Exact change by Lynda Waddington

Resignation can't stymie DHS probe

Iowa DHS Director Charles Palmer speaks at a Johnson County Task Force on Aging forum at the Coralville Public Library in Coralville on Monday, December 8, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Iowa DHS Director Charles Palmer speaks at a Johnson County Task Force on Aging forum at the Coralville Public Library in Coralville on Monday, December 8, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Two of three teens the state pledged to protect were placed in homes where they were subsequently neglected and abused to death. The third fled her torturers.

More than 4,000 other Iowa children are overseen by this most likely flawed system.

A retirement announcement Wednesday by Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer does not absolve him of any failed obligations to these minors, living or dead. The move should spark renewed commitment to bring the truth to light.

Known victims of the state system are 16-year-old Natalie Finn of West Des Moines, 18-year-old Malayia Knapp of Des Moines, and 16-year-old Sabrina Ray of Perry.

Finn died last October of cardiac arrest from emaciation. She was found unresponsive on the floor of a barren room in her home, in a diaper she had apparently worn for “some time.” Her bedroom window had been nailed shut by her adoptive father after she and her siblings sneaked out to beg for food. Finn wasn’t removed from the home despite reports of neglect. Her adoptive parents, who had divorced, face criminal charges and have lost custody of two other children, who were hospitalized due to neglect.

Knapp appeared before a government oversight committee in February — a meeting Republican lawmakers declined to attend — to detail years of starvation and abuse at the hand of her adoptive mother. Knapp ran away, leaving two younger siblings behind. Her mother pleaded guilty to simple assault, and the younger children were returned to the home.

Ray was found dead in her home on May 12, while her adoptive parents visited Disney World. She had been left in the care of her adoptive brother, a 21-year-old man who was arrested this week for “drop-kicking” the teen down a basement staircase in the weeks before her death. Ray weighed only 56 pounds when she died. Numerous adoptive family members, including her parents, are facing criminal charges related to the girl’s suffering and death.

All three teenagers were adopted out of the state’s foster care system. Adoptive parents continue to receive monthly payments to subsidize care of their “hard-to-place” or “special-needs” children through the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, but faced far less state oversight once granted full custody. It’s believed the parents used home schooling to further isolate their children and conceal ongoing neglect and abuse.

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Essentially, it’s taxpayer-funded torture; evil and selfish callousness purposefully hidden from view.

And yet, when Palmer’s agency recently reviewed its administrative rules, no suggestions were made to increase oversight in these potentially volatile situations.

The DHS budget was slashed by more than $20 million this year alone. Since 2011, about 800 employees, or a sixth of the agency’s workforce, has been terminated.

Iowans deserve to know if these or other management decisions contributed to the torture of these teens. And, if they did, Palmer, retired or not, must be held accountable.

The luxury of partisanship died along side these teens. Discovering how the state failed them must be a priority.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 339-3144, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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