A key legislator says “it remains to be seen” whether the legislature will try to keep the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo open. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs is the top-ranking Democrat in the legislature. “I think the legislature will explore that and certainly have some discussion about whether it does, in fact, make sense to maintain a facility,” Gronstal says. “a locked facility that can handle these kinds of kids.”
On December 9th Governor Branstad ordered the 21 teenaged girls in the state-run home transferred to privately-run facilities, but Gronstal says those transfers may not lead to the “best outcomes” for the troubled young women involved. “On average the kids in this facility had failed at six other placements — on average, six other placements across the state of Iowa that did not work,” Gronstal says.
He says that means private providers have tried and failed to help the young women before they were transferred to the state-run facility in Toledo. While Gronstal suggests some lawmakers may try to keep the state-run facility open as an option for a few cases, Gronstal concedes most of the home’s operations will be shuttered by the time legislator’s convene in January. “The executive branch is laying off staff as we speak and moving these kids as we speak,” Gronstal says. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best outcome for these kids, but that’s happening right now and there’s little we can do about that.”
Tama’s mayor says a delegation of people from the area met with Governor Terry Branstad a few weeks ago and pleaded with him to keep the home open. Branstad disputes the idea his order to close the facility was a surprise to local officials. “I met with people from the community and asked if there were any disagreement with those recommendations and I heard none,” Branstad said Monday. “I believe that we are doing the right thing to protect the interests of these children.”
Jane Hudson is executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, the group that first blew the whistle on the use of long-term isolation cells for teenage girls in the facility. “I applaud the governor for making the ultimate decision to close down the Juvenile Home,” Hudson said Monday during a public hearing in the governor’s office. “Presently, we are collaborating with the Department of Human Services to make sure this transition is safe and that the youth are going to the right facilities and settings for them.”
Meanwhile, people who are interested in keeping the Iowa Juvenile Home open plan to meet Thursday evening in the gym at South Tama High School in Tama.