The Associated Press
DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad said the state should consider having a nonprofit group operate the Iowa Juvenile Home, which has been beset with criticism for its treatment of troubled children and use of isolation rooms.
Branstad told The Des Moines Register on Tuesday that some privately run organizations do a better job operating such facilities.
“I think we need to learn from some of the private nonprofits,” Branstad said during a meeting with Register news and editorial staffers. “I think we should look at the possibility of contracting with a nonprofit group so we can manage this.”
The Toledo center houses, treats and educates youths with serious behavioral problems. The federally funded group Disability Rights Iowa has been investigating allegations about the home’s treatment of children, including small, isolation rooms where some children have been held for weeks and months.
Disability Rights Iowa said one girl in her mid-teens was assigned in 2012 to an isolation cell for a full year.
The Iowa ombudsman office also has launched an investigation of the home.
The governor didn’t offer examples of private, nonprofit groups that exemplify his suggestion, but Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht released a statement Wednesday that noted the work of Ames-based Youth & Shelter Services. The nonprofit offers a number of programs throughout Iowa for children dealing with physical and sexual abuse, trouble with the law, pregnancies and other issues.
“The governor has visited a number of service centers led by nonprofit groups, and believes this could be a reasonable solution in changing the culture at the Iowa Juvenile Home,” Albrecht said in the statement. “It is clear that the Iowa Juvenile Home has a long-standing, entrenched and problematic culture that will require a significant change to the system. The governor believes all options should be on the table in dealing with the juvenile home.”
Branstad expressed support for Department of Human Services Director Charles Palmer. Although his agency oversees the home, Palmer said he wasn’t aware it used isolation cells until recently.
Palmer has been the DHS director since 2011 but also served in the position from 1989 to 1999.
Extended use of isolation cells has been a practice for at least 17 years.
“Chuck is a very conscientious and capable individual. But it’s a very big agency,” Branstad said. “For him to not know all of the details of what is going on, I can understand.”
What’s important, Branstad said, is to improve conditions at the home.
“Chuck has indicated he’s very willing to look at alternatives, including contracting with nonprofits to deliver that,” Branstad said.