Iowa's Child Abuse and Dependent Adult Abuse Registries

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid

A person can be placed on Iowa's Child Abuse or Dependent Adult Abuse registries without having been charged with - or convicted of - any crime. This can cause major problems. For instance, a person could get fired from a job at a daycare, school or nursing home.


How does the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services decide if your actions should place you on the registry?


Both the Child Abuse Registry and the Dependent Adult Abuse Registry are run by the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

You can be placed on either registry if there is founded abuse. Abuse is defined differently for child abuse and for dependent adult abuse.

Child Abuse is abuse on a person younger than 18 years old. Iowa defines several types of child abuse including:

  1. Physical abuse
  2. Mental injury
  3. Sexual abuse
  4. Denial of critical care
  5. Child prostitution
  6. Presence of illegal drugs
  7. Knowingly allowing a registered sex offender unsupervised access to a child
  8. Knowingly giving a child obscene material.

Dependent Adult Abuse is abuse by a caretaker of a person who is over age 17 and who cannot care for themself and needs help from other people. This may be an elderly person. It may be someone whose physical or mental health problems prevent the person from caring for themself. There could be a finding of abuse if there is:

  1. Physical Abuse
  2. Sexual Abuse
  3. Deprivation of minimum food, shelter, clothing, supervision, physical or mental health care or other care necessary to maintain a dependent adults' life or health
  4. Financial Exploitation.

It may seem clear what these mean, but there is a lot of room to interpret those words.

“Knowingly” means that the caretaker or parent has actual knowledge of a certain fact.  For example, allowing a neighbor that the parent knows is a registered sex offender to babysit a child meets the definition of child abuse.  However, the situation may be different if the parent did not know that the neighbor was a registered sex offender.

What Is Denial of Critical Care?

Denial of critical care is one of the more common allegations that may result in HHS opening an investigation.  Denial of critical care is defined for child abuse as “the failure on the part of a person responsible for the care of a child to provide for the adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical or mental health treatment, supervision, or other care necessary for the child's health and welfare when financially able to do so or when offered financial or other reasonable means to do so.”  A simpler way of stating this is to say that the parent or person responsible to care for the child is neglecting that child’s needs.  This can include acts such as failing to give a child prescribed medication, leaving a child unsupervised for an extended period of time or placing a child in a dangerous situation by engaging in violent behavior in front of a child.  Every situation is unique.  For example, leaving a twelve-year-old unattended a few hours will likely be viewed differently than leaving a three-year-old unattended for a few hours.

How does HHS respond to reports of child abuse?

When HHS receives a report of child abuse, they make an early decision whether to send the case down one of two paths: either the child abuse assessment path or the family assessment path.  The goals under both paths are the same: the primary goal is to protect the child and the secondary goal is to provide the necessary services to the family to address its needs.  One of the major changes is that family assessment cases do not end with a finding of child abuse and will not place the parent on the child abuse registry.  However, if at any time during the assessment the HHS worker determines the child is at risk, the case may immediately be switched from a family assessment to a child abuse assessment.

A Family Assessment:

HHS uses this process to respond to reports of child abuse alleging denial of critical care but where there is no immediate risk of danger, death or injury to a child. One example of this kind of case could be an elementary school-aged child who is currently with a caretaker but may have been left unsupervised some time before. Another example could be a young child who walked to school in freezing temperatures without a coat. That child is now in a warm building and has been given a coat for the way home. These types of cases may cause concern that a child's needs aren't being met. Since there is no immediate harm to the child at the point the report is made, these types of cases would probably start on the family assessment path.

In a family assessment case, HHS must begin the assessment within 72 hours of receiving the report.  The assessment is an investigation into the safety of the child and any risk of harm to the child.  It also includes an evaluation of the child’s home environment.  The worker will also consider the well-being of any other children living in the home.  The assessment may also include a visit to the child’s school. 

After HHS completes the assessment, the worker will set out the strengths and needs of the child and family.  HHS will then provide a list of services available to meet these needs and offer services to the family.  Services may include counseling for the child, substance abuse treatment for a parent or assistance with applying for food assistance or related programs such as The Family Investment Plan (FIP).  These services are offered on a voluntary basis, meaning the family does not have to actually participate in them.  However, if the family refuses to accept the offered service and HHS determines that as a result the child is at risk, the case will be switched from a family assessment to a child abuse assessment.

A Child Abuse Assessment:

This is the process that HHS uses to respond to accepted reports of child abuse alleging non-accidental physical injury, sexual abuse, and other acts, including denial of critical care if there is a risk of imminent danger, death or injury to the child.

HHS must begin a child abuse assessment within 24 hours of receiving the report.  Then the investigation is similar to the family assessment process.  The primary difference between the family assessment and the child abuse assessment are the outcomes. 

In a child abuse assessment, HHS will decide if child abuse happened.  If HHS determines the abuse is “founded,” then the person responsible will be placed on the child abuse registry.  If HHS believes there is ongoing or future risk of abuse or neglect, it may refer a family for services or make community care referrals.  In serious cases, it may recommend opening a juvenile court case. 

How does HHS respond to reports of dependent adult abuse?

HHS promptly investigates reports. In addition to determining whether dependent adult abuse occurred, HHS can assess whether necessary services are needed and make a referral for receipt of those services. Referral to a county attorney or law enforcement can be made if the abuse could be a criminal offense.

What can be the result of a HHS investigation?

Child abuse investigations have three possible outcomes:

  1. Founded: Abuse took place and the abuse information will be placed in the child abuse registry.
  2. Confirmed, but not placed on registry: Abuse took place but was minor and isolated and unlikely to reoccur.
  3. Unfounded: It has been determined that abuse did not take place.

There are also three possible outcomes in a dependent adult abuse investigation:

  1. Founded: It has been determined that abuse took place and the abuse information will be placed on the dependent adult abuse registry.
  2. Confirmed, but not placed on registry: Abuse took place but was minor and isolated and unlikely to reoccur.
  3. Unfounded: It has been determined that abuse did not take place.

How does it affect me if I am placed on the abuse registry?

Although these are two separate registries, if you have a "founded" abuse report on either one, you may not be able to work with children or dependent adults. With both, you may lose your job if you currently work with those groups of people. If you work with children or dependent adults, or if you apply for a job where you would, then the employer has a right to certain abuse information. They can find out if you are on the abuse registry. They must ask you to sign a release for them to check the registry.

What can I do if I think the HHS decision is wrong?

You can appeal the decision. If you believe you are not guilty of child abuse, you have 90 days to file an appeal from the date of the written notice finding that you have abused a child.

If you appeal a dependent adult abuse finding within 15 days, HHS cannot place you on the abuse registry until final agency action is taken. If you do not file an appeal within 15 days, then you have 60 days to appeal the dependent adult abuse decision, but your name will be placed on the registry until the final outcome of the appeal. You must send a written request for a correction of the child abuse or dependent adult abuse finding to HHS. If you do not send your request for an appeal of the decision within90 days for child abuse or six months for dependent adult abuse, you may not be able to get your name off the registry. Your appeal should say why you think your name should not be on the Registry and that you would like to have a hearing about the decision to put your name on the Registry. Be sure to include the incident number from the HHS decision.

I'm working now in a nursing home and have been placed on one of the abuse registries. Can I keep working?

Your employer can ask HHS to do an evaluation and see if you may still be able to work with children or dependent adults. If HHS says you cannot work with these groups of people, you may appeal this decision. Unlike the 90 days or six months to appeal a founded abuse report, you have just thirty days to appeal a decision by HHS that you may not work with children or dependent adults, or that you may not be the sole supervisor of them. You must send a written appeal and explain why you think you should be able to work with these groups of people. If you do not send an appeal within 30 days, your appeal might not be granted. In order for a late appeal to be granted, you must show what is called "good cause." Good cause means you had a good reason for not filing an appeal on time.

Where can I go for help with an appeal?

Iowa Legal Aid may be able to help people with their appeals. Call 1-800-532-1275 to make an application for assistance.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Last Review and Update: Mar 17, 2023
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