Branstad Defends Juvenile Home Decision

By Rod Boshart, Reporter

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R) speaks during a press conference on Thursday, July 18, 2013, in Des Moines, Iowa. (KCCI-TV Des Moines)

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By Katie Stinson

DES MOINES, Iowa – The need to find appropriate settings that would better serve minors housed at the Iowa Juvenile Home trumped other considerations in the decision to secure alternative placements for the 21 youth residing at the state-run Toledo facility, Gov. Terry Branstad said Tuesday.

Branstad said he believed the findings of a task force he appointed to look into conditions at the Toledo home signaled the need for a change of philosophy.

The governor added that the situation could not be tolerated and there was no need to put off the move to find more-appropriate placements for children who had been subjected to an institution with “significant” problems for a number of years.

“It’s never easy and change is always a hard thing, but I think we’re doing what’s in the best interest of these kids,” Branstad said one day after the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) announced residents were being moved and lay-off notices went out to the home’s 93 employees effective Jan. 16.

“It’s been pretty well documented that they were not treated well, that they were abused, they were held in detention inappropriately, education was denied them, and this is something that cannot be tolerated,” the governor said.

Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Garwin, whose district includes Tama County, said Monday’s DHS announcement caught him and the Toledo community by surprise. But Branstad said the focus was the needs of the children, “not the needs of the Legislature or the people who are employed or anybody else.”

Fisher said he was “not at all happy” with Monday’s swift action, saying he believed an arrangement could have been made to keep delinquent youth housed at the Toledo facility under state care with a private provider brought in to care for those designated as children in need of assistance (CINA).

“I don’t think it was appropriate for them to rush to shut it down before the Legislature had a chance to act and have their say in the situation,” Fisher said.

“It’s all very unfortunate and very frustrating,” he added. “I’m working with some of my colleagues to see what options we might have. It does put us in a deep hole to have to dig out of to try to reverse it.”

The Iowa Juvenile Home and Girls State Training School is one of the largest employers in Tama County, and the loss of $10 million in funding and 93 good-paying jobs would have a “severe impact’ on the local economy, Fisher said.

“It’s going to be devastating,” he said.

DHS Director Charles Palmer said Tuesday the reality of a declining number of girls to be served at the home precipitated the decision to phase out the operation and eliminate positions at the Toledo facility.

He said the population of girls served in Toledo would have shrunk to four or five once those under CINA designations are moved to private settings, making it impractical to continuing operating the facility as it had been.

Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, a federally funded organization that advocates for the disabled, said her agency supported task force recommendations to move the CINA boys and girls to a more appropriate treatment-based facility closer to each youth’s community.

The organization had brought allegations of inappropriate use of physical restraints and isolation rooms at the Toledo home to light.

Hudson said Disability Rights supports the movement of the remaining girls to treatment-based settings that are licensed or accredited.

“As our investigation progressed,” Hudson said in a prepared statement Tuesday, “we realized that there were such extensive problems with the educational services, the ingrained correctional culture and the excessive use of restraint and seclusion at the Juvenile Home that the state might eventually decide to close it down and adopt juvenile justice models that were more treatment-based and closer to the youths’ homes in order to promote family engagement and reintegration into the community.”

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