The head of the organization that blew the whistle on abuses at the Iowa Juvenile Home is critical of pending legislation that would “restructure and refocus” as well as reopen the facility. Jane Hudson is executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, the federally funded agency that first raised concerns about the Juvenile Home’s use of restraints and long-term isolation for teenage delinquent girls.
“The current legislation I really view as a jobs bill,” Hudson says. “It’s asking that any child who has had three failed placements, whatever ‘failed’ means, is sent to the Iowa Juvenile Home for an undetermined amount of time for an assessment. Here is a failing facility, with insufficient staff and training, assessing children and the court’s are required to send them (there)? And the number three is just pulled out of a hat.”
According to Hudson, there’s no “clinical basis” for that part of the plan.
Former Iowa Congressman Dave Nagle of Waterloo grew up in Toledo and has volunteered to be an advocate for the Home.
“The fact is that the kids that have been there, that came out — the great majority of whom are successful — are extremely grateful for what the Iowa Juvenile Home staff and the town did for them,” Nagle says.
Governor Branstad is likely to appeal a district court judge’s order that the home be reopened. According to Nagle, Branstad closed the home for “political purposes” and Nagle says problems at the home have been “greatly distorted” by Disability Rights Iowa.
“The staff was attacked. They were kicked. They were bit. Things were thrown at them and yet they go back day after day because they had a dedication to the kids,” Nagle says. “How do we know that? Because when you did your survey you found out that the one things that the kids would recommend not be changes was, ‘keep the staff.'”
Jerry Foxhoven is a Drake University professor who served as chairman of the task force Governor Branstad asked to review operations at the Iowa Juvenile Home. While Foxhoven’s task force did not recommend that the home be closed, he supports the governor’s decision to close it.
“These are our kids and they’re kids that we have taken out of their home, for one reason or another, and the state is acting like their parents and we’ve not been a very good parent to these kids,” Foxhoven says. “And it’s time that we start being a good parent to them.”
Foxhoven says it’s in the interest of all Iowans that these young women get the help they need before they reach the age of 18.
“Iowa has always struggled with people who come here and get an education or they grow up here and they get an education and then they leave,” Foxhoven says. “…These girls that are in our facilities, that struggle with mental health, they’re not going off to Chicago and getting some great job or going to LA and getting into films…This is the future of Iowa and if we can help them have a productive live and function a lot better, we’re going to be a better state for it.”
Foxhoven, Nagle and Hudson made their comments during taping of a joint appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program which airs tonight at 7:30.