Closure of Juvenile Home leaves a gap

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: February 16 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:42 am in
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By Frederick Helm

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I think we can all agree that the most troubled youth in Iowa are in need of a facility that can provide them the basic needs of food, water, shelter and safety and be a vehicle to foster change and resiliency in their lives, as was provided by the Iowa Juvenile Home/State Training School for Girls in Toledo (which was closed last month by order of Gov. Terry Branstad).

This is evidenced by the many brave women who have stepped forward with their stories and testimonials of time spent at the facility. This has been echoed by the director of the Department of Human Services and other top DHS officials.

Chief Juvenile Court officers have spoken on the need for the IJH. The legislators had passed legislation appropriating funding for its operation and the governor had signed the bill.

The IJH, just like any other state facility, private facility or corporation, is operated through established policies and procedures that employees are required to follow. The IJH had policies dealing in all aspects of its operation, which were developed and approved by the DHS. This included policies regarding use of restraint and seclusion for safety of all the youth. Staff did not develop these policies. Staff did follow these policies in their daily care of all the youth.

Now if we go back to 2012, I believe there was a population cap placed, limiting population to 50 youth. So you had 90-plus staff caring for about 50 youth in various capacities on a daily basis, every day, 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

The federally funded group, Disability Rights Iowa, visited IJH and began an investigation. An investigation is commonly known to mean to find out the facts about something and make a systematic examination of something. So generally speaking, one would conclude that to most effectively investigate the care of the most troubled youth at IJH, one would talk with all youth and staff to get a clear assessment and then base your findings on a preponderance of all the facts.

Can you really get a clear picture or assessment of a facility based on 10 percent or fewer of the youth being treated? What about the rights of the rest of the youth?

Is a public forum consisting of one of the state of Iowa’s leading newspapers the ethical place to discuss issues involving an ongoing investigation concerning Iowa’s most troubled youth, based on only a portion of their story?

With the departure of administrators at the IJH and the introduction of an interim superintendent, procedures and policies were quickly changed and all staff worked together to follow the leadership of the interim superintendent to make changes that DRI had cited necessary. The IJH staff was recognized and praised, by the interim superintendent, the director of DHS and other administrators in DHS, for the real changes that were accomplished, through new effective policies and trainings.

On Dec 9, 2013, closure was announced and the process to displace all the youth began. This process took over 30 days to place the remaining 21 youth. Of the 21 youth who were displaced, it’s been reported that two are on the run with their whereabouts unknown.

The closure of the IJH has created a serious lack of services for some of the state’s most troubled youth. Let’s keep IJH open!

l Frederick Helm of Toledo worked at the Iowa Juvenile Home for 15 years as a Youth Service Worker (YSW) in the Support Department. Comments: fphelmjr@gmail.com

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