By Dean Fisher
As most have heard, Gov. Terry Branstad has announced that he will close the Iowa Juvenile Home (IJH) in Toledo on Jan. 16, sending the remaining children in the home into new facilities and laying off 93 employees. I disagree greatly with this decision.
It comes after months of attacks on the IJH from a law firm that claims the name Disability Rights Iowa and from articles in the Des Moines Register. Those claims have consistently been manipulated so that the reality of the situation is virtually the opposite of what is reported. Efforts by the staff at the IJH have been in the interest of keeping the children and staff safe, not punishing the children. I will attempt to lay out the facts and correct the record as best I can.
First, regarding the staffing levels and student population at the IJH. What was reported at the time of the closing announcement was that the IJH had 93 staff for 21 students, leaving the impression that this was a typical staff to student ratio. It is not. A ratio that high sounds absurd and expensive, and it is.
In recent years the IJH has been limited to a maximum of 57 students by statute, and funded at a level of 114 full-time employees. These students would be a mixture of juvenile delinquent and Child In Need of Assistance (CINA). This staffing included cottage workers for 24/7 coverage in four cottages, administration, high school teachers and administration, psychological and nursing staff, and maintenance.
This number of employees is consistent with other facilities of comparable size and mission.
In January, the student population was 50, a typical level. In recent years the population had been in the 70-85 range before the statutory limit was lowered to 57 a few years ago. Over the summer, fewer students had been assigned to the IJH by judges either by directive, or out of concern about the controversy created by the media.
Students that aged out at age 18 or completed their treatment program left as usual, but were not replaced with new students. At some point, the Department of Human Services began to redirect placements to other facilities. Thus the student population was deliberately reduced over a few months from a normal population of about 50 to 21. The staff level also dwindled from 114 to 93 over the same period due to attrition caused by media attacks.
It is important to understand one of the larger issues that is a backdrop to the closing of IJH. The need for the services provided by the IJH and other child care facilities continues to rise. The capacity at such facilities in Iowa is below the demand. DHS currently has roughly 100 children placed in facilities out of state; closing the IJH only worsens this problem. Each child held out of state receives roughly $500 or more in revenue per day per child for the facility housing that child.
Not only are we sending these troubled children that have already suffered severe neglect and abuse out of state, we are sending hundreds of jobs with them to those states. This is unconscionable.
Iowa can and must do better for its troubled children. Closing the IJH is the wrong direction.
Dean Fisher, R-Tama, is the state representative for District 72. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org