By Gordon Taylor
First of all, let me agree with District 72 state Rep. Dean Fisher (Dec. 29 guest column, “Closing Iowa Juvenile Home a bad idea”) that the closure of the IJH is premature. However, his attempt to lay out the facts and correct the record appears to fall short in a number of areas.
1. He points to a law firm that claims the name Disability Rights Iowa and also blames the Des Moines Register for months of attacks. Disability Rights Iowa is a federally funded legal advocacy firm with specific mandates including the monitoring for safety and compliance of the IJH, among other sites. The Des Moines Register has published a timeline of articles beginning with the death of Chris Campbell in 1997 and continuing through the investigations that have led to the Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task Force report and recommendations. The “attacks” are consistent with good investigative journalism, in my opinion, and I certainly think the death of a resident of IJH is worthy of investigation and reporting.
2. Regarding the staffing levels: Mr. Fisher points out that a staff of 93 for a student population of 21 (and a budget of $10.5 million, or $500,000 per student per year) is absurd and expensive. I agree. However, he then tries to make the case that this is a result of legislation that restricts the IJH to a maximum of 57 students and a staff of 114. If I factor the budget by the increased staff size and use the 57 students, I get a figure of $226,000 per year per student. Fisher then points out that to send a student out of state will cost about $500 a day, which translates to $182,500 per year per student. This starts to look like different degrees of absurd.
3. Fisher states that closing the facility and transferring the students out of state results in “hundreds of jobs” going with them. That is probably an exaggeration and shouldn’t be a deciding point in considering the welfare of the students.
Now the governor’s task force did not recommend the closure of the IJH. In fact, if I may summarize, they recommended that the facility be girls only; the school be run by the local school district with sufficient funding assured; a State Training School for Delinquent Girls should be established either at Toledo or elsewhere; the facility should be subjected to third-party oversight and licensure; the state should establish a funding mechanism to allow private providers funding to maintain the Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) in those private facilities; the Iowa Department of Human Services should develop and maintain rules and procedures that ensure the caseworkers, juvenile officers, attorneys and guardians ad litem maintain regular contact with their respective clients; and, finally, the Iowa Code must be amended to accurately describe the youth placement criteria.
On the surface it would appear that the IJH is in need of a major overhaul as a minimum. Despite the glowing reports that have appeared in The Gazette regarding the good works of the IJH Foundation and the “success” stories of former residents, there is an apparent history of substandard care, if not abuse.
I don’t feel qualified to comment on the details of this but I do think it is clear that the students, can be better served at some noteworthy savings through a reorganization and restructuring of the IJH. I also think that an outright closure by Jan. 16 is a knee-jerk reaction.
Gordon Taylor of Anamosa retired in 1995 as Director of Technical Operations from Lockheed-Martin Advanced Development and Technology Organization in San Diego. After moving to Anamosa, he purchased and has managed Wapsi Waste Service for the last 11 years. He and his wife have two grown children. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org