Governor Terry Branstad has signed an executive order which calls for new training for staff at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo, as well as “the same standards for restraint and seclusion” as private homes are required to follow.
The state-run home has come under fire for keeping some of the teenage girls there in isolation cells for long periods of time — in one case for nearly a year — and for denying education to some of the troubled teens at the home.
The governor has asked Jerry Foxhoven, the executive director of the Legal Clinic at Drake University, to lead a five-member task force to examine the facility’s operation and recommend changes.
“He hasn’t said” ‘This is my agenda. Here’s what I want you to do,'” Foxhoven says. “He said: ‘Take a look at what’s happened in the Juvenile Home. Take a look at everything and tell me what you think would be best for kids,’ and that’s really a refreshing charge to get from the executive.”
Foxhoven, a lawyer who has specialized in juvenile law, was administrator of the Iowa Child Advocacy Board for six years before joining the Drake Law School faculty in 2006.
“I don’t perceive my role as being one, or this task force as being one to say: ‘We’re going to investigate and assign fault,'” Foxhoven says. “I see it as a let’s look at what’s going on in the juvenile home and say: ‘What can be done better? What could be done to make it better for kids?'”
Governor Branstad has suggested it might be best to turn the home over to private enterprise.
“My direction from the governor was: ‘Everything’s on the table and look at everything and do what’s best for kids,'” Foxhoven says. “That’s as simple as he made it and so I think he’s not directing me or anybody else to say: ‘This is the place you ought to go or where you ought to go.’ He’s saying: ‘Look at everything and I want this task force to be independent and to give us honest recommendations, no matter where it falls.'”
The task force is to make its recommendations to the governor by October 15th. The governor’s executive order calls for staff at the Juvenile Home to undergo new training in how to deal with the episodes of teenage trauma they witness at the facility. According to Foxhoven, that’s a good start.
“Having training that really focuses on what do we do differently with those kids that may be out of control at times, but that is less restrained-oriented or seclusion-oriented,” Foxhoven says.
The director of the Juvenile Home resigned in February, shortly after advocates from Disability Rights Iowa visited the home and raised questions about how residents were being treated. The man appointed as temporary director of the Toledo home also runs the State Training School for Boys in Eldora.