The right move for now

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: December 20 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:06 am in
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Gazette Editorial Board

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Thursday night, the “rest of the story” about the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo was aired during a forum. Former residents and staff testified to the institution’s effectiveness in helping deeply troubled youth and tried to counter an image they say has been distorted in media and state investigative reports.

We don’t doubt that the IJH has helped many youth who had no other place to go. We’ve not seen compelling evidence that this institution was negligent or incompetent across the board.

Even so, two investigations by the Iowa Department of Education, following complaints by Disability Rights Iowa in August, revealed a number of troubling flaws in the home and on-campus school, operated and staffed by the Iowa Department of Human Services. They included years of using isolation cells over extended periods for some residents. The school program was seriously understaffed by the DHS and the education of students was often neglected.

And though the IJH is to close in January, it still must provide “compensatory education” for 11 of 18 teenagers discharged on their 18th birthday since 2011 who have not yet earned their high school diploma, so vital to a better life.

The DHS and the governor, who on Dec. 9 announced the closing after recommendations from a task force the governor appointed in August, have taken heat from some legislators and Toledo community members for acting too hastily to close the facility and lay off 93 DHS employees without more public input. Yes, the move was sudden, but the immediate welfare of the youth takes precedence; a drawn-out debate could unduly delay action. DHS Director Charles Palmer said appropriate alternative placements were available for the 21 youth.

We are troubled that the problems weren’t called out sooner by someone at IJH. And the closing comes only a few years after more than $20 million was spent on IJH facilities. Nonetheless, it’s best to shutter IJH until staffing, work culture and education issues are resolved.

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