December 24, 2011

Iowa needs to fix its child abuse registry

Just a note, this is NOT the sex offender registry, this registry is separate and is known as the State's Central Registry.
12-24-2011 Iowa:

Lawmakers need to respond to these horror stories

More than two years ago the Des Moines Register Opinion pages told the story of an Iowa social worker whose life was turned upside down by the state. He was accused of abusing a client. The Iowa Department of Human Services investigated and placed him on Iowa’s child abuse registry. That resulted in him losing his job. It prevented him from getting another one in his field. Finally, he had to declare bankruptcy.

More than a year after he was placed on the registry, an administrative law judge determined the state had been wrong and ruled that the man’s name should be removed. But the damage had been done.

After publication, several Iowans who had similar horror stories contacted us. They included a teacher who remained on the registry years after getting into an altercation with her teenager. An Iowa grandmother said she didn’t even know she was on the list until she applied for a job. Others complained about being wrongly found “guilty” by a human services worker or waiting up to two years for an appeal to be settled.

Then the Iowa Supreme Court ruled the state had wrongly placed an Iowa City mother on the registry. Last year the director of the Department of Human Services, Chuck Palmer, told us about Iowans he’d met who couldn’t finish academic degrees because being on the registry prevented them from participating in internships. The state ombudsman’s office received 25 complaints on this issue over the past few years.

There is clearly a serious problem in this state.

Iowa has more than 50,000 names on our registry, the equivalent of the population of Ames. Social workers and their supervisors, not judges or juries, place people on the list.

Almost all of the “abusers” were investigated for allegations related to their own children and were never charged with a crime. After being placed on the registry, they have a short window of time to appeal. Miss it and remain on the list for 10 years — while you suffer consequences in job searches or custody disputes.

This newspaper has written numerous editorials about this mess and pushed lawmakers to address the problems. Earlier this year lawmakers ordered a work group to make recommendations about what to do.

Last week the group released those in an 8-page letter to lawmakers. It suggested changes, including some that have already been made, that will make it easier for people to get their names removed and expedite the appeals process.

In addition to implementing the recommendations, lawmakers should also adopt those made in a “minority report” at the end of the letter. Those were “supported by some members of the group, but not the majority.”

They include: Amending the Iowa Code to ensure the length of time someone is placed on the registry is based on the severity of abuse and the likelihood that person will re-abuse rather than simply putting everyone on for 10 years; setting clear timeframes for hearings and decisions so the accused aren’t waiting a year or more for appeals to be decided; and changing the law so Iowans whose jobs may be in jeopardy are not placed on the registry until the appeals process is completed unless they are considered “high risk.”

Of course, all these recommendations amount to tinkering with a registry that is of questionable value and fundamentally troubling.

Social workers could instead maintain confidential records to assist in detecting patterns of child abuse in any future investigations. That was the registry’s original purpose before employers were allowed to access it. Employers could instead check the backgrounds of potential employees through public criminal databases, where the person’s guilt had been proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In the United States of America, government should not be allowed to punish people in a way that can deprive them of employment without a fair trial and clear due process rights. In other states, courts have found such registries unconstitutional.

After watching what is going on in Iowa, those rulings are no surprise. ..Source.. by The Register’s Editorial

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