These are all legitimate concerns. But the governor did the right thing.
The current workers at Toledo are many of the same people who remained silent for years about problems that were occurring there. The closure of the home forces the state to make changes now instead of debating what to do next. Such a debate would have been riddled with politics and could have taken several years. No one knows if Toledo could have been “fixed,” but Iowa’s children can’t wait while policymakers try to figure it out.
Closing the facility is not the end of anything. It is the beginning of Iowa doing what it should have done a long time ago: figuring out how to best serve the most troubled Iowa children.
To successfully do that, Gov. Branstad should keep in place the 5-member task force he created to make recommendations about Toledo. This group is made up of professionals with extensive experience in child welfare. Members have operated with transparency and provided an opportunity for public comment at every meeting. They are familiar with the issues that will need to be addressed when the state no longer operates a facility considered the “placement of last resort” for youth.
One of these issues is where to place delinquent girls who may pose a risk to others and have been ordered by judges to a secure facility. “What does Iowa do with no training school for girls?” asked task force chairman Jerry Foxhoven.
Of the 21 remaining girls at Toledo, 11 are delinquent. Some may move to the state’s psychiatric medical institutes for children, said DHS spokeswoman Amy Lorentzen McCoy. If the state plans to create a “little Toledo” in the wing of a different state institution, there must be adequate oversight of the program.
Also, private facilities in Iowa won’t serve the youth currently at Toledo under the current payment arrangements, the task force said in a report in October. The state may need to pay private providers more to take care of these girls. Any money saved from laying off staff at Toledo could be redirected to taking care of the kids.