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Hearings and Procedure


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. From intake the case may proceed in two directions, either to informal adjustment or to the filing of a formal delinquency petition. If a child has been apprehended or detained by law enforcement, the matter may go straight to the filing of a petition without the intake procedure. The petition is generally filed by the county attorney.

Informal Adjustment

If a matter proceeds by informal adjustment, the child, the child’s parents and juvenile court services sign an informal adjustment agreement that requires that the child admit the charges and agree to certain conditions. If a child obeys the conditions of the informal adjustment agreement, the child is released from the oversight of the juvenile court.

Formal Proceedings

The filing of a petition by the county attorney on behalf of the state triggers formal court proceedings. The petition contains allegations of the child’s delinquent acts. Most petitions proceed to adjudicatory hearings. An adjudicatory hearing is a court hearing to determine if the allegations in the petition are supported by evidence. The child has the right to be represented by counsel. If the child cannot afford
counsel, counsel will be provided at state expense. Both sides present evidence. 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 acts, the child is adjudicated a delinquent. A disposition hearing follows a determination of delinquency. At the disposition hearing the court determines the appropriate consequences or treatment for the child.


In cases involving violent criminal behavior by older adolescents there may be a waiver hearing to decide if a child should tried as an adult. A juvenile judge may “waive” a child to adult court if the child is over 14 years of age and there are no reasonable prospects to rehabilitate the child in juvenile court. If a child is sixteen or over and commits a “forcible felony,” that child is automatically waived to adult court. Once waived to adult 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.


The court has two disposition options: probation or placement. If the court orders formal probation, the child must comply with certain conditions. If a child successfully completes the probation, the child is released from the jurisdiction of the court. If a child does not comply with probation, the child will be subject to further disposition by the court. In addition, the court may place the child in foster care, residential treatment or a state institution

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When do I need a lawyer?

The simple answer to this question is you should consult with an attorney as soon as you learn of HHS involvement with your child(ren). You may not need to retain the services of an attorney, but it is important to preserve your rights. The best way to preserve your rights is to talk with an attorney and get an understanding of the process you are involved in with your child(ren). Each case is fact specific, and a short consultation will educate and empower you to make the best decisions for you and your family.

A child abuse report has been made, now what?

Initially reports made to the state of regarding a troubled child are investigation by Child Protective Services. If the Department of Human Services (DHS) believes a resolution of the reported issue can be resolved without beginning a formal CINA case, the DHS can recommend Family Preservation Services.

Hearings and Procedure

Emergency Removal Hearings

The State can seek to remove a child from the custody of the parents if the child is in imminent danger of life or health. A child may be removed from the home without a hearing if the judge is presented evidence, from a person familiar with the case, that the child is in imminent danger.

Pretrial Conferences

The Pretrial Conference is generally the first appearance in court. The parents are required to be present along with their attorney, if retained. The pretrial conference is the time for parents to tell the court if they will fight the case and demand an adjudicatory hearing.

Adjudicatory Hearings

During the adjudicatory hearing the state must prove to the Court the facts alleged in the petition. The parents then have the chance to present their case through witnesses and exhibits. In a CINA case, there is no right to a jury and the case will be tried before a judge. The judge will determine if the State has met its burden of proof and may adjudicate the child(ren) as in need of assistance. If adjudicated, the next step will most often be the dispositional hearing.

Dispositional Hearings

At the dispositional hearing the judge will determine the services to be provided to the family. Services may be recommended by the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), County Attorney, and Guardian Ad Litem. Parents through legal counsel will also have the opportunity to request services at each hearing. Ultimately, the judge will decide what services will be provided based upon the best interests of the child.

Review Hearings

If the child has been removed from the home, a review hearing will be scheduled every 3-6 months to review the progress of services, condition of the child, and placement of the child. If the judge determines that the child is out of danger and the issues have been resolved, they may order the return of the child to the home or closure of the case. Alternatively, the judge may order continuation of services or additional services be provided.

Permanency Hearings

Iowa law requires that a child who has been removed from parental custody have a permanent placement plan no later than one year after removal if 4 years of age or older. The plan is established during the permanency hearing. The goal is always reunification with the parents. However, the court may order alternative placement options in the event that reunification is not safe or possible.

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