School Visitation and the Iowa Department of Human Services
School administrators need the following information when a Department of Human Services (DHS) employee comes to school asking for confidential access to a student.
Child Abuse Investigations – Confidential Access to Child at School
If the DHS employee is a Child Protection Worker (CPW), which is also designated as SWIII, this employee is a social worker who does indeed get confidential access to the child. “Confidential access to a child” means that the CPW may interview, ob-serve and/or examine a child with no prior notice to the child’s parents. (Section 232.73 grants immunity to school officials who cooperate with DHS.) Confidential access is used by DHS when the child’s safety or immediate needs warrant it.
When a CPW arrives at a school requesting confidential access, the CPW may provide school administrators with a letter that explains the nature of the visit. School administrators should request to see proper identification. Upon verification, school administrators should cooperate with the CPW and allow confidential access to the child for the purpose of interviewing the child, as well as providing confidential access to other children who may have information relevant to the child abuse investigation.
While it is not necessary for a witness to be present during the interview with the child, a witness is required if the CPW makes an “observation” of the child. It is the responsibility of the CPW to determine whether to request school personnel to participate in the assessment process as a witness during an observation of the child. (For example, the Child Protective Worker may ask that a school nurse be present while observing bruising on a child.) An “observation” is defined in Iowa Code section 232.68(3)(b) as:
“…direct physical viewing of a child under the age of four by the child protection worker where the viewing is limited to the child’s body other than the genitalia and pubes …[or] … direct physical viewing of a child aged four or older by the child protection worker without touching the child or removing an article of the child’s clothing, and doing so without the consent of the child’s parent, custodian, or guardian. A child protection worker is not precluded from recording evidence of abuse obtained as a result of a child’s voluntary removal of an article of clothing without inducement by the child protection worker. However, if prior consent of the child’s parent or guardian, or an ex parte court order, is obtained, “observation” may include viewing the child’s unclothed body other than the genitalia and pubes.”
Reasons Other Than Child Abuse Investigations
DHS is the legal custodian of a child placed in foster care. As such, a DHS case manager who has oversight for the child’s placement may visit a foster care child at school with or without prior parental notification or approval. Upon arriving, the case manager should provide identification. Then, as is the case when a parent comes to school seeking access to the parent’s child, the school administrator must determine whether the request is reasonable, making sure that the visit does not unduly interrupt the student’s education.
Just as a parent has no automatic right to have access to the parent’s child at school, there is no automatic right of a non-CPW to have access to a student at school. Obviously, a court order must be obeyed if the DHS employee has a court order giving the employee access to a student. School administrators are urged to comply with reasonable requests, and if the school ad-ministrator determines that the visit needs to be rescheduled or relocated, the school should work with the DHS employee to accomplish that quickly and effectively.