In Iowa, child abuse includes different types of injuries, harm, or dangers to a child. A child is a person who is under the age of eighteen. Child abuse includes the things that people typically think of as child abuse - physical injuries that are not an accident, some types of mental harm, and sexual abuse. Child abuse can also include not providing a child with supervision, food, shelter, clothing, medical care, or other necessities. Another example is if a child tests positive for illegal drugs because of a care provider. You can find a more complete list of what is child abuse in Iowa here: https://dhs.iowa.gov/child-abuse/what-is-child-abuse.
If you have questions about what is or is not child abuse, you should talk to a lawyer.
Who is responsible for investigating child abuse in Iowa?
The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) investigates and decides whether there is enough evidence to determine that a child has been abused. HHS is a new department that includes both the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). This change, from two departments to one, was made in July of 2022 and may take up to a year to be completed. Child abuse forms and paperwork may still refer to DHS, rather than HHS, until July of 2023.
If you suspect that a child is being abused, you can report it to HHS. The name of a person who reports child abuse must be kept confidential and cannot be disclosed. HHS will complete an assessment. If HHS knows where the parents are, the parents of the child should be notified, in writing, that an assessment is being done unless a judge decides that notifying the parents will be dangerous for the child.
What happens after HHS investigates a report of child abuse?
After HHS finishes investigating, HHS will send a notice that the assessment was completed to the person suspected of child abuse and the parents or guardians of the child. They will receive a written report called a Child Abuse Assessment Report.
What findings are made in a Child Abuse Assessment Report?
HHS can make one of three findings about the alleged abuse. The alleged abuse can either be:
• Not confirmed;
• Confirmed (but not placed on the Central Abuse Registry); or
• Founded (confirmed and placed on the Registry).
An allegation of abuse is “not confirmed” when more than half of the evidence does not prove or show that child abuse has occurred. A “confirmed” finding means that more than half of the evidence proves or shows that abuse occurred but the abuse that occurred does not qualify for placement on the Central Abuse Registry. An allegation of abuse will be “founded” when more than half of the evidence shows the abuse occurred and the type of abuse qualifies for placement on the Registry.
What can I do if I do not agree with the finding in the Child Abuse Assessment Report?
If you are the person who is alleged to be responsible for the abuse (or one of them), you can appeal the decision. An appeal must be filed within 90 days of the decision. To file an appeal, you need to send a written and signed statement to the DHS Appeals Section, 1305 E Walnut Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0114 (or file an appeal electronically, as explained below). The written statement needs to include the reason you don’t agree with the findings in the Assessment.
You can also appeal the decision electronically. There are online appeal forms, in English and Spanish, available at https://dhs.iowa.gov/node/966/AppealsRequest.htm.
If you are the subject of the report and believe some information is wrong in a Child Abuse Assessment, you can make a request for correction of the information. This request is made to the local DHS office, whose address will be on the letter that comes with the Assessment. You can only request a correction within 90 days of the decision.
An appeal and a request for correction are different things (but both have a 90 day deadline). If you have any questions, you should contact an attorney.
Who has access to Child Abuse Assessment Reports?
Child Abuse Assessment Reports are confidential and protected and only certain people have access to the Reports. The people who have access to the Assessment Report depends on what type of finding is made in the Report. Generally, the parent, guardian, or a custodian of the child will have access. The court, certain agencies, or others may also have access.
How do I get a copy of a Child Abuse Assessment Report if I am an authorized person?
You can request a copy by filling out a “Request for Child and Dependent Adult Abuse Information” form and emailing, faxing, or mailing it to the Central Abuse Registry at the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services. You can get a copy of the form by going to https://dhs.iowa.gov/ and entering 470-3301 in the search box. The email, fax, and mailing address for the Central Abuse Registry are on the top of the first page of the form.
If I am an authorized person or have a copy of a Child Abuse Assessment, can I share it with other people?
No! There are laws about who child abuse information can be shared with. It is a crime to share the information or release the documents to anyone who is not authorized to have access to the information. You can find more information about the rules against releasing or sharing child abuse information on the second page of the “Request for Child and Dependent Adult Abuse Information” form. Please talk to an attorney before you share child abuse information with anyone.