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Mark Olberding Aug. 7, 2009

CINA (pronounced China) cases start with someone reporting a child is in trouble. Often times these allegations are due to an action or inaction of the parents or guardians. These reports are investigated by Child Protective Services. Many cases are opened after Law Enforcement has conducted a criminal investigation.

If the Department of Human Services believes that the problem can be resolved without a formal CINA case, they can recommend Family Preservation Services. These Services are explained below.

The court’s first effort must always be to attempt to keep families together if this can be done safely, without exposing the child to harm. Iowa has Family Preservation Services in all parts of the state. Family presentation consists of short-term intensive services designed to get families through periods of crisis. If family preservation services would alleviate the imminent danger to the child, they must be used before a removal. Additionally, Iowa law provides that if only one parent or adult in the home poses a risk to the child, then the court can enter an order removing the parent/adult from the home rather than the child.

The formal court case begins when the County Attorney reviews the investigator’s reports and makes the decision to file a petition. As part of the petition, the Court will appoint an attorney for the child, called the Guardian ad Litem, or GAL. The GAL will act in the best interest of the child. The GAL has the duty to visit the child where the child is residing and meet with the parents, if the parents consent.

The petition is served (often by a sheriff) on the parents. If the allegations are severe enough, the sheriff may also bring an emergency removal order and immediately place the child in foster care. If the parents cannot afford an attorney, the state will provide one.


Even prior to the time of the adjudication hearing, the state can seek to remove the child from the custody of the parents if the child is in imminent danger of life or health. A juvenile judge may remove a child from the home without a hearing if the judge is presented evidence from a person familiar with the cases that the child is in imminent danger. If child is removed without a hearing, a hearing must be held within 10 days after the removal.

Pretrial conference

If there is no emergency removal hearing, the first appearance in court will be the pretrial conference. At the pretrial conference, the parents will be required to be present along with their attorney, if they choose to retain an attorney. The pretrial conference is the date for the parents to decide (along with their attorney) if they wish to fight the case and demand an adjudicatory hearing. If the parents request an adjudicatory hearing, then the parties must determine how much time they will need in court to submit all of their evidence and testimony. The State and the parents must make the Court aware of all of the witnesses and exhibits they plan on using.

If the parents agree with some or all of the allegations and facts contained in the petition, and the state agrees, the adjudicatory hearing is skipped and they proceed directly to the dispositional hearing.

Adjudicatory hearing

Adjudicatory hearings are in many ways like a trial. The State must prove to the Court the facts alleged in the petition. Their witnesses will usually be Law Enforcement officers, the Department of Human Services’ investigators and/or other service providers. The State’s exhibits will usually be reports prepared by the State’s witnesses. The parents will have the opportunity to cross examine all of the State’s witnesses.

The parents have the opportunity to present their own witnesses and exhibits. The parents can also testify if they so choose. The county attorney will be able to cross examine the parents if they choose to testify and their witnesses. The Guardian ad Litem will also have the opportunity to ask questions and present testimony as well.

There is no right to a jury in a juvenile CINA case. The case is always tried to a judge.

If the county attorney succeeds in proving to the judge that the facts as alleged in the petition are true, the children are deemed adjudicated in need of assistance, and the state gains the power to begin services for the children, even over the objection of the parents. The services that the state chooses to have in place will be determined at the dispositional hearing.

Dispositional hearing

After the adjudication hearing or after an agreement is reached at the pretrial conference, the judge will then hold a disposition hearing. At disposition, the judge determines what services should be provided to the parents to help them overcome whatever problems led to the need for adjudication, and what services should be provided to the child. The Department of Human Services generally makes recommendations through the County Attorney to the Court. The parents then have the opportunity make their own recommendations. Also, Guardian ad Litem will have the chance to submit a report and make a recommendation. The Court will consider all of the recommendations and reasons for and against the various recommendations and will make a decision the Judge feels is in the best interests of the child

There are basically two kinds of dispositions:

1) The child remains in the home of the child’s parents and the parent are required to cooperate with service providers:

2) The child is removed from the parents and the parents are required to participate in services to demonstrate whether they can regain custody of the child. Basically the Court will require that the parents fix whatever problems were alleged in the petition, and follow through with all of the DHS services until the child is no longer in danger.

Review Hearings

All CINA cases, in which the child has been removed from the home, come on for review hearings before the juvenile judge every six months. All parties, except, usually, the child must be present. At a review hearing, the judge will review the progress of the parents, the condition of the child, and the placement of the child if the child was removed from the parents. Once the judge has determined that the harm or problem has been taken care of and the child is out of danger, the child will be returned home and after an additional period of time, the case will be closed and there will be no more interaction with the court or the DHS. If the harm or problem has not been taken care of the Judge may order the services continue and/or new services be added.

Permanency Hearings

For a child who has been removed from the parent’s custody, Iowa law provides that a permanent placement plan for the child should be developed no later than one year after the child was removed. A permanency hearing is held at which time the permanent plan is supposed to be instituted. All parties, except, usually, the child must be present.

The goal is always to return the child should be returned to its parents before a permanency hearing is needed. However, if the parents are not a safe option, other permanent plans must be made. Guardianship with a caretaker, usually a relative, can be ordered. A judge can also order continued foster care or placement in some sort of residential facility.