The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

December 18, 2013

Closing home for juveniles is right call

The Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo is responsible for providing care, education and treatment to Iowa youth who have no other place to go. Some of these kids have been in trouble with the law. Some are judged by a court to be “in need of assistance” because they were abused or abandoned. By now, most Iowans have heard about problems at the home, which is operated by the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Workers kept at least three girls in small, concrete block cells for months at a time, according to an investigation by Des Moines Register reporter Clark Kauffman . Employees resigned after this newspaper asked for a copy of a slide show presented during a holiday party at the home. One slide depicted a skeleton lying in an isolation room with a caption that said, “Dr. Joan was supposed to assess this youth three days into her suspension. Guess she forgot.” Four employees were fired over allegations they abused or used excessive force while restraining children there.

Gov. Terry Branstad appointed a task force to make recommendations on the institution. Among the members’ suggestions: The state should serve only delinquent girls at Toledo and move non-delinquent youth to private facilities elsewhere. Implementing those recommendations would leave only a couple of children at a 27-acre facility with 13 buildings and 93 employees.

Last Monday, DHS administrators announced that the 21 girls who remain at Toledo will be relocated and all state workers there will be laid off, effective Jan. 16.

Yes, the governor moved quickly and didn’t formally seek input from lawmakers. Unfortunately Iowans will lose jobs. It is frustrating that taxpayer money was used to pay for millions of dollars in renovations in recent years at a campus that will now be essentially closed.

The governor is “sending kids to programs that previously admitted they couldn’t handle these girls,” said State Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines. “Will they receive better treatment?”

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