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What is Considered Child Abuse in Iowa?

Updated on
February 9, 2021
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This article will discuss child abuse and neglect, as it applies to child abuse investigations conducted by the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS). This article will discuss: 

  • What is child abuse under Iowa Law? 
  • How does an investigation into child abuse begin? 
  • Is law enforcement involved? 
  • What is the child abuse assessment? 
  • What is in the child abuse assessment report? 
  • What could be the outcomes of the report? 

 

What is child abuse under Iowa Law? 

Child abuse is defined in Iowa Code 232.68. It means: 

  • Any non accidental physical injury suffered by a child as the result of the acts or omissions of a person responsible for care of the child; 
  • A noticeable or well documented mental injury, diagnosed by a mental health professional or physician, which has substantially harmed the child’s psychological or intellectual capacity.  
  • The commission of a sexual offense with or to a child because of the acts or omissions of the person responsible for the care of the child and who resides in the home of the child.  
  • The failure of a person responsible for the care of the 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. This is judged based on what a reasonable person would do given similar facts and circumstances and the failure re 
  • Allowing a child to participate in prostitution or other commercial sexual activity  
  • An illegal drug present in the child’s body as a direct and foreseeable consequence of the acts or omissions of the person responsible for the care of the child. 
  • The person caring for the child, in the presence of a child, unlawfully uses, possesses, manufactures, cultivates, or distributes a dangerous substance, or knowingly allows someone else to do this in the presence of the child. This not only covers drugs, but also things like some explosives.  
  • Bestiality in the presence of a child 
  • Unsupervised access to a registered sex offender (unless this person is a parent or guardian, or a parent’s spouse, or a child required to register who lives in the home) 
  • Knowingly allowing the child access to obscene material, or knowingly disseminating or exhibiting this material to a child. 

Note that corporal punishment by the person responsible for the care of a child, i.e. spanking, which does not result in a physical injury to the child is not child abuse.  

 

How does an investigation of child abuse begin? 

Once the alleged abuse is reported, the reporter will work with a DHS worker to complete an initial report. DHS will first determine whether the allegation qualifies as abuse under chapter 232.68. They will then notify the county attorney of the receipt of the report. 

If the report constitutes a child abuse allegation, the department commences may commence a child abuse assessment within twenty-four hours of receiving the report for most of  the above. If the allegation is a failure to provide adequate food, shelter, etc., and the child is in no imminent danger, the department initiates a family assessment within seventy-two hours of receiving the report. The family assessment route does not end with a potential of being placed on an abuse registry. However, a DHS worker could switch the assessment to a child abuse assessment if they expect abuse.   

The department notifies the parents within five working days of commencing the child abuse assessment, notifying them of the complaint or allegation. The person who made the complaint is kept confidential. Under circumstances where notification of the parent could harm the children, the department may seek approval of the Court to not notify the parent.  

 

Is law enforcement involved? 

The department will work with the County Attorney and local law enforcement to protect the children. If the report does not allege child abuse, or if the report resulted in a family assessment, but a criminal act harming a child is alleged, the department will refer the matter to law enforcement. If a child is, or is at risk of becoming a sex trafficking victim, the department will report the matter to law enforcement and take custody of the child.  

 

What is the child abuse assessment? 

The child abuse assessment or family assessment follows a basic pattern: 

  • A safety and risk assessment: if DHS finds a child is unsafe or in imminent danger, or it appears the family may flee or child disappear, the department immediately commences a child abuse assessment; 
  • Evaluation of the home environment:  
  • Identification of the nature, extent, and causes of the injuries, if any, to the child named in the report 
  • Information about the other children who live in the household 
  • An interview with the person alleged to have committed the child abuse if their identity and location is known. This person will be informed of the complaint and allegation. This person will be allowed the opportunity to explain or rebut the allegations of child abuse or other allegations. The person may decline an interview.  
  • Child abuse determination 
  • Home visit: with the consent of the parent or guardian, DHS may make a visit to the home of the child named in the report. They may interview or observe the child.  
  • Facility or school visit of the child 
  • Order the physical examination of the child if necessary 

The department will also request information from persons believed to have knowledge in the case, including the county attorney, law enforcement or social services agencies, and any mandatory reporter. They may also request any criminal history of the person believed to be responsible for the injury.  

 

What is in the written assessment report? 

The written assessment report includes information collected in the above investigation. It also identifies the strengths and needs of the child and the child’s parent(s), home, and family. It will identify services available from the department and other services and support available in the community. If there are still concerns present, and the situation meets the statutory criteria, the department may request a child in need of assistance petition.  

 

What could be the outcomes of the child abuse assessment?

 

It will also contain the outcome of the child abuse assessment. The assessment can have multiple outcomes: 

  • Founded: Abuse took place and the abuse information will be placed in the child abuse registry 
  • Confirmed, but not placed on the registry; Abuse took place but was minor and isolated, and unlikely to reoccur 
  • Unfounded- The abuse did not take place 

If the assessment is founded, and you work with children or dependent adults, a person may lose their job, or be prevented from taking these jobs in the future.  

If the person thinks they did not commit child abuse, they have ninety days to appeal the decision from the date of the written notice of the child abuse finding.  


What is Considered Child Abuse in Iowa?
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