Following Governor Kim Reynolds’ appointment of Jerry Foxhoven to head Iowa’s Department of Human Services, Democrats have continued to press the agency to take larger steps to protect the safety of foster children. Foxhoven replaced Chuck Palmer, who resigned after controversy built over the death of two girls living with foster families. The department and legislative Republicans had pushed back against Senator Matt McCoy’s effort to institute more oversight following those deaths.
Only one legislative oversight hearing was held, however, and the state has contracted an outside consultant to investigate department practices, a process which Democrats contend is going too slowly.
Now Democratic lawmakers are unveiling a large set of proposals designed to bring changes to DHS that would better protect foster children, including new rules for parents who homeschool their children.
“Do the Iowa Legislature’s Republican leaders really plan to wait until another child dies before they take this issue seriously?” McCoy questioned in a statement. “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.”
Here’s the details of their proposals, as sent in a press release:
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.”
by Pat Rynard