Branstad orders changes at Iowa Juvenile Home

DES MOINES – Gov. Terry Branstad on Tuesday signed an executive order designed to improve the care of children at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo where the use of physical restraints and isolation rooms has been criticized.

Branstad’s order also established a five-member task force charged with recommending additional improvements and assisting in implementation.

The group is to recommend a plan for eliminating seclusion rooms and transferring the home’s education plan to the local area education agency instead of the Iowa Department of Human Services.

The task force, to be chaired by Jerry Foxhoven, a Drake University professor and executive director of the Drake Legal Clinic, is to report to the governor by Oct. 15.

Other task force members are Charles Palmer, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services; Mary Stevens, director of special education for Area Education Agency 267; Mark R. Peltan, chairman of the Council on Human Services; and Ron Steele, former executive director of Youth Homes of Mid-America.

Branstad’s spokesman, Tim Albrecht, said the executive order immediately holds the Iowa Juvenile Home to higher standards of care.

“The Iowa Juvenile Home will be held to the same standards for restraint or seclusion as a private comprehensive residential facility,” he said. “These increased standards for care will lead to greater safety, transparency and oversight in treatment for children at the Iowa Juvenile Home.”

The home 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.