McCoy: Oversight needed to address failures at Iowa DHS & shortcomings in Iowa law

Senator McCoy speaks with attendee of oversight committee hearing

Iowa Senate News Release
For Immediate Release: February 27, 2017

Iowa children are falling through the cracks and government policies may be part of the problem, according to members of the House and Senate Government Oversight Committee.

Natalie Finn is a 16-year old Des Moines girl who died after she was tortured and starved by her parents.  Malayia Knapp, another Des Moines resident, was beaten, starved, and imprisoned by her adoptive parents.

These cases are among those raising concerns of systematic failures in the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) and shortcomings in Iowa law. In response, Senator Matt McCoy of Des Moines, Ranking Member of Senate Government Oversight Committee, and Representative Abby Finkenauer, Ranking Member of House Government Oversight Committee, will convene a joint meeting on these issues at 10 AM on Monday, February 27, in Room 116 of the Iowa State Capitol.

“As a state, Iowa failed to protect Natalie and Malayia,” said McCoy.  “Is DHS doing enough for children at risk of abuse?  Iowa no longer requires homeschooled children to have any contact with schools or public agencies.  Did that change in Iowa law contribute to these tragedies?  We need to find out the facts and take action better protect the children of our state.”



Malayia Knapp, who was beaten, starved, and imprisoned by her adoptive parents, speaks to Senator Matt McCoy and Representative Abby Finkenauer, members of the Senate and House Oversight Committees, and other legislators. McCoy and Finkenauer are holding a series of meetings on what Iowa can do to help children who are falling through the cracks and the government policies that may be part of the problem.


Senator Matt McCoy’s prepared remarks

Too many Iowa children are falling through the cracks.  The state system to protect them that has been pushed beyond its capacity.

I had two high profile and heart-breaking examples in my senate district.

Malayia Knapp’s alarming abuse was recorded in police reports and confirmed in a child abuse investigation.  Her mother was later convicted of assault.

When Malayia Knapp told me her story– shortly after the starvation death of Natalie Finn.—I was appalled and outraged.  That outrage was outraged to hear her story

Today, I have questions and concerns about whether state child-welfare officials are taking the right steps to safeguard children when possible abuse has been reported.

I have questions and concerns about the vetting of potential parents before children are adopted out of foster care.

I have questions and concerns of the Iowa Department of Human Services and its child-protective workers and how they handle, respect and respond to abuse reports from mandatory reporters.

I asked Senator Breitbach, the Chair of the Senate Government Oversight Committee, to convene and hold hearings and an investigation into the abuse of Malayia Knapp, the death of Natalie Finn, and the Iowa Department of Human Services’ abuse investigation and parental termination policies procedures.

Unfortunately, Senator Breitbach would not agree to look into these very troubling incidents.

As parents, legislators and as members of the Government Oversight Committee, it is our job and our duty to identify problems within the system so failures like those that prolonged the abuse of Malayia and Natalie never happen again.

We must analyze the current policies and procedures and make necessary changes.  We must evaluate how the loss of more than 800 DHS workers during the Branstad/Reynolds administration has affected the safety of Iowa children who most need our protection. *

In both of these cases, these young girls were removed from public schools and put into home schooling options.  In 2013, Iowa’s Legislature established a new, completely unregulated form of home schooling.

I know parents who homeschool because their kids need more challenges than their local school provide.

I know parents that homeschool because their kids need more assistance than they feel their local school can give.

I know parents who love their public schools, but homeschool for personal and religious reasons.

I support all of those choices because I know their kids… and they are thriving in a home school.  It’s obviously works for them and that’s great.

However, this new homeschool option went far beyond anything Iowa or other states had done.

It allowed parents or guardians to remove their child from public school and break all contact with that school.  If a family moved to a new area, or never enrolled their child in school to begin with, a school district would have no idea that student even existed.

There are no check-ins, regulation, oversight, or progress reports to school districts or the Iowa Department of Education.

Look, I know most Iowans believe that every child deserves to be safe and to receive a quality education.

Minimal levels of oversight are a reasonable expectation.  It is what most Iowans already-and incorrectly—believe is already the case.

To make sure all children are protected, I introduced SF 138.  It requires the parent, guardian, or legal custodian who places a child in private instruction to submit the same report to their local school district that is required for child in private schools.  It also requires school districts to conduct quarterly health and safety home visits.  Some parents who homeschool have already requested an amendment to eliminate the home visit portion of the bill.  Instead, the child would go to the school for a quarterly check-in with a teacher/counselor. Parents told me this would be less intrusive and preferred.

These are complex issues and I want to hear from everyone and especially those on the front lines of child protection in our state.

We will start our work today by hearing from Malayia.  She will tell us how she escaped abuse and about her lingering fear for her siblings.

On March 13, we’ll hear from DHS on how the system works, how it is funded and how workers are trained.  We will consider the caseloads workers have and how that load has increased in recent years.

We’ll also hear from DHS regarding the criteria for special needs adoptions and how families are recruited and screened to be foster or adoptive parents.

Iowans need to know what problems are happening within DHS and other agencies; how the elimination of reporting for homeschooling has ended welfare checks, making future case of cases like the Knapps and Finns

Most importantly, legislators need to shed light on these problems and demand solutions.

I want to applaud Malayia for her bravery in being here today.  She is standing up for herself, for her siblings, and for every child children in Iowa’s child welfare system.

*Reference Notes:

Branstad has eliminated at least 2,094 full-time positions in state government, according to a Des Moines Register analysis of data from the Iowa Department of Administrative Services.  Most of those job cuts — nearly 11 percent of the state government executive branch workforce, minus universities, occurred in four departments: human services (839); transportation (232); workforce development (244); and corrections (262), the Register found. Des Moines Register; 2/20/2017