporter reasonably suspects abuse involving the same incident, the mandatory reporters may jointly make a written report to DHS.
When more than one reporter separately makes a report of suspected child abuse on the same incident, and the first report is currently being assessed, DHS will advise the subsequent reporters that the report of child abuse they are making has already been accepted as a case.
When your report meets the criteria for assessment, DHS will inform you that the report of child abuse has been accepted as a case within 24 hours of receiving the report. DHS may provide this oral notification at the time that the report is made if the report is accepted immediately. If your report is not accepted immediately because further consultation is required with a supervisor, you will be informed that further consultation is needed before a decision can be made, and someone will be calling you back with the decision.
DHS must obtain sufficient information to be able to determine if a report meets the intake criteria. A supervisor reviews the report and makes the final determination about rejecting the report for assessment. If your report is rejected, DHS will:
You will be advised that:
If you become aware of circumstances where you believe that the child is imminently likely to be abused or neglected, report this to DHS. These may include, but are not limited to, a child born into a family in which:
DHS may seek an ex parte removal order if it appears that the newborn’s immediate removal is necessary to avoid imminent danger to the child’s life or health.
When intake information does not meet the legal definition of child abuse, but a criminal act to a child is alleged, DHS refers the report to the appropriate law enforcement agency. If the intake information alleges sexual abuse of a child by a person who is not a “caretaker,” DHS refers the report to law enforcement verbally and also submits the referral information in writing within 72 hours of receiving the report.
The DHS Intake Unit keeps a copy of intake information for rejected reports of child abuse for three years, then destroys it.
Rejected intake information is not considered “child abuse information.” It is governed by the same provisions of confidentiality as DHS service case records. If a subject of a report requests information about a rejected intake involving the subject, DHS will provide a copy of the rejected intake to the subject, if it is available, after removing the name of the reporter.
If you become aware of new information after your report has been rejected, make a new report to DHS.
Under the differential response system, accepted reports are then assigned to one of two pathways: Child Abuse Assessment or Family Assessment. In order to determine which is the correct path, DHS uses an Intake Screening Criteria in which the Family Assessment path can be followed only if none of the conditions below are true:
DHS will make a determination regarding abuse—not confirmed, confirmed, or founded—and will determine whether the family is at high, moderate, or low risk of future abuse or neglect.
DHS will open an ongoing service case on all founded assessments, and all confirmed cases assessed as being at high-risk of future abuse or neglect. These families will be eligible to receive DHS case management and the current array of child welfare services.
If an assessment was confirmed and the family is assessed as being at moderate risk of future abuse or neglect or if the assessment was not confirmed but the family is assessed as being at moderate or high risk of future abuse or neglect, the family can be referred to Community Care for further services.
If an assessment was confirmed or not confirmed and the family is assessed as being at low risk of future abuse or neglect, information and referral will be provided if needed.
If the intervention of the Juvenile Court is needed—regardless of abuse finding or risk level—DHS will request a Child in Need of Assistance (see Iowa Code section 232.2, subsection 6) petition (DHS, 2013d).
After gathering necessary information from observations, interviews, and documentation, and after assessing the credibility of subjects of the report, collateral contacts and information, DHS must determine whether abuse occurred. Each category or subcategory of child abuse requires that specific criteria be met in order to conclude that abuse occurred.
This determination is based on a “preponderance” of credible evidence, defined as greater than 50% of the credible evidence gathered. The child protective worker must make one of the following conclusions regarding a report of child abuse:
The risk assessment completed during the course of the Family Assessment will determine whether the family is at high, moderate, or low risk of future abuse or neglect.
Any family assessed as being at moderate or high risk of future abuse or neglect is eligible for Community Care services. A family assessed as being at low risk of future abuse or neglect will be provided information and referral if needed.
If the intervention of the Juvenile Court is needed—regardless of risk level—DHS will request a Child in Need of Assistance (see Iowa Code section 232.2, subsection 6) petition (DHS, 2013d).
The figures below show the major steps on both pathways and the outcome and service provisions of each.
For a full size image of this diagram, please reference the source document at http://dhs.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/DR_one_pager.pdf.
Source: DHS, 2013a.
*Family Safety Risk and Permanency
Source: DHS, 2013d.
Iowa laws provide for a child to be placed in protective custody in various situations. DHS does not have a statutory authority to simply remove a child from a parent or other caretaker. The procedures for a child to be placed in protective custody are outlined in Iowa Code sections 232.78 through 232.79A.
Assessment workers do not have the legal authority to remove children from their home without a court order or parental consent. Only a peace officer or a physician treating a child may remove a child without a court order if the child’s immediate removal is necessary to avoid imminent danger to the child’s life or health.
Juvenile court hearings are held when children are removed from their parent’s custody or when treatment or DHS supervision of abused or neglected children is necessary because the parents are unwilling or unable to provide such treatment or supervision.
Parents are notified immediately if their child is placed in other care. A petition for a hearing must be filed with the juvenile court within 3 days of the removal of a child from a parent’s care. A juvenile court hearing is held promptly in order to review the need for continued protection of the child through shelter care. Parents are provided the opportunity at the shelter care hearing to present evidence that their child can be returned home without danger of injury or harm.
The court ensures that the parent’s and the children’s rights will be protected. An attorney will be appointed to represent the child’s best interest in these cases. The attorney representing the child is called the guardian ad litem. The court may also appoint a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) to assist in informing the court regarding child’s progress and recommendations.
The parents have a right to legal counsel. If they cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one.
Additional hearings are held if the court determines that the child needs its protection. At each hearing, the court reviews the efforts of the parents to remedy problems and the services arranged for or provided by DHS to help the parents and children.