Appealing a Founded DHS Child Abuse Assessment in Iowa

In Iowa, the Department of Human Services (DHS) is responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect allegations.  Those who are found by Iowa DHS to have abused or neglected a child can have a “founded ” child abuse report filed against them, and have their name placed on Iowa’s Central Child Abuse Registry.  A founded child abuse report and Placement on Iowa’s child abuse registry can have a variety of negative consequences.  For that reason, many people wisely choose to appeal a DHS child abuse assessment.

As a preliminary matter, it is important to note that just because a person is accused by DHS of child abuse/neglect, it does not make the accusation true.  I have represented clients who have been accused by Iowa DHS of child abuse, only to have the report overturned during a DHS appeal.  I say that to note that DHS is not infallible.  Indeed, I believe that DHS is factually wrong on many of its reports, and that it does not properly follow the law and its own procedures in the process that its workers employ in many investigations.  Those facts can be quite helpful during the appeal process.

Once the DHS report is completed, an appeal must be timely filed.  The appeal will go to the Department of Inspections and Appeals in Des Moines, IA.  Failing to timely file the appeal results in the loss of the ability to proceed with the appeal.  As such, it is critical that the appeal be filed on time.

Next, there is a telephone pre-hearing conference, where scheduling an  administrative matters are handled. Sometimes there is just a single pre-hearing conference, and in other cases (such as where there are pending criminal charges, a pending CINA case, or other considerations that make the case more complex) there many be multiple pre-hearing conferences over the phone.  These phone conferences are usually brief, but are an important part of the process that must be attended so as to avoid a dismissal of the appeal.

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The appeal hearing itself can be done over the phone, or in person (in Des Moines, IA).  Having done many such hearings, I generally prefer the telephone option, as it tends to be easier for my clients.  Avoiding the need to travel to Des Moines for the hearing is also a plus, especially since most clients do not live in Des Moines themselves and would be unnecessarily burdened by the travel.  It has been my experience that doing the appeal hearing by phone does not cause a disadvantage (and DHS usually appears by phone as well).

During the Iowa DHS appeal hearing itself, evidence is presented by DHS to try and persuade the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who presides over the hearing that DHS’s report is correct.  Our goal is to refute that version of events and persuade the ALJ that DHS’s child abuse assessment and/or placement on the Iowa child abuse registry is incorrect and should be oveturned.  Evidence and witnesses, which have to be timely disclosed before the hearing, are presented by both sides.  The rules for admissibility of evidence are similar, but not identical, to the rules that would apply in the Iowa District Court for a civil case.  That means that proper preparation before the hearing is vital.

In the event that desired outcome is not achieved through the appeal to the Department of Inspections and Appeals, then an appeal to the Iowa District Court can be taken.  While such appeals are rarer than appeals to the Department of Inspections and Appeals, they can be a useful tool in some cases.

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As the foregoing makes clear, the Iowa DHS appeal process can be somewhat complex; however it is also a powerful tool that can be used to prevent an improper child abuse report from causing lasting problems for a person who is improperly accused.