Unlike her predecessor, Governor Kim Reynolds is not warning legislators away from investigating how the Iowa Department of Human Services is managing child welfare cases.
The Government Oversight Committees from the Iowa House and Senate are meeting all day today to examine the agency after the controversial deaths of two adopted teenagers who lived in homes that had been visited by state social workers.
“We have an obligation to consistently review policies and procedures,” Reynolds told reporters this morning. “This is the legislative Oversight Committee, so they’ve called it and they are the ones that are leading the review process.”
During the first four months of the year, former Governor Terry Branstad repeatedly said legislators should not examine last fall’s death of Natalie Finn. The medical examiner ruled the 16-year-old from West Des Moines died of a heart attack after being starved to death in her adoptive parent’s home. Branstad argued legislators could endanger the criminal case against Finn’s parents. After last month’s death of a 16-year-old girl in Perry who died of alleged abuse at the hands of the family that adopted her out of the foster care system, Reynolds has not made the same argument about a legislative review.
“There’s a lot of great foster parents out there that are providing care for children and so there’s a lot of people that are doing it right,” Reynolds said today during her weekly news conference. “But this is unconscionable. No child should have to endure that and so we have an obligation to look at the system and to do everything we can to make it better, more efficient and to make sure that we have the proper oversight in place.”
The director of the DHS announced his resignation last week, shortly after Reynolds took over as governor, but there’s been no public statement from Reynolds connecting Chuck Palmer’s exit with the agency’s handling of these two cases.
“I want to just thank Director Palmer for his service,” Reynolds said today. “He’s a dedicated public servant who has really spent his life working to improve the lives of Iowans.”
Palmer is not testifying today before legislators. Two other administrators in the agency are. Reynolds said wants to hire a new DHS director who will “continue the mission” of the agency “and is not afraid to look at ways to do things differently and really provide the services that our most vulnerable Iowans deserve.”
Reynolds rejects complaints from Democrat lawmakers who say the agency is understaffed. While about a thousand fewer people are working in the agency than were employed there in 2011, Reynolds says the roster of “child protective workers” is larger than it was six years ago. And the governor indicated more will be hired after July 1.
AUDIO of Reynolds’ weekly news conference, 23:00