August 22, 2014

Juvenile court officers concerned about closing of Iowa Juvenile Home

Democrats in the Iowa legislature propose reopening the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo, but with new program guidelines for treatment and education of delinquent teenage girls who’re sent there. House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown is a social worker in his life outside the legislature.

“We are hearing from juvenile court officers that there is a need for this facility,” Smith told reporters today.

Gary Niles, the chief juvenile court officer for the third judicial district which is based in Sioux City, said the Juvenile Home was the proper setting for teens who couldn’t be handled in foster care, private facilities or juvenile detention centers.

“We’ve lost this level of care that in many ways involves community protection because some of the girls there were charged with some very, very serious crimes,” Niles said.

Niles credited the staff at the Juvenile Home with developing “case plans” for each teenager who was sent there. After questions were raised about the use of long-term isolation and denial of education for some of the girls in the facility, the governor ordered residents transferred elsewhere. The teens wound up back in foster care or their own homes, private treatment facilities or, in a few cases, in juvenile detention. The home was closed in mid-January. State Court Administrator David Boyd was careful today in how he phrased objections from juvenile court officers.

“I want to make sure that the judicial branch does not get caught in the middle of this particular issue,” Boyd told legislators Thursday. “What we do know for sure, however, is that there is a particular level of care that we’re now missing on a long-term basis as it relates to delinquent females.”

The state is still operating a home for delinquent teenage boys. Democrats say the state should  establish a “three strikes and you’re in” standard so juveniles who’ve failed at three previous placements would be sent to the Juvenile Homes in Toledo and Eldora for in-depth assessments.  Eighteen-year-olds leaving the facilities would be tracked and get staff support, too, under the Democrats’ proposal.

Governor Branstad has resisted all calls to keep the Iowa Juvenile Home open. A spokesman for Branstad says the governor believes the children “can be best served, treated and receive the education they deserve through alternative placement.”