Don't throw away Iowa Juvenile Home

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 22 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:28 am in
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Gazette Editorial Board

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Last month, we agreed there were valid reasons for state officials to close the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo — until alleged problems of child abuse and the institution’s education program were worked out.

We didn’t call for IJH to be shuttered forever. And we don’t think it should be, especially after hearing testimony from a contingent on Friday. The group included staff members, a teacher and a former student, as well as members of the IJH Foundation that helps support the institution and former Iowa Congressman Dave Nagle, who grew up in Toledo and serves as adviser to the “Save Our Home” initiative — a campaign to clear up what they say are “distortions” in some media reports and get the home reopened.

The IJH was closed last week in the wake of two investigations by the Iowa Department of Education, following complaints in August by Disability Rights Iowa. Since July 1, 48 remaining residents were discharged to other placements, many with fewer services.

Neither the governor nor other state offices have given any public sign that they’ll consider reopening the home.

They should.

IJH has been a facility of last resort, mostly for girls. Without it, severely delinquent girls have no place to go comparable to the Iowa Boys Training School in Eldora. The IJH campus also represents a $200 million state investment, including a $22 million upgrade three years ago to improve security and safety. What becomes of it should IJH never reopen?

Certainly there were problems at IJH. Our visitors acknowledged some of those, too, albeit with more context than DRI provided. They also noted that many residents came to IJH several grade levels behind with as many as 15 to 20 placements. The IJH staff offered expertise, little turnover compared to many private facilities and commitment to providing a safe, stable environment for children to get another chance and avoid prison or other tragic outcomes.

For those children’s sake, wouldn’t it be better to fix what’s wrong at IJH instead of shutting it down for good?

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