Legislators on the Governor Oversight Committees in the Iowa House and Senate say they’re ready to consider new ways to protect foster care kids who are adopted.
The recent deaths of two teenage girls adopted by foster parents sparked a more than six hour hearing at the statehouse on Monday. Representative Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton who is chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, said one idea would be to require periodic welfare checks if parents get government subsidies for adopting a child who had been in foster care.
“I think there is a distinction, personally, between someone who (has) fully adopted versus someone who’s continuing to receive a paycheck for that adoption,” Kaufmann said.
Democrats on the panel blasted the 2013 state law that got rid of yearly checks on homeschooling families. Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, is calling for a “mandatory child abuse reporter” like a teacher to periodically check on kids who’ve been adopted from the foster care system and are being homeschooled.
“If you live in a rural setting, if you perpetuate child abuse, you can victimize…by isolation and that’s my fear,” McCoy said.
Scott Woodruff of the Home School Legal Defense Association pleaded with legislators not to impose new regulations on all homeschooling families after the “criminal acts of a tiny handful of people.”
“Sabrina Ray and Natalie Finn were both 16 when their beautiful lives were cut short by criminals,” Woodruff said. “They were beyond the age when their parents would have needed to comply with the homeschool laws.”
Woodruff instead suggested a new “two strikes” law, requiring an intense investigation immediately after a second report of child abuse or neglect.
Law enforcement and court officials who spoke at the hearing stuck up for local, front-line social workers. But Spirit Lake Police Jeff Hanson told legislators of his “frustrations” about “several instances” when his agency notified the state’s “centralized intake” about alleged child abuse, only to have state officials rule that the allegations were unfounded.
“One of the incidents was that a 16-year-old female was being choked by her mother,” Hanson said. “Two adults came in, removed the mother from the daughter.”
There were no visible marks on the girl’s neck, but Hanson says in a strangulation, there are sometimes internal injuries. The state ruled the report from Spirit Lake police was unfounded, but Hanson’s department and the county attorney continued investigating and the mother was charged. Legislators say they plan to ask why the Department of Human Services would reject allegations brought to them by law enforcement.
There was a bit of partisan sniping during yesterday’s hearing. Democrats complained their previous efforts to investigate the state’s child welfare system had been stonewalled by the Branstad Administration. Republicans accused the Democrats of grandstanding.