Legislators offer next steps to improve child welfare

Legislators fear more children under state care will suffer due to Republican inaction on child welfare. State Senators Matt McCoy and Janet Petersen, members of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, offer steps to improve the welfare of foster and adopted kids, and prevent tragedies like the horrific deaths of Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray.

Iowa Senate News Release
For Immediate Release: July 6, 2017

Postponing Oversight until the next tragedy is NOT ACCEPTABLE

Legislators fear more children under state care will suffer due to inaction by Republican leaders of the Legislature’s oversight committees.

On June 5, the Iowa House and Senate Government Oversight Committees officially met to consider failures to protect children in state care. That meeting came in response to the horrific deaths of Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray, and after months of public pressure and unofficial meetings organized by Senate Democrats.

Following the June 5 meeting, State Senators Matt McCoy and Janet Petersen, members of the Senate Government Oversight Committee, sent the committee’s Republican co-chairs a letter outlining steps needed to better protect at-risk children.

The following month, there has been no response.

“Do the Iowa Legislature’s Republican leaders really plan to wait until another child dies before they take this issue seriously?” asked Senator McCoy. “The Oversight Committee’s job is to prepare fundamental, effective recommendations and reforms for passage during the next legislative session. So far, Republican legislators have only made things worse with deep cuts to human services.”

The Iowa Department of Human Services recently announced that it had hired an out-of-state consultant to help review its child protective system. Senate Democrats believe Iowans deserve an independent review from the Government Oversight Committee.

“The Department of Human Services shouldn’t be in charge of overseeing its own review,” said Senator Petersen. “It is clear the state of Iowa is not protecting our children when we have two unrelated situations where a child was adopted out of state foster care, isolated in an unregulated homeschool setting and starved to death. If that doesn’t warrant a Government Oversight investigation, I’m at a loss for what does.”

Below are the steps McCoy and Petersen have suggested to ensure the safety of Iowa’s most vulnerable kids. They include:

  • Monthly Government Oversight meetings during the interim
  • Making sure all child protective workers can discuss concerns without retaliation
  • Addressing the problems that lead to thousands of reports of abuse going unchecked
  • Preventing further budget cuts to DHS child protective services
  • Requiring all foster care children to attend public or private schools
  • Requiring all homeschooled children to register yearly with the Department of Education and have an annual physical exam.

A copy of the letter sent to the co-chairs of the Legislature’s State Government Oversight Committee is available at http://wp.me/a8aBRy-66c .


Senator Matt McCoy and Senator Janet Petersen – Necessary Next Steps for Protecting Iowa Children

At the first Joint Government Oversight Committee meeting held by the Republican legislative majorities, we learned the Iowa Department of Human Services is planning to hire an out-of-state consultant to help them review their own department after the horrific deaths of two Iowa girls who were adopted out of our state’s foster care system and starved to death in completely unregulated “homeschool” settings.

It has been four weeks since the Government Oversight Committee adjourned.  We have yet to hear from the committee’s co-chairs Senator Breitbach and Rep. Kaufmann about plans for additional hearings.

The Government Oversight Committee should continue to explore innovative solutions to prevent children from falling through the cracks in our system.

Iowa children deserve the chance to grow up in safe and loving homes.  We can make that happen.


Senator Matt McCoy and Senator Janet Petersen propose the following:

  • Monthly Government Oversight meetings during the interim to review the progress of the Department of Human Services (DHS) and to hear from the DHS review team, parent groups, frontline DHS workers, Department of Education, home schooling coordinators, patrol officers, Child Welfare Advisory Committee, Iowa Child Death Review Team and current and future vendors who hold contracts with DHS.
  • The Department’s review with an external partner they are hiring is not an autonomous process and should not replace the legislature’s need to review as well.


We call on the newly appointed Department of Human Services Director, Jerry Foxhoven, to do the following:

  • Fix the system: Child protective workers do not have the ability to speak up about problems impacting the safety of our children, foster parents, and even themselves, without the risk of getting fired.  Ensure all child protective workers are protected to speak out and discuss problems openly without retaliation.  Employees shouldn’t have to worry about getting fired for speaking the truth about budget cuts, policies or problems.
  • Fix the system: Thousands of reports of abuse go unchecked because they are rejected at Iowa’s centralized intake center.  The centralized intake system takes away local relationships and knowledge that may be helpful on reported cases.
  • Fix the system: DHS is denying a larger numbers of abuse calls.  If a caregiver is not involved, the case is not accepted even though it may clearly be a case of abuse.  If not enough information is provided, it is denied.  It is unclear if criminal cases are referred to law enforcement.  Proper checks and balances – including tracking these rejected cases – are not in place.


We call on Governor Reynolds to do the following immediately:

  • Protect our children: A thorough review of case plans to ensure we know where these kids are and get safety nets reestablished.
  • Protect our children: Child protective workers are overworked and carry unmanageable caseloads.  The department is dangerously understaffed.  Several Iowa counties don’t even have one caseworker.  Some case workers must cover multiple counties.  Governor Reynolds should transfer funds to ensure DHS child protective services do not suffer another funding blow.
  • Protect our children: Iowa’s law that removed any regulation on homeschooling has given bad parents the power to isolate abuse and starve children.  The department has no idea how many Iowa foster children are in these types of settings.  Immediately direct the Department of Human Services to require all foster care children to attend public or private school. IOWA KIDS MUST NOT FALL OFF THE RADAR.
  • Protect our children: All homeschool children should be registered annually with the Department of Education and get a physical exam turned in before school year begins.
  • Protect our children: Make sure Iowa’s foster care children are getting the same educational opportunities as other Iowa kids.  As Governor Reynolds stated back in 2016 in a letter to the editor, “In a knowledge-based, global economy, the careers of today and tomorrow demand stronger skills, including science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.  All students need to finish high school ready for college or career training. This begins with regular attendance in school.”