Juvenile home target of undue scrutiny
The front page article on the Aug. 20 Times-Republican “Sodders calls for hearing on Toledo home” left the reader with some incorrect information regarding the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. I wish to make sure the readers of the Times-Republican have accurate information. For the readers’ background, the Iowa Juvenile Home (IJH) has been under media scrutiny over its use of seclusion rooms. These rooms are used for a variety of purposes, for safety when a juvenile is acting out harmfully to themselves or others, by request of the student who may feel safer in a secluded room, and for punishment when the student acts out in negative ways. It is the perceived excessive use of these rooms that raised concerns six months ago.
The article implied incorrectly that the issue was raised in July when the Des Moines Register began a series of articles critical of the IJH and its staff. The issue began many months ago but only has been a media sensation since mid July. Nor did it inform the reader that investigations have been underway for six months. This investigation has included the Department of Human Services (DHS), the organization Disability Rights Iowa (DRI), IJH staff, the legislature, and the governor’s office. As to the legislature’s recent involvement, a meeting at the IJH was held several weeks ago with members of the Health and Human Services committee from both parties, another meeting occurred Aug. 23 at the IJH involving many members of the legislature including myself. I and many of my colleagues have been in personal contact with IJH leadership for many weeks as well.
Much work has been done and many changes have already been made in response to this investigation. The previous superintendent of the IJH stepped down after the issue broke and Mark Day, superintendent of the Eldora State Training School, was brought in as an interim to oversee the IJH. Mr. Day and his staff have worked closely with DRI to make changes to the use of the seclusion rooms, balancing the need for safety with the suggestions from DRI. Most notably, this has resulted in a 90 percent drop in use of the seclusion rooms already. Specialized training for the staff is also ongoing. Much work has been done, but there is more to do as procedures are fine tuned.
I am baffled by the call for more investigation and a hearing by the legislature. Hearings and more investigations would seem counterproductive since investigations have been ongoing for many months, dramatic changes have been made in management and in practices, and all the pertinent organizations including the legislature are already fully engaged in a constructive manner to find more ways to improve IJH practices. It would be more productive if those that are not aware of all that has happened over the last nine months were to get engaged and understand the current status instead of trying to go back to the beginning and start over.
Hopefully all the media sensationalizing of what is a difficult and complex issue will die down soon. The undue scrutiny from those that don’t fully understand the issue simply adds stress on the staff that must do the difficult work of helping these youngsters learn how to live healthy and productive lives. I’ve recently written an extensive letter to the editor that reviews this issue at the IJH that has been published in the Toledo Chronicle and Northern Sun Print. For a more thorough review please go onto those newspapers websites and find the article, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 641-750-3594.