DES MOINES – A state task force Monday finalized 10 recommended changes at the Iowa Juvenile home that included making it a girls-only facility subject to third-party oversight with revamped cottages that address residents’ needs while closing current “control” and “seclusion” rooms that have drawn controversy.
The five-member panel appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad also advised state officials to consider a 20-bed “placement of last resort” for delinquent girls similar to the Eldora boys’ training school operated by the state or private sector, and to create a funding mechanism to allow private providers to serve minors in need of assistance in private alternative settings near the homes of the youth involved.
They also encouraged the courts to require guardians, care workers and juvenile officers to keep closure tabs on the fragile children. Task force members recommended year-round educational services for the school’s residents operated on the campus but by a local school district with “sufficient” funding, not by the state Department of Human Services.
That recommendation came on a day when the Iowa Department of Education issued a noncompliance report regarding special education programs offered at the Iowa Juvenile Home that included numerous violations cited during a review in August.
The citations noted frequent school removals for students, which were considered procedures not shown to be effective but resulting in lost educational time for students. The home was told to submit detailed date on school removals no later than Nov. 1 for further review.
According to the report from Amy Williamson, chief of the state Department of Education’s bureau of school improvement, the home’s school was cited for services not meeting students’ needs, inadequate general supervision, a lack of secondary transition planning and service delivery and inadequate compliance with individual educational program requirements.
“School is not viewed as a priority at (the Iowa Juvenile Home),” according to the compliance review. “All other residential considerations are prioritized while educational needs are disregarded.”
DHS Director Charles Palmer, also a task force member, called the compliance review “a very sobering report.” Officials at the Toledo facility are to submit a plan of corrective action to the Iowa Department of Education no later than next Jan. 15.
Palmer said his department, along with the Area Education Agency, have significant duties ahead to implement actions outlined in the review.
“We value education and realize it is a critical component to success for the students served at the Iowa Juvenile Home,” Palmer said in a statement. “We have already begun implementing some of the recommended changes, and we will move immediately to address the others.”
The task force recommended that the IJH school be operated on campus by the South Tama school district, but superintendent Kerri Nelson expressed concern that her district had been brought into the discussion recently with many unknowns about reliable state funding to accomplish the proposed transition.
“I’ve known for about two weeks that it was being considered,” Nelson said. “I’m left with many, many questions about the potential impact on my school district.”
In its findings, the task said the combination of serving both boys and girls at the Toledo home is “not conducive” to an orderly operation in the best interests of the youngsters place there in recommending that it be converted to a girls-only facility.
Task force members also said the school has been updated and is an excellent facility, “but the cottages are aged and designed in a way that does not allow for even basically adequate monitoring by staff.” They noted that the excessive number of “control rooms” in the home’s support unit have an extreme “prison-like” appearance and contribute to the creation of the “corrections culture” that was prevalent in the home in the past.
Task force chairman Jerry Foxhoven praised IJH interim superintendent Mark Day for lowering the frequency of the use of restraint and seclusion and for taking proactive steps to resolve many of the problems recently identified at the Toledo facility, where DHS officials DHS recorded an 89 percent reduction in the use of seclusion measures used during the 12-month period ending last July.
“The Iowa Juvenile Home is often viewed as the placement of last resort, and its staff has worked hard to more positively address the serious mental health and behavioral issues these children exhibit,” Foxhoven said. “Under new leadership, the facility has shown success in making culture changes to provide a better environment for the youth. Our recommendations to the governor will continue making IJH a better facility for children placed there.”
The recommendations now go to Branstad for his consideration.
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