In Iowa, the Department of Human Services (DHS) investigates child abuse allegations based upon Mental Injury. Mental Injury is defined by Iowa DHS as follows:
“Mental injury” is defined as any mental injury to a child’s intellectual or psychological capacity as evidenced by an observable and substantial impairment in the child’s ability to function within the child’s normal range of performance and behavior as the result of the acts or omissions of a person responsible for the care of the child, if the impairment is diagnosed and confirmed by a licensed physician or qualified mental health professional as defined in Iowa Code section 622.10.
Examples of mental injury may include:
- Ignoring the child and failing to provide necessary stimulation, responsiveness, and validation of the child’s worth in normal family routine.
- Rejecting the child’s value, needs, and request for adult validation and nurturance.
- Isolating the child from the family and community; denying the child normal human contact.
- Terrorizing the child with continual verbal assaults, creating a climate of fear, hostility, and anxiety, thus preventing the child from gaining feelings of safety and security.
- Corrupting the child by encouraging and reinforcing destructive, antisocial behavior until the child is so impaired in socio-emotional development that interaction in normal social environments is not possible.
- Verbally assaulting the child with constant, excessive name-calling, harsh threats, and sarcastic put downs that continually “beat down” the child’s self-esteem with humiliation.
- Over pressuring the child with subtle but consistent pressure to grow up fast and to achieve too early in the areas of academics, physical or motor skills, or social interaction, which leaves the child feeling that he or she is never quite good enough.
Historically, DHS in Iowa rarely applied the “mental injury” allegation in its reports. However, there has been an increase in the number of founded reports for mental injury in recent years.
When an Iowa DHS report accuses a person of mental injury to a child, that accusation can have a tremendously negative impact on every aspect of a person’s life. In addition to the obvious DHS involvement that ensues, there can also be juvenile court action too. A person’s custody and visitation rights may be adversely affected, as can their employment in many cases. The prosecutors in Iowa can also file criminal charges in many situations where child abuse or neglect, including mental injury, are alleged.
The simple fact is that Iowa DHS gets their assessments wrong with depressing regularity. As an attorney who has represented many clients accused of child abuse or neglect by Iowa DHS, I know that their reports are often inaccurate and frequently contain false accusations. Fortunately, such DHS reports can be appealed.