Adoption and Guardianship Assistance - Iowa

Date: September 2023

What specific factors or conditions does your State consider to determine that a child cannot be placed with an adoptive family without providing financial assistance? ("What is your State definition of special needs?")

A child with special needs is defined as a child that has at least one of the following needs or circumstances that may be a barrier to placement or adoption without financial assistance:

  • Eight years of age or older and Caucasian
  • Two years of age or older and a member of a minority race or ethnic group or of mixed parentage
  • Member of a sibling group of three or more children placed in the same adoptive home
  • Medically diagnosed disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities or requires professional treatment, assistance in self-care, or the purchase of special equipment
  • Diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder that impairs the child’s mental, intellectual, or social functioning, and for which the child requires professional services
  • Diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional to have a behavioral or emotional disorder characterized by behavior that is inappropriate to the situation and deviates substantially from behavior appropriate to the child’s age or significantly interferes with child’s intellectual, social, and personal adjustment
  • Determined to be mentally retarded by a qualified mental retardation professional
  • Determined by a qualified professional to be at high risk of developing a qualifying medical, mental or emotional condition, in which case, a future agreement may be negotiated


What is the maximum amount a family may receive in non-recurring adoption expenses from your State? (Adoptive parents can receive reimbursement of certain approved, "one-time" adoption expenses incurred in the process of finalizing a special needs adoption.)

Generally limited to a total of $500 per child for attorney fees, court costs and other related legal expenses.


Does your State enter into deferred adoption assistance agreements? (In some States, adoptive parents can enter into an agreement in which they choose to defer the receipt of a Medicaid card, the monthly monetary payment, or both and can elect to receive the Medicaid card and/or monetary payment at another time.)

The adoptive family may negotiate an Agreement to Future Adoption Subsidy with DHS prior to adoption finalization if the child is eligible for subsidy, but the child or family does not currently need assistance, or if the child is “at risk” of being determined a child with special needs by a qualified professional.


When can adoption assistance payments and benefits begin in your State?

Prior to adoption finalization, of other community resources are not available, adoptive parents may negotiate an adoption subsidy agreement based on the child’s special needs, the family’s circumstances, and the availability of funds.


How are changes made to the adoption assistance agreement in your State?

  • When can a parent request a change in the adoption assistance agreement?
  • How does a parent request a change in the adoption assistance agreement?
  • What if a parent does not receive the change they request in the adoption assistance agreement?

An adoptive parent can request a change in an adoption assistance agreement whenever the needs of the child or the family's circumstances change. Across-the-board adjustments in adoption assistance payments are made when the State legislature approves cost-of-living adjustments. To initiate a change in the agreement, the adoptive parent should contact, in writing or by phone, the adoption unit located in the county in which the family resides.

There is no established format for the change request. The DHS worker that responds to the family will specify what documentation is needed to support the change in order to make a determination regarding the request.


What types of postadoption services are available in your State, and how do you find out more about them?

Post adoption services in Iowa are administered by the Department of Human Services (DHS) for children receiving adoption assistance. Services offered include assistance with behavior management plans; crisis intervention; advocacy for the family and child with schools, service providers, and DHS; developing service goals to help stabilize the child and family; and supporting the family’s relationship with birth family or kin. Services may be provided in the family’s home and at no cost to the family. Families are eligible if they receive adoption assistance.

The Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association (IFAPA), offers programs and resources to support foster, adoptive and kinship parents in Iowa through its Resource and Information Specialist (RIS) Program. Families can access services by contacting their local DHS office.

Many private organizations offer a variety of respite options. See the ARCH National Respite Network Respite Locator Service, search by state to locate: Iowa's respite programs.

Note: Not all services may be available in all areas of the state. Contact your adoption assistance worker or post adoption services specialist for information regarding process, eligibility, availability, and duration of services.


What mental health services are provided by your State?

The Division of Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) is responsible for planning, coordinating, monitoring, improving and partially funding mental health and disability services for the State of Iowa. The division engages in a wide variety of activities that promote a well-coordinated statewide system of high quality disability-related services and supports.

Note: Not all services may be available in all cases. Contact your adoption assistance worker or medical assistance specialist for information regarding process, eligibility, availability, and duration of services.


Does your State provide additional finances or services for medical or therapeutic needs not covered under your State medical plan to children receiving adoption assistance?

Special services subsidy eligibility is based on the needs of the child and the availability of funds. The adoptive family and DHS adoption worker must negotiate the child’s needs for special services subsidy prior to adoption finalization. Special services may include: outpatient counseling and therapy services, the additional cost to add the child to the family’s health insurance, medical services not covered by the Medicaid program (limited to the additional cost to include the child in the family’s health insurance coverage plan), medical transportation not covered by Medicaid, supplies and equipment as required and unavailable through other resources along with other needs and reimbursements.


What is your State's process for applying for a fair hearing? (A fair hearing is a legal, administrative procedure that provides a forum to address disagreements with agency decisions.)

Adoptive parents can request a fair hearing whenever there is dissatisfaction with any action or failure to act with regard to an application for adoption services, services that the family is receiving, or because such assistance has been denied, reduced or terminated. The request for fair hearing (also know as an appeal) must be in writing and sent or taken to the DHS office located in the family’s county of residence. There is no specified format required for the appeal request letter. To obtain a hearing the family must file an appeal within thirty calendar days or before the effective date on the notice, whichever is greater. The family may obtain assistance in formulating the appeal request from the local DHS office.

A request is sent to:

Department of Human Services
Appeal Section, Hoover Bldg. 5th Floor
1305 East Walnut
Des Moines, IA 50319

The DHS will determine whether or not an appeal may be granted a hearing. If a hearing is granted, the adoptive family will be notified of the time and place. If a hearing is not granted, the family will be notified in writing of the reason and the procedures for challenging that decision. If an appeal hearing is granted, the family may explain their disagreement or have someone such as a relative or friend explain the disagreement for them. An attorney may represent the family, but this representation is at the family’s expense. The local county DHS office has information about legal services available to families that are based on a family’s ability to pay (known as a “sliding scale fee”). Families may also contact the Legal Services Corporation of Iowa, phone: 800.532.1275. For questions regarding a specific fair hearing, families can call DHS collect, phone: 515.281.8774 or 515.281.3094.


Does your state, territory, or tribe offer a guardianship subsidy or assistance (monthly payments and medical coverage) program?

Yes. Assistance is available regardless of the child’s title IV-E eligibility. There is no difference in benefits or eligibility between IV-E and State/territorial/tribal guardianship programs.

  • Does the guardianship assistance program differ from the adoption assistance program? Yes
  • If so, how does it differ? Children can receive assistance to high school completion as well as to age 21 if they have a qualifying diagnosis.


What are the eligibility criteria for a child to receive guardianship assistance?

The Subsidized Guardianship Program is a consideration for a youth (age 14 or older) who is currently under juvenile court jurisdiction, and in the department's custody. Additionally, guardianship may be an option for a youth who is age 12 or older. The child must be a part of a sibling group and residing in the same home as a 14 year old or older sibling, who is in a guardianship arrangement with the family. Adoption and reunification must have been ruled out as appropriate permanency options. The youth must agree to the guardianship.


Do families have to meet a kinship definition to receive guardianship assistance? If yes, how is kinship defined?

Yes. The proposed guardian must be a relative as defined in 441-201: “A person to whom a youth is related by blood, marriage, or adoption, or a person who has a significant, committed, positive relationship with the youth.” The proposed guardian must be a licensed foster parent.


If a specific question is not displayed, the State or Territory did not provide a response to that question.