DES MOINES—The politically divided Iowa Senate voted Thursday to establish a state-run facility for delinquent girls to provide equity, treatment and educational services for troubled teenagers previously served at the Iowa Juvenile Home before the Toledo center was closed in January.
Senate File 2323, which passed on a 26-22 party-line voted, seeks to establish a new publicly administered State Training School as “a safety net” for juvenile delinquent girls that would be a secure, accredited facility subject to regular state inspections, said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, the bill’s floor manager.
“We need this legislation because Iowa needs a compassionate, appropriate, responsible setting for young Iowa girls who have been adjudicated delinquent,” said Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, who Senate district includes Toledo.
“This is a first step toward ensuring that every troubled girl in our state has a safe place where they can get the education and treatment that they deserve,” he added.
The approach pushed by majority Democrats calls for standards just as rigorous as private providers with programs using “gender-responsive and evidence-based services by appropriately trained staff. The bill would require state training schools for girls and boys to develop service plans that recognize the individual treatment and educational needs of youth and consider options to best assist those youth as they transition into adulthood – including ongoing services once the individuals reach age 18.
The Senate measure, which now goes to the GOP-run Iowa House for consideration, would become effective upon the signature of Gov. Terry Branstad, who closed the Toledo home after investigations revealed a history of restraints, seclusion and isolation being used inappropriately.
The closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home, which resulted in several dozen residents being placed in homes, detention or with private agencies in and outside of Iowa as well as 93 job terminations, is the subject of a court fight. Recently an Iowa District Court judge ordered the Toledo home reopened and the Iowa Supreme Court has agreed to hear Branstad’s appeal of that lower-court ruling.
Bolkcom said lawmakers “should focus on doing right by these girls” by offering a model program based on advice we have received from Disability Rights Iowa, Iowa’s juvenile court officers, child welfare advocates and others.
However, Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, said there is no facility in Iowa that meets the bill’s criteria, not even the closed Toledo home. He said the former Juvenile Home was “like a building on fire” that posed dangers for girls via the systematic overuse of isolation and seclusion.
Johnson said the documented abuse and denial of residents’ right has ended and the best short-term alternative for now is to place the troubled girls in the care of private providers.
Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said Iowa has an equity issue in that it has a facility of last resort for troubled boys but has no such state institution right now for delinquent girls. “We cannot just blow the issue off by closing our doors,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said Republicans voted Thursday to protect Iowa’s most-vulnerable children while majority Democrats voted to grow government.
"Senate Republicans took a stand today to protect Iowa children, and provide them with the immediate care they need,” Dix said in a statement. “Senate Democrats voted once again to grow government. The solution is not more government brick and mortar.
“If this is truly about providing much needed services to Iowa’s girls who are court placed in facilities outside of their homes, then it is imperative we make solid long term judgments when it comes to their care,” Dix added. “The fact is, Iowa’s youth need services right now and they are receiving quality care today in the private sector.”
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