Sodders calls for hearing on Toledo home

State Sen. Steve Sodders is calling on his colleagues to investigate the embattled Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo.

Sodders, a Democrat from State Center, sent a letter to the chairs of both the Senate and House oversight committees calling for action. Though the Legislature is not in session the oversight committees in each chamber can hold hearings at any time.

Sodders also criticized Gov. Terry Branstad for “trying to blame it on workers” when Sodders feels the problems lay primarily with on-site management and lack of direction from the Iowa Dept. of Human Resources.

The home, which houses girls with behavioral issues including some who are violent, came under fire in July when the Des Moines Register reported staff members physically abused residents and allowed residents to injure themselves. Administrators would lock up girls in prison-like cells for weeks at time. The Register also reported that use of so-called isolation cells has been standard practice at the home for the past 17 years.

Sodders said he wasn’t completely opposed to the use of isolation cells, but it must be done so within reason.

“Some of them lash out and throw punches. You have to be able to control them in a safe way for the staff and get them away from the other kids,” Sodders said.

Toledo was added to Sodders’ district in 2012 and he toured the facility during his reelection bid last year. He said he had no indication that such abuses were taking place. Sodders said the Dept. of Human Resources is understaffed, exacerbating problems at the home.

“You don’t hire 10 people to do a five-person job, but you also don’t hire two people to do a five-person job,” Sodders said.

Branstad, during his weekly press conference with Iowa reporters Monday, vowed to make changes at the facility but he did not specify any proposals.

“We will be taking action in the very near future on this,” he said.

Sodders fears the governor will announce a shift to a privately run home, something Sodders said would decrease the amount of oversight the state would have.