Attorney’s Office

Juvenile Court Definitions

ADJUDICATION OF DELINQUENCY: If a child is found guilty of committing a delinquent act he or she may be “adjudicated delinquent” by the court. This is the juvenile court equivalent of a “conviction”.

ADJUDICATION DISPOSITION HEARING: The proceeding, following an adjudication hearing, at which the court determines the appropriate penalty or services which should be imposed upon a delinquent child. The legislature mandates that the court enter the “least restrictive” but most “appropriate” disposition of a delinquent’s case, in view of the circumstances. This is the juvenile court equivalent of a criminal court “sentencing”.

ADJUDICATION HEARING: The juvenile court proceeding in which guilt or lack of guilt is established. This proceeding would be the equivalent of a criminal court “Trial”.

ADOPTIONS SAFE FAMILY ACT: A Federal law passed by Congress which mandates that when children have been in out of home care (foster care) for fifteen months, that the State must file a petition to terminate parental rights unless there are “compelling reasons” not to do so. States who do not comply with this law face the loss of significant federal funding for foster care services.

CASE PERMANENCY PLAN: The Case Permanency Plan is prepared by the social worker from the Iowa Department of Human Services to be a guide to the involved parties (usually the Parents) about what is expected from them. It will detail the various services that the Department worker feels will help the family to achieve the desired outcome which in cases involving children in out of home care is family reunification. The Court will review this plan at the disposition hearing and usually adopt the plan and order that the parties comply with the plan of services.

CHILD IN NEED OF ASSISTANCE (CINA): A child can be found to be in need of the Court’s assistance if the child meets the criteria for such designation as set out in the Iowa Code. Some of the more common reasons a child is found to be CINA include physical abuse by a family or household member; sexual abuse by a family or household member; failure of a parent or custodian to properly supervise a child; parental substance abuse ; parental mental health problems; exposure of the child to illegal drugs as a result of the acts or omissions of the child’s parent(s).

CINA ADJUDICATION HEARING: A child can only be found to be in Need of Assistance after the filing of a CINA petition and after a trial or hearing on the petition. At the hearing all of the parties (parents, the child and the state) are all entitled to representation by an attorney. If a parent cannot afford to hire an attorney, they may apply for Court appointed counsel. An attorney will be appointed for the parent if they are financially unable to employ a lawyer. A finding by the Judge that a Child is in Need of the Court’s Assistance must be made by “ clear and convincing ” evidence.

CINA DISPOSITION HEARING: Following an adjudication hearing, the Court will schedule a Disposition hearing to determine what assistance the child and family need to assist them in alleviating the problems that brought them to the Court’s attention. Most commonly these services include foster care for the child, substance abuse evaluation and treatment for the parent(s) and psychological treatment and evaluation for parent(s) and child. Following a disposition hearing the Court will schedule a “Review Disposition Hearing” at least every six months if a child is in out of home (foster) care.

DELINQUENT ACT: The violation of any state law or local ordinance which would constitute a public offense if committed by an adult except any offense which by law is exempted from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.

DETENTION: A child may be held in secure detention if there is probable cause to believe he or she has committed a delinquent act and the child if released would pose a serious risk to inflict serious harm on another or pose a serious risk to the property of others. The court may also order detention of a child if it is unlikely that he or she will appear for future court hearings. See Detention hearing below.

DETENTION HEARING: A hearing which is held to determine if a child meets the criteria set out in the code for continued detention.

EXEMPTED OR EXCLUDED OFFENSES INCLUDE: Traffic violations which are simple misdemeanors; hunting, fishing, trapping and gaming offenses and possession of tobacco offenses. Certain serious offenses are excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction if the accused is 16 or 17 years of age. These offenses include all forcible felonies ( murder, sexual abuse, robbery, arson and kidnapping are examples of forcible felonies.); all felony weapons offenses; gang participation offenses involving the use of a weapon and felony drug offenses involving the use of a firearm. Original jurisdiction for all of the above public offenses lies with the Criminal Division of the District Court.

FOSTER CARE: The Juvenile Court may order the temporary placement of a Child in Need of Assistance into foster care. Foster Care may be provided in a group setting or as is more common with younger children, with a licensed foster family.

GROUP OR RESIDENTIAL PLACEMENT: One of the options available to a juvenile judge at the time of the disposition hearing is to order group or residential placement for a delinquent child. These programs vary greatly in scope and purpose. Some programs focus on behavior modification others are more narrowly focused on problems such as mental health or substance abuse treatment. The length of time in placement depends upon the program and the child’s progress in the program. Iowa law requires parents to defray the cost of most of these programs based upon their ability to pay.

JUVENILE COURT OFFICER: Is a person appointed by the court to discharge the duties of a juvenile court officer as defined in the Iowa code. Typically these duties include the intake and screening of all delinquent referrals made to the juvenile court by law enforcement and the supervision of children who have been found by the court to have committed delinquent acts.

POLK COUNTY JUVENILE DETENTION: Located at 1548 Hull Ave. in Des Moines. It has a current capacity for 70 youth.REMOVAL:A Child who is alleged to be in Need of Assistance may be removed and placed in temporary foster care upon a determination that the child would be in “imminent danger” if left in the care of the parent or custodian. The finding of “Imminent Danger” must be made to the Judge’s satisfaction by “Substantial Evidence.”

TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS: Process, usually initiated by the County Attorney on behalf of the State, by which a parent’s rights to a child can be permanently terminated and the child placed for adoption. This can happen as soon as the child has been in foster care for six months and must be initiated by the fifteen month mark unless “compelling reasons” exist not to do so. Families who have lost other children by way of termination can have this process begun even earlier if they have a track record of not cooperating with services.

WAIVER TO ADULT COURT: Process by which a case which is filed in the juvenile court can be transferred to the adult criminal court for prosecution. A hearing is held after the filing of a motion (usually by the county attorney) to determine: 1) that the child is fourteen years of age or older; 2) that there is probable cause to believe the child has committed the delinquent act charged; 3) that there are no reasonable prospects to rehabilitate the child in juvenile court given the circumstances of the crime charged, the child’s age and past contacts with the juvenile system; and 4) that waiver of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction is in the best interest of the community and the child. If the above four elements are proven to the court’s satisfaction, the judge will enter a order transferring the case to adult court for further proceedings.

Contact Us

Polk County Attorney's Office
Polk County Justice Center
222 Fifth Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50309

Phone: (515) 286-3737
Fax: (515) 286-3428
Email: ctyatty@polkcountyiowa.gov