Officials say teenage girls are no longer being kept in long-term isolation cells at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo, but interim superintendent Mark Day admits physical restraints are still being used when residents are trying to harm themselves or others.
Day told a state senate committee on Tuesday most of the residents come from dysfunctional homes or foster care situations that didn’t work out. “If you take every kid in the Iowa system and then take the most challenging, the most disruptive, the least amenable to treatment with the most problems, the most issues that have to be resolved — we’re looking at the most damaged, the most challenging one percent in the state of Iowa,” Day says. “That’s the kids we serve.”
Representatives of the advocacy group “Disability Rights Iowa” visited the home late last year and found some teens were being kept in isolation for months and one had been in isolation for nearly a year. The home’s top administrators back then are gone, and the interim superintendent says his staff is making changes.
“These people are working so diligently and with so much effort and focus and commitment to reduce restraints,” Day told lawmakers, “and it’s not being completely successful.” Day says his goal is to continue to reduce the use of physical restraints.
“So we do still have to restrain and at a frequency with which I am not comfortable,” Day said, “but it will get better.” The home’s acting superintendent says the Iowa Juvenile Home facilities regularly pass fire and safety inspections, but he says it’s in need of renovations and other safety measures, as some structures date back to the 1920s. Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, is chair of the Senate Oversight Committee, the panel that held yesterday’s hearing.
“I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, especially after I toured the facility last month, that our state can and must do better for our children,” Petersen said. Governor Branstad appointed a task force to review and recommend management changes at the home. The group will hold the first of three public hearings today in Toledo.