by Elizabeth Gibbons


The Iowa Department of Human Services is facing criticism after the high-profile deaths of two teenagers at the hands of their adoptive parents. The Department is now working to change their policies, procedures, and responses.

The teenagers were formerly in the foster system and had contact with social service workers; in fact, their adopted families had been vetted and approved. Jerry Foxhoven, new director of the Department of Human Services has outlined several changes – as noted in a recent Des Moines Register article – including mandatory doctor visits in state-subsidized adoptions and more attention on finding quality foster families. The Department will be instituting higher requirements and setting more specific performance standards to ensure every foster family is a safe place for children. The Department will also push new legislation to increase family guardianship, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles, to maintain family stability. Unfortunately, the Department of Human Services may face a budget cut this year, potentially derailing some much-needed improvements.


Nebraska Senator Kate Bolz recently called for more oversight of Nebraska’s child welfare system to address child sexual abuse in state sponsored or state overseen facilities, including foster and adoptive homes. The call comes after a year-long investigation showing 50 verified child sexual abuse victims and evidence of abuse allegations that were screened out incorrectly or not investigated properly. The Department of Health and Human Services of Nebraska has partnered with the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development to strengthen their support of children and family services teams in the field. The DHHS is especially dedicated to strengthening their response to child sexual abuse at the hands of a caregiver. Foster homes and residential facilities were shown as ill-equipped to prevent sexual abuse or poorly trained to respond to allegations of abuse. The inspector general has already made calls for improvement, such as additional staff training and development of policies to improve the timeliness and efficiency of investigations.


Pennsylvania is not in compliance with federal law that requires health care providers and child welfare workers take steps to protect newborns who are narcotic-exposed before they are discharged from the hospital. This federal law comes from the 2016 amendment to the Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act (CAPTA). Prenatal drug exposure is a growing problem in Pennsylvania, making compliance with federal mandate and communication between health care and social workers critical to the safety of babies and their mothers. Steps to ensure the health and safety of the family include creating a backup care plan for the infant and connecting the family with officials that can offer resources and support. State law in Pennsylvania exempts mothers using medically prescribed and supervised drugs—such as methadone, which is used to treat heroin addiction—from being referred to child protective services. Although comprehensive and empathetic drug treatment programs are admirable, and should be encouraged, families benefit with back-up care plans and the aid of social services.


In the wake of this news, let’s talk CAPTA, the landmark legislation focused on child abuse. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act is a key piece of federal legislation everyone should know about. Amended as recently as 2016, it addresses all aspects of child abuse, including victims of human trafficking and infants who have been exposed to narcotics. CAPTA provides federal funding to states in support of prevention, assessment, prosecution, and treatment. It also provides grants to nonprofit and public agencies, such as Tribal Organizations, for their child protection programs. Furthermore, CAPTA creates a role for the government to conduct research, provide assistance, and collect data to establish a nationwide center of information on child abuse and neglect – embodied by the Office of Child Abuse and Neglect. CAPTA is a critical piece of legislation because it establishes a nationwide definition of abuse and neglect that is used to insure the protection and treatment of children. All health care workers, social service workers, and concerned individuals should be aware of federal guidance, state policies, and local nonprofits that provide resources and services to children and families.

Elizabeth Gibbons is CWLA’s editorial intern. She can be reached at