Gov. Branstad to ask Iowa Supreme court to overturn juvenile home decision

Official says home investigation is greatly distorted and “didn’t focus on all the things they were doing right”

James Q. Lynch
Published: February 7 2014 | 5:00 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:20 am in

Although he agrees the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home was in the best of the girls living there, a member of the task force that advised the governor thinks the girls deserve better “parenting” than they are receiving from the state.

“The state is acting like their parent and we have not been a very good parent to these kids and it’s time that we start being a good parent to them,” Drake University law Professor Jerry Foxhoven said Friday. A child advocate for 35 years, Foxhoven chaired an independent task force appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad to investigate abuse allegations at the Toledo home.

Foxhoven’s comment came before the latest round in the parenting dispute between Branstad and the Iowa Legislature over how to raise those girls.

As expected, Branstad said Friday he will ask the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn a Polk County District Court ordering him to re-open the Iowa Juvenile Home.

The governor – represented by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, said it is his duty to execute all laws of the state, including those applying to children adjudicated delinquent or in need of assistance.

“These laws are based on a single, overriding premise: The best interests of the children,” according to the request for appeal.

Since Branstad closed the home in mid-January, the girls have been placed in a variety of private, non-profit facilities, detention centers, youth shelters and mental health. Also, approximately 93 employees were laid off.

“The children were subjected to over 47,000 hours of isolation, denied the education they deserve and mistreated by staff,” he said. “These children are now in licensed and accredited facilities where they are being better served, receiving the education they were denied at the Iowa Juvenile Home and the treatment and care they need.”

Branstad emphasized his “utmost concern is protecting the health, safety and education of the children who resided at the Iowa Juvenile Home.”

The facts show otherwise, according to Sen. Jack Hatch of Des Moines, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor. It’s unfortunate, he said, the governor “has decided to fight his responsibilities in court.”

However, people close to the investigation into allegations of abuse at the Iowa Juvenile Home, voiced skepticism that there is a legislative solution.

While a solution will take the cooperation between all the stakeholders, including the governor, Legislature and Department of Human Services, Jane Hudson of Disability Rights Iowa called current legislation to re-open the home a “jobs bill.”

That bill, Senate File 2084, would send any child who has failed three placements, “whatever failed means,” to the Iowa Juvenile Home, said Hudson, who was part of the investigation of the home.

“Here is a failing facility with insufficient staff and training assessing children and the courts are required to send them,” she said.

Former U.S. Rep. Dave Nagle, a Waterloo attorney who grew up in Toledo, said the Disability Rights of Iowa and task force investigations into mistreatment at the home has been greatly distorted and “didn’t focus on all the things they were doing right.”

He also said Branstad and administrations for the past 30 years should be held accountable for “allowing those kids to be in there if it’s so unsafe.”

The great majority of girls who were placed in the home have been successful, Nagle said, and “are extremely grateful for what the Toledo Juvenile Home staff and the town did for them.”

“These are our kids,” Foxhoven said. That’s why it’s important to find the best way to serve them."

Girls served by the Iowa Juvenile Home aren’t “going off to Chicago and getting some great job or going to LA and getting into films,” he said.

“They’re staying right -- this is the future of Iowa and if we can help them have a productive life and function a lot better we’re going to be a better state for it, number one,” Foxhoven said. “Number two, it’s the right thing to do.”

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