Branstad cool to legislative “safety net” plan for troubled youth

Legislation in both Senate, House proposes steps to repair gaps in care of delinquent youth, children in need

Rod Boshart
Published: January 31 2014 | 4:00 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:58 am in

JOHNSTON – Gov. Terry Branstad said Friday he is not interested in “trying to reinvent the past” by re-establishing state services for troubled youth at a Toledo facility that was closed after numerous problems and shortcomings came to light.

State lawmakers upset over the recent closing of the Iowa Juvenile Home are seeking to establish a new state-run effort to assess and help troubled youth -- especially girls -- with treatment and educational programs operated through the existing Toledo facility.

Legislation being offered in both the Senate and House proposes immediate steps to repair gaps in the care of delinquent juveniles or children in need of assistance (CINA) that proponents say were created by the abrupt closure of the Toledo home.

However, Branstad defended his administration’s action during and after Friday’s taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” show, saying the former home residents are better served in alternative settings and he has included money in his budget to provide remedial help to 117 kids who received substandard education at the home.

“I know there are people that aren’t happy because of the fact that they weren’t able to maintain the status quo,” Branstad told reporters after the IPTV taping. “The status quo was not working for these kids and I think it would be a terrible mistake to go back and repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Lawmakers this week said they hoped to create a multi-purpose, residential, accredited treatment center for female juvenile delinquents or female juveniles adjudicated as a child in need of assistance at the Toledo campus.

The plan by a bipartisan group of legislators hopes to establish Iowa’s first statewide assessment program for boys and girls that would include a “three strikes and you’re in” provision requiring all troubled children who have failed three previous placements to undergo an in-depth, on-site assessment at the Iowa Juvenile Home, backers said.

Another component would create a long-term support plan for all youth placed at the new Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo and the State Training School in Eldora that would include support for children as they make the transition into young adulthood. The approach also would include accredited education services at the Toledo home to be provided by the local South Tama school district, the local area education agency or another provider approved by the state Department of Education.

Branstad said the path he has taken is crafted from recommendations made by a task force who studied the problems at the Toledo home. The action also has been endorsed by Disability Rights Iowa, which uncovered problems associated with seclusion and isolation rooms, substandard education and abusive situations at the institution that housed children between the ages of 12 and 18 years, he added.

“My concern is too much emphasis is on protecting the institution. We have these old institutions that have been around forever and the concern seems to be that we’ve got to keep the status quo as opposed to what’s happening to the kids, are they being treated right,” the governor said.

Asked if the state should consider closing the Eldora facility, Branstad said: “I think it would appropriate to look at all of our institutions and are they meeting the needs of the children that are placed there and are there better options or alternatives” but quickly added “I’m not advocating that we change or close that institution.”

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