Concerns raised earlier this year by a federal agency about the programs and operation of the Iowa Juvenile Home / State Training School for Girls in Toledo came before the Iowa Senate Oversight Committee Tuesday morning, Sept. 17, at the State Capital in Des Moines.
While there appeared to still be a degree of this concern expressed about IJH and suggestions offered for additional modifications, there was recognition a number of changes have been made.
Mark Day, interim IJH superintendent, said staff training for Juvenile Home / State Training School for Girls employees is now a "feature- length film." He said the staff is "committed" and emphasized "their willingness to take the training."
Mark Day, Iowa Juvenile Home / State Training School for Girls interim superintendent (at right) faces questioning from State Senator Matt McCoy (acrosss table at left) during a Senate Oversight Committee hearing in Des Moines on Tuesday, Sept. 17. The Toledo facility has been under fire for use of isolation rooms, restraints and alleged education violations by Disability Rights Iowa, a federal advocate agency. News-Herald/John Speer
The hearing came on the eve of a meeting in Toledo on Wednesday to be held by a task force appointed by Governor Terry Branstad to look into Juvenile Home matters.
Two State Senators, Amanda Ragan, chair of the Senate Human Resources Committee, and Jack Hatch, chair of the Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee, have asked State Ombudsman Ruth H. Cooperider to conduct an investigation into the safety of children at IJH, as well.
Before the Tuesday Oversight Committee were Jane Hudson, Disability Rights Iowa executive director and Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer, Rick Shults, DHS Mental Health and Disability Services administrator along with Day.
Day took over as interim superintendent in February of this year. He is the superintendent at the Boys State Training School at Eldora.
In addition, Brad Buck, director of the Iowa Department of Education was scheduled to appear.
Several IJH staff members also were present Tuesday morning.
Hudson told senate committee members many of what her agency saw as problems have been addressed since she said they first identified them during a November, 2012, inspection. At that time, Disability Rights Iowa investigators charged up to three female students had been kept in the isolation unit for months at a time with one student for a year. During that period they did not receive schooling as required by law according to investigators.
She said use of what she termed "long-term isolation cells' had stopped and restraint and seclusion use had been significantly reduced.
Day, the interim superintendent, provided data showing seclusion hours, which had touched 8,000 in April, 2010, and had again approached that mark in February, 2012, had been reduced to about 500 hours in June, 2013, and have gone down further since.
He said the doors to the seclusion rooms have been removed and restraints were also down from 200 incidents in January of this year to less than 100 in July.
Day gave this profile of youth at IJH: they average six to 10 placements before coming to Toledo; the status of 66 percent of the girls and 25 percent of the boys are Children in Need of Assistance (CINA); 26 percent of the girls have been adjudicated delinquent and 8 percent of the girls are both CINA and delinquent; 75 percent of the boys are both CINA and delinquent. The most frequent reasons for placement at IJH are assault, self abuse or criminal behavior.
Hudson called for recognition of the approach of "trauma-informed care" which is a program of treatment and recovery. It recognizes almost all of the students have had trauma in their lives which results in heir h=behavior.
In response to questioning Day said IJH was 10 staff members short of the authorized 114-employee level.
Oversight Committee member Senator Matt McCoy pressed Day for a time frame on when a new superintendent will be named. Day said the search is continuing until the "right" person is found. Day said DHS was close to hiring a new clinical director, however.
He said the atmosphere at the facility is "chaotic" due to the ongoing investigations.
"I want stability at the Iowa Juvenile Home before I leave," Day said.
Hudson characterized the IJH program as a "great opportunity to wrk together to develop a comprehensive system for serving children with serious mental health issues and histories of trauma."
Committee Member Kent Sorenson called for consideration of the Oversight Committee receiving ongoing reports on the IJH operations. He named number of Iowa agencies and institutions which the committee does receive regular reports from.
Disability Rights Iowa has also pointed to what their investigators see as a lack of oversight of the IJH operations.