HSB 510– (a few) proposed changes to DHS Abuse/Neglect Registry

Next week in the House Human Resources committee we’ll likely be voting on House Study Bill 510: An Act Related to Child Abuse Reports and Disposition Data . The goal of the bill is to address some concerns with the Iowa Department of Human Service (DHS) Central Child Abuse Registry — it’s a good start, but I’m not sure the proposed changes really change much, and the bill is missing some changes that I believe should be included.

First off, What is the DHS Central Abuse Registry? It’s not the Iowa Sex Offender Registry –you’re placed on the Sex Offender Registry because you’ve been convicted of a crime that qualifies as a sex offense. You’re placed on the Central Abuse Registry because someone makes an allegation that you’ve abused/neglected a child in your care, and DHS  determines, after an investigation, that the allegation was “founded” — that you did something (or failed to do something) to the child that qualifies as abuse or neglect, and that what you did was not minor, isolated, or unlikely to recur.  That’s the short version; here’s a link to IA Code section Section.232.71D, which is the statute that spells out the process in detail. Kind of. And  here is a really good outline of the whole extremely complicated process (thanks, Drake!).

What constitutes child abuse/neglect? There is a wide range of conduct that can result in placement on the Central Registry — everything from sexually abusing a child, to beating a child, to giving a child drugs, to using drugs while a child is in the house, to inappropriate corporal punishment, to leaving a child home alone while you pick up some groceries (here is DHS’s summary of what will land you on the Central Registry ) Under Iowa law everyone is placed on the Central Registry for ten years, but many states vary the length of placement based on the nature and/or severity of the behavior, and I think this makes sense. While HSB 510 doesn’t propose such a drastic change, and realistically the legislature won’t go along with an amendment requiring such a drastic change this session, I am going to try to work with DHS and other legislators to accomplish this change in the coming term.   

What are the consequences of being placed on the DHS Central Abuse Registry?  For the ten years that you remain on the Central Registry, it will be difficult if not impossible to find employment in any field that might put you in a position where you would be supervising children or have access to children w/out other adults around   (daycares, schools, hospitals, libraries, etc — I had a client who couldn’t get a job at McDonalds because they have the kiddie room). You won’t be able to adopt a child, or act as a foster parent, or a Girl/Boy Scout troop leader, or a Class Parent, or an assistant coach, or help out on school trips. Obviously, if you’re involved in any type of custody dispute, placement on the Central Registry will be a big strike against you. Note that unlike the Sex Offender Registry, the Abuse/Neglect Registry isn’t available to the general public — but lots of agencies/potential employers/people can access the info without your permission, and anyone can access it with your permission if you sign this form.

The Central Registry is an important tool to protect children, and I assume that the  majority of the approximately 60,000 people currently on the Registry belong on the Registry. However, there is a general agreement that many of the folks on the Registry shouldn’t be on it, either because they didn’t belong there in the first place, or because they fully cooperated with DHS and/or the Juvenile Court to successfully address the problems that put them on the Registry and no longer pose a risk to anyone.

Problems w/Appeal Process:  If a person is placed on the Central Registry by DHS, s/he can appeal the determination that the allegation of abuse/neglect was founded. An administrative law judge (ALJ) conducts a “contested case hearing” by phone, and makes “finding of facts” — normally  either that there is probable cause to believe the abuse/neglect was founded, or there isn’t — and issues a “proposed ruling” — normally either that the person stays on the Central Registry, or is removed. If neither side appeals, then after ten days this proposed ruling becomes the actual ruling, one way or the other. But if either side appeals, then the case is reviewed by the Department of Human Services’ Director (currently Charles Palmer), who can either affirm or overrule the ALJ’s proposed ruling.

The problem is that this process takes a looong time. If Joe appeals DHS’s decision to place him on the Central Registry, it is often several months before the contested case hearing takes place, and then a few more weeks until the ALJ issues the proposed ruling. At which point, even if the ALJ makes a finding of fact that there is NOT probable cause to believe that Joe did whatever it is that DHS says he did — i.e., if Joe wins —  assuming DHS appeals the ALJ’s ruling, Joe stays on the Central Registry for several more months, until the DHS Director either affirms or reverses the ALJ. 

This needs to change — once a trained, impartial judge has listened to the witnesses’ testimony and reviewed the written documents submitted by both sides, and has made a finding that this evidence doesn’t support placement on the Central Registry, the person should be removed from the Central Registry unless/until the DHS Director overrules the ALJ. Period. Unless we’re taking the position that the ALJs are totally incompetent to make these determinations, in which case what’s the point of letting them handle the contested case hearings in the first place?   HSB 510 doesn’t include language making this change, and that’s a problem — but there will be an amendment filed, and assuming everyone understands the concepts of fairness and due process, the amendment should pass.

 So what changes DOES HSB 510 make? The big thing it does is create a provision that gives DHS discretion to remove people from the Central Registry after five years. Putting into place a mechanism to remove people from the list if they no longer pose a risk to children is a great idea, but the language in the bill needs serious work. The bill doesn’t require that the (60,000) people on the list be given any notification of the fact that they can request a review, it doesn’t indicate who will be doing the review (the initial investigator?his/her supervisor?an administrative law judge? the DHS Director?), and it doesn’t set up any kind of appeal process (because the way the bill is written, whether DHS even considers a request for a review, much less grants it, would be totally up to some unknown entity at DHS –so since there’s no right to a review, there’s no right to an appeal from the review). Plus it’s unclear what would constitute good cause for early removal from the Registry — DHS is supposed to consider the nature/severity of the abuse, the risk of recidivism, the time elapsed since the abuse, and “other relevant factors” but who is going to decide what that means, exactly?

The bill leaves this all up to DHS, requiring DHS to “adopt rules to implement” this provision, and I know that DHS has concerns about the lack of guidance the legislation provides them with, and concerns about the lack of an appeal process … so maybe their rules will address these problems. We can hope.

The other thing the bill does is require DHS to look into the possibility of implementing a “differential response plan” at the time of the initial abuse/neglect allegation. Currently DHS has to do an official investigation whenever an allegation is made; the idea is that perhaps it would make more sense to investigate some types of allegations in a more “unofficial” manner, so that the placement issue never comes up. Not sure exactly what that means or what such a plan will look like, but I’m open to any ideas that will help the whole system work more efficiently/fairly while continuing to protect Iowa’s children.

What do you think about the DHS Abuse Registry? If you’ve been involved in the process, did it work for you? Were you treated decently by the system? Do you have any suggestions on how to make the system better, or specifically on how to make HSB 510 a better bill?  Let me know, and I will definitely pass your comments/concerns on to the House Human Resource Committee prior to our upcoming vote on HSB 510.


About Representative Mary Wolfe

Part time attorney; full time State Representative for Iowa House District 98 (East Clinton County)
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17 Responses to HSB 510– (a few) proposed changes to DHS Abuse/Neglect Registry

  1. Steven Cook says:

    I think that unless the person is convicted in a court of law under due process their name should not be on a registry of any type. The burden of proof should be on the state not on the inocent person to prove that they are innocent. Too many people are put on these types of registries because of claims made in nasty divorce casses.

    • Mel says:

      Exactly what has happened to me. Also there is no mention of appeal when you are “founded” and the window for an appeal is very small. By the time I found out that I had even been “founded” it was too late for appeal. And the worst part is that I was “founded” for failure to provide proper supervision because my now ex beat the crap out of me while my children were upstairs asleep. I called 911, had him arrested, pressed charges, put him in prison for 5 years, placed a NCO on him and the children didn’t know anything had even happened until after the fact and DHS still “founded” me for child abuse… They said I failed to keep myself and my children safe. How in the world could I have seen this coming? He had never hit me before and this day he was drunk and lost control. I did what I was supposed to do. I have been a nurse for many years and now I can’t get a decent job, all thanks to DHS. I agree that there needs to be court hearings and evidence, something more concrete than one DHS worker saying this is what happened and this is what we are going to do. There is no regulation and no supervision. They are free to do as they please with absolutely no real evidence, just word of mouth….

    • paula says:

      i agree 100% Steven!

  2. David J. Ozolins says:

    Dear Representative Wolfe:
    I live in Iowa City and am a 58 year-old disabled Army Veteran with no criminal record of any-sort, Never In my life would I have believed that at one point in my life I would be on the Child Abuse Registry.
    It started with my X filing for divorce because she had met another man. Needless to say that my anger and resentment was elevated. Our communications dissolved into text messages only. My oldest daughter, 13 at the time of the divorce, was caught in the middle of all this and started dying her hair black and I later found out that she had been self-cutting shortly after our separation.
    Seeing that wife not only doing nothing to address this digression – and actually encouraging it as self-expression – I sought out a therapist for S.O.. I brought S.O. to L.K. on the recommendation of my therapist. S.O. had been previously seen by another therapist for anxiety.
    L.K. informed to be watchful of self-cutting and when I spoke to C.J. she informed she was already looking for signs – and she had said nothing to me.
    As it turned out S.O. was not only self-cutting but had suicidal idealizations. In October of 2011 a child psychologist at UIHC confirmed a diagnoses of elevated anxiety, depression, and ADHD. (As a side note – I had two strokes in September 2011 and had lost all use of my right arm.)
    S.O. was placed on Prozac and adrenal without my consent – we have joint custody of our daughters with C.J. being the custodial parent. I was very, very upset when I found out that S.O. had been placed on these drugs w/o even consulting me for an opinion. I strongly opposed the psychopharmacological approach to treating S.O..
    From the time of Strokes (the first on 9/11/11 – I realize the irony of the date) till late October was unable for visitation with my daughters as I went through extensive rehab. Once I returned to struggle to maintain my job performance and deal with S.O.’s continuing downward spiral I badly planned to follow through with my left knee replacement in late November of 2011 – too many stressors. Also my Mother passed away in January of 2011.
    After returning to Iowa City after my knee replacement – which was performed in Chicago – C.J. pushed me have to have my daughters over for visitation, saying that haven’t seen much of me in the last few months – so I agreed to have the girls over from approximately 10am till 5pm so I could both be with my daughters and still take my pain meds in the evening – I didn’t want to be on narcotics while the girls were in my care. The first day went smoothly and there were no problems. On the second night, Friday night, S.O. was locked in the bathroom at 5pm when C.J. came to pick up the girls and wouldn’t come out. S.O. was screaming at C.J. “It’s all your fault!”. C.J. left me with a mad-as-hell daughter locked in the bathroom and C.J.’s only words to me were “Turn off the internet.”.
    I pleaded with C.J. to take S.O. with her as our agreement but C.J. just walked out off my house with our youngest daughter.
    So there I was – I mad, angry daughter locked in my bathroom, in extreme pain, and on crutches. What to do?
    At approximately 10pm S.O. comes into the computer room fully clothed and ready to go out. A woman I’ve never met before comes to the door shortly thereafter to inform me that S.O. is supposed to have a sleepover and that this woman had arranged everything with C.J. I had no idea what was going on and I called C.J. and vented some anger when C.J. hung-up on me and S.O. left with this woman and a group of her “Emo” friends. I felt that no good was going to come of this.
    The next day at around noon C.J. drove S.O. over to my house so S.O. could pick-up her ipod. C.J. remained in the car and was calling C.J. to come inside to talk to me the night’s events since I was on crutches and it was snowing outside. C.J. refused to acknowledge me, let alone talk to me and I because of the physical pain and emotional frustration I had a complete and total meltdown. I unleashed what has correctly been described as a “tirade”. I have no memory of what I said. All I can remember is that I was madder than I have ever been in my whole life.
    The next thing I know C.J. has convinced the therapist, L.K., to accuse of Child Abuse – Mental Injury. The claim was that my outburst of anger that day somehow, retroactively, caused S.O.’s anxiety and depression.
    The allegation was reported to DHS and the caseworker took the “concern” from L.K. to whole other level. The DHS caseworker exaggerated the allegation to the point of using active verbs to describe my singular outburst under extreme conditions as an on-going emotional abuse of S.O..
    The DHS case worker summarily found me guilty of Child Abuse-Mental Injury. I appealed to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and on March 5, 2012 I represented myself, since I couldn’t afford an attorney because I was terminated from employed in May of 2011.
    The ALJ ruled in my favor and reversed DHS’s finding to UNFOUNDED.
    I thought I had won. A short lived victory because I found out that the DHS was appealing the ALJ’s ruling based on the technicality that the only licensed therapist to testify was L.k. and that her testimony was not taken into account and therefore the ALJ was “playing doctor”.
    So now I am in the process of seeking an Administrative Judicial Review of my case. I can’t afford an attorney and feel like the wheels of justice have not only run me over but that the DHS has backed over me and is ready to run me over again!
    How many bites at the apple does the DHS get? Am I fighting a losing battle right from the start?
    How does this help my daughter?
    Does the DHS know, or care about the emotional damage it does to a person wrongly accused of Child Abuse? The DHS ruling this case as FOUNDED cost me my job, my employment, my way earn a living. At my age I have no hope of ever working again. My entire life has been ruined by an overzealous DHS caseworker.
    Where is justice in that?
    Thank You for your time!

    • David J. Ozolins says:

      Well, I gone as far as I can with the appeals process and found that it is all a sad, sick joke. After prevailing at the Administrative Judge level the DHS/Assistant Attorney General contested the ALJ’s ruling to dismiss the charge and then the appeal process just became a rubber stamp process in favor of the DHS/AAG. I didn’t stand a chance. There was no fair hearing. There was only the AAG defending the DHS’s actions. I realize now that once accused of Child Abuse you are in deep, deep trouble and no one wants to help you. They just to want to beat you up. So it appears that my Ex-wife’s attempt to destroy my life has another champion the State’s Director of DHS and the AAG.

  3. misty says:

    I believe people should Not be placed on the child abuse registry if they have not been convicted of a crime in a court of law , and i believe the punishment should fit the crime,We need Family First to many people falsely place as child abusers and terminated of their parental rights.. Think about it..If they are not bad enough to be on a registry then why are they Terminated of the parental rights? What is that,they are no longer a danger to their child?.. Then they probably Never were. The state has a hard time believing people can rehabilitate from substance use (not substance abuse) substance use.. So why would they believe a child abuser and no longer a child abuser..? I mean that is why they were in danger right? In order for this falsely placement of names on a child abuse registry to stop it is going to take the legal process and non-violation of parental rights steps to happen, and before these steps even reach the top which would be the registry. To organize a ring of supervised visit workers whom right hearsay reports and doctors whom are paid and working for cps workers is a Huge reason people are falsely place on this registry and all of this will have to stop or there will always be name illegally place on a Child Abuse Registry.

  4. Angee says:

    I have to agree unless a person has been convicted of their crime they should not be placed on the child abuse registry. I fell into some hard times and let people move into my house and they destroyed it to the extent i couldn’t keep up with it. So I moved my children to a different home because they didn’t deserve to stay in that house with it being so dirty. DHS happened to come in on a day when we were getting ready to have a huge picnic at the park and me and the children were at the house getting ready to leave and everytime they returned I was at the house not the children. They placed my name on the registry. I moved to a different town with my children and no one else and had DHS out of my home in 3 months because they saw there was no reason to be there. I love children and I would love to work with them or even the elderly but because I’m on the registry I am not allowed to. No one will hire me because of it. I find this unfair because my children weren’t living in the home.

  5. KELLY BLUE says:

    I have to agree with everyone that no one should be convicted of a crime if innocent. My husband is a disabled veteran with PTSD and one night he was having a nightmare and when I woke him he grab his gun, as soon as he seen me he put it down and I got scared and we decided that the next day we would contact his doctors and let them know. My children were sleeping in there own rooms. They never woke up, they never knew what happened. I told a friend the next day and she called the police and DHS came to my house with 5 cop cars and people coming in and out of my house asking questions. They thought I was being abused but when I explained the situation I was told by Carolyn Price that if I did not tell her what she needed to hear that this was going to be a long process for me and my kids. But because I did not stop my husband I was put on the registry and my children were taken away for 6 months. Which was only founded by a case worker and no one else. There was no arrests made, my children were checked and not ANY PHYSICAL OR EMOTIONAL ABUSE was found. It did not matter. They still were removed and we had to jump through embarrassing hoops to get them back. The appeal process is an absolute joke and I am just outraged that DHS has so much power. As a parent we just did not have any rights at all! We were told to sit back and take it and just to follow orders or the process would take longer. At this point we are at the end of the nightmare but my heart goes out to all the parents that are suffering with the same issue. I have met many families that are in the same exact situation and this is just sad that not even our own government will take the time to see the big picture. Convicting people and taking their children when no crime has been committed is and should be against the law. No one in the government cares about what is going on and just how serious this matter is.

    • David J. Ozolins says:

      Well the DHS is completely a political circus. I have found that most Iowa legislators feel that any changes in the current DHS process might show they are “Soft on Crime” so they are really, really reluctant to change anything – from the accusation, to appeal process. The current thinking is that this system protects children (or at least looks like they are protecting children) and to hell with parents/family.
      The appeal process is completely stacked against the accused. There is no way to prevail in either the investigation or the appeal process. The investigation process is sad joke. The case worker has immunity so why come to a conclusion of other than guilty.
      I don’t think most state legislators give a hoot about the parents or what their actions may do to a family. In my case what was left of my family has been blown apart, destroyed – all thanks to zealots in the DHS and the Attorney General’s office. There is no “due process or expectation of justice”. Once the DHS gets their hooks into your skin you are doomed.
      The legislators most likely feel that it is better to fill up the registry with names and “look” like they are protecting children rather than actually doing there jobs and serving both the children and the parents. I assume the DHS’s greatest fear is that someone who is guilty may get off – so it is better to put every case in the registry and cover their behinds.
      The system is BROKEN!!

  6. Hershey Kisses says:

    I think the system is corrupt I was founded child abuse against my children because my children witnessed me getting choked by ther father I called the police and DHS got involved in my life immediately. They took my chilldren away from me because of his actions I suffer everyday wondering when Iam going to get my children back if ever. DHS want tell me where my children are, and whats worse my children cant talk to me about almost anything. My children are bright children and they love me dearly my children expresses there love and concern for me,but and im the bad guy. DHS has lied on me along with family members people i thought Icould trust there protecting him and for what he has threatned to kill his own family, harrassed me, and even tried to kidnapp my child. I have complied with DHS rules and they’re still want consider giving back my children. whats the deal DHS is BOGUS and thats my opinion.

  7. Nancy Augustine says:

    Mary, Please comment on the above stories.

  8. There needs to be changes to the abuse registry, and there needs to be a fair system of checks and balances for DHS social workers doing child abuse assessments. Social workers have too much power without due process, and accused parents are considered guilty until proven innocent. Under Iowa law, if there are criminal charges pending, then the accused abuser must be placed on the registry, even if the alleged abuse qualifies as “minor, isolated and unlikely to reoccur”. Those cases can be confirmed but not placed on the registry UNLESS the police are involved.

    In my husband’s case, if my 17 year-old daughter had called the child abuse hotline instead of the local police, my husband would probably not be on the registry. He pushed her against the wall as she tried to walk out of the house after she refused to hand over her car keys. It was founded abuse because she got a couple faint bruises on her arm when she swung her arm back to catch herself and hit her arm on the oven door. One of the bruises was so faint that it did not show up on the pictures the social worker took, so she had to describe it in her report. Without the bruises, it would have not met the legal description of abuse. Because he placed his hand on the side of her neck when he pushed her, he was accused of trying to choke her. Fortunately that accusation did not hold up to scrutiny. I was described as being in denial because I defended my husband’s actions as inappropriate, but not severe enough to merit his placement on the registry. DHS disliked that I challenged the accusation that he tried to choke her.

    To make matters worse, I run a daycare in our home, so my husband was forced to move out of our home. “Individuals with the following convictions and founded abuse reports are prohibited from…living in a child development home…for five years from the date of the conviction or founded abuse report:..Founded child abuse that was determined to be physical abuse”

    My daycare is for children with special needs, and most of the kids have no other options for care. The parents cried and begged me not to close the daycare. They even wrote letters to DHS begging them not to close the daycare. I appealed, but knew we had no hope of winning the appeal. The appeal allowed the daycare to stay open another year while we tried to relocate it outside our home. Unfortunately we have a very limited budget and were unable to renovations to our new building before our hearing date came up. My husband voluntarily moved out of our home last October and has been living in a borrowed travel trailer for nearly a year.

    I filed a petition for an exception to policy asking DHS to conduct a review of his background check after two years instead of five. It was denied. If they reviewed his conviction abuse, under Iowa law, they would consider the following:
    Code Section 237A.5(2)(c), 441 IAC 110.7(3)
    Evaluate the conviction or the abuse report and determine whether it merits prohibition of employment, registration, or providing state funded child care. In the evaluation, consider:
    *The nature and seriousness of the crime or abuse in relation to the position sought.
    *The time elapsed since the commission of the crime or founded abuse.
    *The circumstances under which the crime or founded abuse was committed.
    *The degree of rehabilitation.
    *The number of crimes or founded abuse committed by the person involved.

    My husband clearly is not a threat to my daycare children and has completed family and individual counseling as ordered by DHS and the court. He was convicted of simple assault and received a deferred judgement for child endangerment. He completed his probation, and the child endangerment has been expunged from his record. DHS closed our case only four months after he was placed on the registry because they felt he no longer posed a threat to my daughter. We even said DHS could place a requirement that he not be allowed in the home when daycare children are present. We just wanted him to be allowed to sleep in our home at night instead of in a cold travel trailer. He is allowed to be in our home any other time the daycare is not open, and he is here on evenings and weekends during the day…just not at night so that he doesn’t legally live here. This is not protecting anyone, and it is senseless.

  9. Elizabeth Rosado says:

    I think that being in the central registry because my daughter does not talk to me. Daughter said that I did not try to help her. I did everything that mother could do but cps took advantage of me in my time of need. I never receive the paper saying that I was in the central registry I am from New Jersey nobody want to help me I lost everything from my daughter to my self respect. I love my children more that I love myself. I have my son but lose my daughter but I see her every time I made a mistake that I will carry for life.

  10. LaShelle G says:

    It makes me feel sad when i read all the personal stories i have also had a bad luck in my life befriending a lady who i thought i could trust however she was evil and stole from older people. Long story short i was placed on the adult abuse register for financial exploitation after helping her whom i thought she was POA over this individual i was founded,lost my nursing license of 13 yrs never hurt anyone i cared i loved my job, a single mom with 4 kids i worked hard with no support to have it ripped away from me when i trusted someone. My sentences was deferred but i still have no career i cant even volunteer for my kids school trips or get a job where my heart is in the health field i pray all the time for a second chance i don’t know where to go from here. Or if i should even try to appeal if anyone has any advice to how i can do this i am all ears. It has been 3years now and not sure what my options are. Lashelle

    • David J. Ozolins says:

      Unless you have enough money to hire a good lawyer you are screwed. Even if you appeal and win at the first level the DHS has the power and motivation to overturn the Administrative Judges “proposed” ruling. Politicians and the DHS have no reason to change the system because Politicians want to “look tough” on child abuse and the DHS wants to use the power of the state as a legal shield. Appealing is a waste of time unless you have between $5-10k you’re willing to spend for a lawyer. Sorry. but that is reality of this mess.

  11. mike says:

    Its funny how you read this article about child abuse and how it seams that in every paragraph its agsinst you for being on the registry. If this was true tell me how my ex is on it for drowning our twin sons and the judge turnt around and gave her full custody of my kid. Oh maybe because she was friends with the dhs worker that had our case at the time or its custom in Iowa to give the parent that kills the kids due to the fact according to the judge there a better parent. So in other words if anyone kills there kid in Iowa you are a better parent?

  12. An Iowa Nurse says:

    I have never been in trouble with the law but 1 speeding ticket and am 41 years old. I received a letter today stating I am being placed on the central dependent adult abuse registry for being accused of wrongdoing from my job in healthcare for 13 years for the first time. I haven’t even had a day in court yet. I know I am innocent but apparently have to prove my innocence instead of being ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ The letter from DIA states they are putting me on the registry even before a court considers me innocent or guilty yet because they just believe I am guilty. I will appeal it and do not know what will happen yet but somehow I get the feeling if they can just be jury and judge before an actual jury or judge court case, I guess they can do just about anything. I wonder how a judge must feel knowing this or perhaps, even the Governor? Too much power for one entity in my opinion! Sure I’m not the only one thinking this!

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