Iowa DHS Epic Fail

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Iowa Deptartment of Human Services

Original reporting written by FUAN Member Oliver Ross. November 22, 2017

Read About The Iowa DHS Epic Fail. With no Reasonable explanations... it almost seems as if they're doing it on purpose.

Talk about an Iowa DHS epic fail...

In June of 2017, the State of Iowa settled a lawsuit filed by the mother of an unnamed 5-year-old boy killed in his foster home. The boy who had been temporarily placed in a foster home in Washington County, Iowa, was hit by a brick and drowned by a teenager residing in the same home.

The lawsuit reports that the state should not have placed the boys in the same household because both had behavioral, developmental, and psychiatric issues.

Malaya Knapp

Another Iowa DHS epic fail...

Malaya Knapp fled the home of her adoptive parents to escape from their ongoing abuse. The abuse Knapp endured was promptly reported to the Iowa Department of Human Services - DHS.

Rather than take Knapp’s reports and concerns for her sibling’s safety seriously, the Department left her siblings in the home. Earlier this year, Knapp filed a claim against the state agency for failing to keep Knapp and her siblings safe. Knapp’s claims have yet to be heard in court.

Image of Siblings separated during June 2017. Iowa DHS Epic Fail
Image of Siblings separated in June 2017. Iowa DHS Epic Fail

Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray

In Polk County, Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray died in the care of their foster parents. Finn's and Ray’s foster parents had adopted them through the Adoption and Safe Families Act [ASFA]. The ASFA incentivized adoption and foster care, creating a multi-billion-dollar industry, largely funded through social security.

Image of Natalie Finn, her parents, their house. Iowa DHS Epic Fail
Images of Sabrina Ray. Iowa DHS Epic Fail

Traci Vargas

Another Iowa DHS epic fail...

Traci Vargas, a mother of five, had three children removed from her home and placed in foster care by the Department of Human Services. Of those three, Vargas’s oldest daughter was eventually adopted by an Iowa DHS employee who has adopted 11 children in total.

Two of Vargas's children, a son, and daughter were placed with Sabrina Ray’s adoptive parents, Misty and Marc Ray. Vargas’s son was not under DHS jurisdiction when they removed him from Vargas’s care and placed him with the Ray’s. To date, the Department is unable to locate Vargas’s daughter.

Joel Jackson

Photo of Joel JacksonJoel Jackson has been fighting to gain custody of his infant son after finding out in April 2017 he was the boy’s biological father. The Department has refused to give Jackson or any of Jackson’s immediate family members custody, opting instead to keep Jackson’s son in foster care.

This situation has forced Jackson into Iowa’s tumultuous and exhausting family court system, a “battlefield” of sorts for many Iowa parents desperate to have their children returned home.

Jackson’s story reflects a common theme among other parents and families—“victims” as many of them would say—affected by the Iowa DHS monopoly in family courts. Jackson freely talks about feeling railroaded by every measure that was supposedly set up to protect him and his son.

He can specifically recall one incredulous moment that occurred a day before an important court hearing. Jackson noticed discrepancies on the reports he received from family service providers, those individuals who are tasked with supervising child-parent visitation and those that were submitted to the Court by DHS.

The discrepancies were subtle but dramatic enough to risk the outcome of his case, and severe enough, he had thought, to show that DHS was not being fair and unprejudiced in their role as a representative of the state.

In looking at the reports, it is evident that DHS had altered Jackson’s progress reports. Jackson was, initially, relieved that he had proof that he could present to the court, and was excited at the prospect of raising his son without state interference.

When Jackson presented the reports to the court, the judge refused to look at them. Jackson then met with Dawn Turner, Regional Supervisor of the Iowa Department of Human Services in District 2. He presented the reports to her, and while she acknowledged that they were altered, she did not provide any solutions to Jackson.

The employee who changed Jackson’s progress reports is still assigned to his case. Calls to Ms. Turner for comment have not been returned yet.


Of the many issues with Iowa DHS, a lack of transparency is near the core. Too many parents and their children have been lied to by DHS workers, subjected to searches of their homes without warrants, and have succumbed to undue pressure to sign documents that have not been adequately explained to them.

Jeannine Eldrenkamp_VP FUAN

To enforce transparency, Jeannine Eldrenkamp, with Iowa Family Preservation Project, sought out donations for recording devices, so that DHS interactions with families and children could be recorded by state workers while conducting their investigations.

Charles Palmer photo

Eldrenkamp presented the donations to then-Director Charles Palmer, turned down the gift, citing the high cost of maintaining video and audio records as the reason. Eldrenkamp wasn't given the opportunity to offset these cost.

Such issues are not just corralled in Iowa. On a national front, the Senate Finance Report, “An Examination of Foster Care in the United States and the Use of Privatization” which was released in October, slammed the management of foster care systems, stating;

“State child welfare agencies report they have procedures in place to monitor child welfare providers’ performance and outcomes.”

The report continued, “But the investigation shows that these policies are not always followed; exceptions are made, waivers are granted, profits are prioritized over children’s well-being, and sometimes those charged with keeping children safe look the other way.”

The scathing report lists Iowa as one of the many states that do not revoke foster home licenses for substantiated abuse reports.

What Can Be Done To Protect These Kids?

We ask you to get involved by contacting the politicians and the leaders of the Iowa DHS and demanding they find a way to do a better job. Talk to your friends and family about what happens when children, through no fault of their own, get swept up into a legal quagmire that may damage them for life. It's important to get our elected leaders attention by making our outraged voices heard.

Finally, consider getting involved with Families United Action Network. FUAN is fighting for Family Law Reform here in Iowa and the Nation.

There are many ways you can help to make a real difference in the lives of children and families. Tap Here to See How.