Following the Dec. 9 announcement of the closing of the Iowa Juvenile Home / State Training School for Girls in Toledo, on behalf of The Chronicle, I contacted Tim Albrecht, then communications director for Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, by email to submit questions to the Governor about the closing.
Albrecht replied inviting the questions to be submitted through him by email. They were emailed to Albrecht on Dec. 10.
On Dec. 13, Albrecht was asked the status of the responses by email and he replied, "Amy McCoy at DHS is working on this." (McCoy is the media spokesperson for the Department of Human Services.)
On Dec. 16, McCoy emailed answers to the questions with the message "The governor's spokesman is traveling and asked that I forward these responses."
On Dec. 17, I asked McCoy whom the responses should be attributed to.
On Dec. 18, Jimmy Centers, the new communications director for the Governor, wrote in an email, "The responses below can be attributed to me, Jimmy Centers." (Albrecht left the communications post on Dec. 13 for a position in private business - Redwave Digital - and was replaced by Centers.)
With that somewhat circuitous route, here's the answers submitted to Governor Branstad and apparently answered by his new press spokesperson:
Questions for Governor Branstad-
1. What plan is in place or is one being developed for delinquent girls who have committed serious felonies when the Girls Training School closes?
A judge will order placement based on recommendations of the juvenile court officer who will evaluate the level of security that is required for the individual youth.
In the majority of instances, juvenile delinquents are already served through community-based providers. DHS will work closely with the juvenile court officers to find appropriate placements for any level of security that's necessary. There are options for secure placements within Iowa and outside the state. We believe out-of-state placement, which may occur if there is no appropriate placement within Iowa, could be needed only in a small number of cases.
We believe these youth can be served appropriately in community-based settings and state-funded facilities. Joint treatment planning teams and court officials continue to work on placement of the 21 girls remaining on the campus at the Iowa Juvenile Home.
2. Concern is expressed the Task Force made something of a cursory visit to the Iowa Juvenile Home / State Training School campus in Toledo then retreated to Des Moines to make their decisions. Some claim the Task Force relied upon the reports of Disability Rights Iowa heavily and paid scant attention to hands-on sources. Should the Task Force members have "rolled up their sleeves" and spent time in the actual setting on a day-to-day basis?
It's not just about the physical facility. Much of what the task force focused on is what type of treatment these youth should be receiving, whether at Toledo or elsewhere. It was important to the task force that there no longer be simply a "placement of last resort," but a system of services that best serve the needs of these youth.
The Governor-appointed task force has many years of expertise regarding youth with mental and behavioral health needs, and with the Iowa Juvenile Home in particular. The members spent hundreds of hours reviewing data, attending meetings, visiting the campus and preparing reports. This was a thoughtful and thorough process.
Jerry R. Foxhoven, executive director (Task Force Chair), Drake Legal Clinic visited the campus numerous times and works on youth issues regularly.
Dr. Mark R. Peltan, director behavioral services, Mercy Medical Center - North Iowa, head of DHS Council and familiar with campus operations.
Ron Stehl, consultant, used to work for DHS and oversee the Iowa Juvenile Home.
Dr. Mary Stevens, director of special education for the AEA which works with the Iowa Juvenile Home.
Charles Palmer, DHS Director.
3. State Representative Dean Fisher and State Senator Steve Sodders have both expressed surprise at the IJH decision. They have questioned why the matters were not delayed until the legislature convened. What is your response?
The goal of the Governor, the task force, and DHS Director Palmer was to identify how best to serve these youth, and they acted quickly to ensure that these children receive the best care possible in licensed and/or accredited settings. That third-party licensure would not have been achievable in the near future on the Toledo campus. Once the decision was made to find alternative placements, these officials determined it was in the best interest of the youth to move quickly so that the children, their families, the staff, and the community, had certainly on future plans.
4. Local community members are, of course, facing the struggle of losing Toledo's largest employer and employees will find themselves without local jobs-
-Are there any additional plans in place to aid employees other than the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?
Yes, there are a variety of services, including continued assistance from EAP, DHS, Iowa Workforce Development and the Department of Administrative Services. Representatives will be on site regularly over the next month to assist employees with information on transfers, applying for jobs and unemployment benefits, and finding educational opportunities. Stations have been set up to allow staff computer access to assist in these processes.
Generally, a layoff does not preclude receiving unemployment. Iowa Workforce Development will make that determination, but DHS will not contest unemployment claims based on this layoff.
5. Some $22 million in campus improvements including a new educational wing, maintenance building and geo-thermal heating have been added to the campus over the past few years. Can this kind of investment be abandoned or is there focus on future use of the Iowa Juvenile Home / State Training School for Girls facilities and campus?
For now, the focus is on the best interests of the youth and exploring other economic opportunities for the community, not on the physical plant. DHS will continue to move forward, based on the task force recommendations, with plans to find the most appropriate placements in licensed and/or accredited settings that will meet these youth's high mental and behavioral health needs. Options will be explored for the campus, and the physical plant will be properly maintained.