DMR: Supporters of Iowa Juvenile Home rally at Capitol
Jan. 23, 2014 |Written by Clark Kauffman
More than 120 supporters of the Iowa Juvenile Home gathered at the Iowa Capitol on Wednesday to voice their support for the recently closed state-run facility.
Several supporters, including three former residents, spoke to the Senate Human Resources Committee and argued that the home should be reopened.
“Of the last 48 youth home removed from their home at IJH, 10 are now in detention or shelters,” said Todd Sprague, a former juvenile home employee. “They are receiving no educational support. They are receiving no treatment. My concern lies with them.”
“The Iowa Juvenile Home is a family, and for most kids it is the only family they have ever known,” said Chelsea Reasoner, who was admitted to the home in July 2009 at the age of 13 and remained there for two years. She said that even today, the former staff members at the home “are the first people I call on a bad day, and the first people I call with good news.”
“My family is the staff of the Iowa Juvenile Home,” said Amber Opdahl, who lived at the home from 1996 to 2000. “They cared about me.”
Sen. Jack Hatch, a Des Moines Democrat who is running for governor, suggested that the committee ask the Iowa Department of Human Services, which runs the home, to provide a detailed report on where all of the youths discharged from the home over the past 10 months have ended up.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D- Iowa City, called Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to close the Toledo home “a colossal mistake” and said he hoped lawmakers in the Republican-led House would consider reopening the facility.
“The decision was made in the dark,” he said. “It was a complete failure in leadership.”
Bill Skow of the Iowa Juvenile Home Foundation, which over the years has raised more than $600,000 to pay for improvements on the 27-acre campus, told legislators he objected to the governor’s “unilateral decision” to shutter the home without first seeking legislative input.
“What we’re asking for is time — time to have this issue placed in the legislative arena where an orderly and considered debate and discussion can take place,” Skow said.
Jim Roan, a retired Toledo attorney, said the problems at the juvenile home, which have included inappropriate, long-term isolation of youths and a failure to meet minimum federal standards for education, are problems of leadership that have yet to be addressed.
“The ultimate responsibility rests with the governor of the state of Iowa, and he has failed to properly oversee certain practices at the Iowa Juvenile Home,” he told lawmakers.
Sen. William Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said the state should reopen the home, in part because the state continues to run a facility for delinquent boys but no longer has anything that’s comparable for girls.
Human Resources Committee Chairwoman Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, indicated there would be additional hearings on the matter in the weeks ahead.