A task force appointed by the governor has come up with tentative recommendations for improving conditions at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. The governor appointed the group to address what he called a culture of abuse after investigators found girls held in isolation rooms for months at a time.
Administrators report that the use of restraint and isolation has been sharply reduced. But investigators monitoring the home report continued concerns, and the task force is recommending sweeping changes. Jane Hudson with Disability Rights Iowa worries that staff members may in effect be ganging up on residents to force them into isolation. “If there is physical hold to get people into the support unit how many staff are involved in those holds,? Hudson asks.
The task force recommends closing down the isolation unit where the worst abuses occurred. And task force chair Jerry Foxhoven says the aging residential units which date to the 1920’s should also be replaced. “After our recommendations are done, certainly the living quarters that are there now should be torn down,” Foxhoven says.
He says the task force wants some kind of third-party oversight implemented. “We would expect everybody else that the contracts with to watch kids to be somehow certified by somebody,” according to Foxhoven. When it comes to oversight, Hudson wonders why the abuses didn’t get reported long ago.
“All of these were long-term staff, they knew these girls were in solitary confinement — what was the process for them to basically raise these issues?, Hudson says. And Hudson wants clearer guidelines for reporting abuse. The task force is tentatively calling for independent certification of the home similar to what’s required for private facilities. They want case workers and juvenile court officers to keep a closer watch on the girls assigned to them. And they want separate facilities for delinquent girls and those the state removes from troubled homes.
The task force will make final recommendations next month.