DES MOINES – The state should tear down cottages at the Iowa Juvenile Home that pose safety concerns and gradually make the Toledo facility a home for adolescent girls only, according a task force considering recommended improvements they plan to deliver to Gov. Terry Branstad by mid-October.
In preliminary discussions Monday, the five-member panel appointed by Branstad said the state should consider a transition period to look at ways to move boys currently housed at the Toledo home to other facilities, work with private providers to find alternatives for girls who are delinquent or in need of assistance, and encourage the courts to require guardians, care workers and juvenile officers to keep closure tabs on the fragile children. They said the proposed changes could involve some kind of third-party oversight or licensing to accomplish.
The panel also said the transition should look at options for providing future educational programs through the local school district in conjunction with Area Education Agency 267. Task force members will meet again next Monday to meet the target of presenting their final recommendations to the governor by Oct. 15.
Professor Jerry Foxhoven, the executive director of the Drake Legal Clinic who Branstad tabbed to lead the task force, said the group also is looking at proposals to improve educational and other services provided at the home, which came under close scrutiny when concerns were raised about alleged inappropriate use of physical restraints and isolation rooms at the state-run Toledo home.
Branstad has said he wants to change a “culture of abuse” that came to light recently with reports that juveniles at the facility have been placed in isolation on occasions for as long as a year.
The problems prompted Branstad to create the task force and sign an executive order immediately holding the Juvenile Home to the same standards for restraint or seclusion as a private comprehensive residential facility. At the time, Branstad said the intent of his action was increase safety, transparency and oversight in treatment for children at the home.
Foxhoven said testimony the task force received during three meetings indicate conditions of improved significantly at the Toledo home, with incidents where restraints or seclusion have used being “way down” based on reports they received.
“They’ve done a great job of addressing a lot of them already,” Foxhoven said. “There’s been just incredible improvement. It’s a much safer place for kids than it was six months ago.”
Charles Palmer, director of the state Department of Human Services and a task force member, said he was unsure how much it would cost to tear down the cottages that serve as living quarters and to replace them. “We’ll have people look at it so we have a better sense. It’s going to depend on how many beds you put in it,” he said.
Foxhoven said the cottages are “very outdated, they’re not safe.”
During a legislative hearing last month, Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said he was concerned about staffing and training shortages at the facility as well as safety concerns. McCoy, co-chair of the House-Senate transportation, infrastructure and capitals budget subcommittee, said he planned to ask state Department of Administrative Services’ officials to order a follow-up health and safety inspection at the Toledo facility and have his subcommittee look into the issue next session.
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