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Juvenile Court

Juvenile Court and Procedure

The juvenile court is a specialized court within the district court that presides over cases solely related to children, which include:

  • Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) cases, which typically involve neglected, abandoned, or abused children.
  • Termination of parental rights (TPR) cases, which involve severing the legal ties between parent and child.
  • Delinquency cases, which involve acts that would typically be considered criminal if committed by an adult.
  • Commitment proceedings, which involve the placement of a child in a hospital or other treatment facility to treat mental illness or substance abuse.
  • Adoption.

Child in Need of Assistance Proceedings

Removal—At the state’s request and with sufficient proof, a juvenile judge may remove a child from his or her home without a hearing if the child is in imminent danger. If a child is removed without a hearing, a hearing must be held within 10 days of the removal for the judge to determine whether continued removal is necessary and to provide the child’s parents an opportunity to be present and heard.

Adjudication—A child in need of assistance case begins when the state files a petition that alleges a child is in need of assistance for certain legal reasons, such as the parent being unable or unwilling to provide adequate care or supervision of the child, or the child has been abandoned, abused, or neglected.

At the adjudication hearing, the state will offer evidence and call witnesses to support its claim. The parents may deny and contest the allegations and offer evidence to refute the state’s claim. Or, the parents may agree that their child is in need of assistance so they can obtain necessary treatment and services they may be unable to otherwise obtain.

Disposition—After the adjudication hearing, the next hearing is a disposition hearing. At the disposition hearing, the judge determines what services should be provided to the parents to help them overcome whatever problems led to the need for adjudication, what services should be provided to the child, and whether the child should be placed out of the home.

Review—The court must hold a review hearing at least every six months after a child has been removed from the home. At a review hearing, the judge will review the parents’ efforts to comply with court-ordered treatment and services, the condition of the child, whether additional services are needed, and the placement of the child.

Termination of Parental Rights Proceedings

Termination of Parental Rights—The legal relationship between parent and child can be severed only under certain circumstances, as provided by the legislature. Only when a juvenile judge determines that the legal requirements have been met and that doing so is in the child’s best interests, can the judge enter an order terminating parental rights. This order permanently ends the parents’ legal relationship with the child, and makes the child eligible for adoption.

Juvenile Delinquency Proceedings

Intake—In most situations involving delinquent behavior, the first step is intake. This is the preliminary screening of a complaint by a juvenile court officer and the child’s parents. The purpose of intake is to determine whether the court should take action in the case. If the complaint is screened in, the case may proceed in two directions, either to informal adjustment or to the filing of a formal delinquency petition. The petition is typically filed by the state through the county attorney.

Informal Adjustment—If a matter proceeds by informal adjustment, the child, the parents, and juvenile court services sign an informal adjustment agreement that requires that the child admit the charges and agree to certain conditions of supervision. If the child obeys the conditions of the informal adjustment agreement, the child is released from the supervision of juvenile court services and no delinquency petition is ever filed.

Formal Proceedings—The filing of a delinquency petition triggers formal court proceedings. The petition contains allegations of the child’s delinquent acts.

Adjudication—An adjudicatory hearing is a court hearing to determine if the allegations in the delinquency petition are supported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The child has the constitutional right to be represented by counsel. If the child cannot afford counsel, counsel will be provided at state expense.

At the hearing, both sides present evidence largely in accordance with the Iowa Rules of Evidence, similar to a criminal trial but without a jury. If the child is found not to have committed the alleged delinquent acts, the petition is dismissed and the child is no longer under the jurisdiction of the court. If the child is found to have committed the delinquent acts, the child is adjudicated a delinquent and then the case proceeds to disposition.

Disposition—A disposition hearing follows a determination of delinquency. At the disposition hearing the court determines the least restrictive appropriate consequences or treatment for the child.

As a part of the disposition, the court will decide where the child will be placed and what terms of supervision will apply. Placement options include the child staying with the parents or being placed outside the home with a relative or friend of the family, foster care, a shelter, a treatment facility, or—as a last resort—the state training school. Supervision is typically accomplished through probation and monitored by the juvenile court officer. If a child successfully completes the probation, the child is released from supervision, and the court case will end.

The court will hold periodic review hearings to monitor the juvenile’s progress and make changes to the terms of supervision and placement as needed until the case ends.

Waiver—In some cases involving violent criminal behavior by older adolescents a waiver hearing may take place to decide if a child should be tried as an adult in criminal court. A juvenile judge may waive a child to adult court if the child is over fourteen years old and there are no reasonable prospects to rehabilitate the child in juvenile court. If a child is sixteen or over and commits a certain type of felony, that child is automatically waived to adult criminal court and can then request to be waived back down to juvenile court. Once waived to adult criminal court the child is no longer under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and is subject to the same criminal procedures and penalties as adults.

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