Child in Need of Assistance Proceedings
In Iowa there are 18 statutory grounds within which a child, under the age of 18, can be adjudicated to be a child in need of assistance under Iowa Code section 232.2(6). The most commonly used grounds for adjudication are the provisions defining physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. However, there are several other grounds for adjudication including that the child has tested positive for an illegal substance due to the acts or omissions of the child’s parent or caretaker; the child suffers from a severe mental illness for which the parents are not able to provide treatment; or, the parent is unable to provide adequate food, clothing or shelter to the child.
At the adjudication hearing, the state is required to prove that the child is in fact a child in need of assistance within the meaning of one or more of the 18 CINA statutory grounds. The state, which is represented by the county attorney, is often opposed in these cases by the child’s parent(s). However, parents are sometimes in agreement that their child is in need of services or out-of-home placement. The parents are provided an attorney at state expense if they cannot afford one. The child is provided a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s interests in all CINA proceedings. (The term guardian ad litem basically means that the attorney not only represents the stated wishes of the child, but also undertakes an independent investigation to determine what is in the child’s best interests.) In some cases, a child is represented by an attorney as well as a guardian ad litem.
Even prior to the adjudication hearing, the state can seek to remove a child or children from parental custody if danger is imminent. A juvenile judge may remove children from their home without a hearing if the judge is presented evidence that the children are in imminent danger. If there is a removal without a hearing, a hearing must be held within 10 days after the removal. The court’s first effort is to keep families together if this can be done safely and without exposing the child to harm.
Family preservation services are available to assist families through periods of crisis. If family preservation services are available to alleviate imminent danger to children, they must be attempted prior to removal. Additionally, Iowa law provides that if only one parent or adult in the home poses a risk to the children, the court can enter an order removing the parent/adult from the home rather than the children.
Sometime after the removal and/or adjudication hearing, a disposition hearing is held. At this hearing, the judge determines what services should be provided to the parent(s) to help address the problems that led to the need for adjudication, and what services should be provided to the child. Oftentimes, the judge relies on a disposition report developed by social service professionals in making a deicison. If the child has been removed from the parent, a plan is set out that details what the parent must do to regain custody.
There are two possible dispositions. Either the child remains in the home of the child’s parent(s) and the parent(s) are required to cooperate with service providers, or the child is removed from the parent and the parent is required to participate in services to demonstrate whether they can regain custody of the child. Typically, the child also receives services.
Services most commonly provided for parents include psychological evaluations, therapy, parenting classes, in-home support services, drug/alcohol treatment and sexual offender programs.
All CINA cases in which the child has been removed from the home come on for review hearings before a juvenile judge every six months. At a review hearing, the judge will review the progress of the parents, the condition of the child, and the placement of the child if the child was removed from his/her parents.
For a child who has been removed from his/her parent’s custody, Iowa law provides that a permanent placement plan for the child be developed no later than one year after the child was removed. After the child has been out of the home for one year, a permanency hearing is held at which time a permanent plan is instituted. If possible, the child should be returned to his/her parent(s) by the time of the permanency hearing. However, if the parent(s) are not a safe option, other plans must be made. If the child cannot be returned home, the parental rights are termination so that the child can be freed for adoption. Guardianship with a caretaker can be ordered which most often occurs when the child is placed with a relative. Occasionally, a juvenile judge will order continued foster care. However, this is only ordered if the judge finds that a termination of parental rights is not in the child’s best interests.
Termination of Parental Rights
A juvenile judge may enter an order terminating a parent’s parental rights. Such an order permanently ends the parent’s legal relationship to the child and frees the child for adoption. The most common ground for termination of parental rights in Iowa is that the child has been placed in foster care for a period of time and the parent is still unable to safely care for the child. In Iowa, if a child three years of age or younger has been in foster care for six months or more, the state may file a petition to terminate the parent’s parental rights. If a child is four years of age or older, the state may seek a termination of parental rights after the child has been in foster care for 12 months or more. There are certain instances when the state may seek to terminate parental rights even sooner such as when a parent has abandoned the child, when the abuse has been so severe that there is no hope to return the child to the parent, or when the parent is facing long term incarceration.