Editorial: Problems at juvenile home


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For a juvenile offender who spends her or his high-school years in the justice system, it may seem like there’s no hope in getting back on track in school and life. The prison exit seems more like a revolving door.

Facilities such as the state-run Iowa Juvenile Home are supposed to help these troubled youth reintegrate into society by “working in an environment that values teamwork, excellence, and respect for one another,” according to the Iowa Department of Health website.

But a recently released Board of Education report paints a different picture. Despite the cheery language on its website, the facility is in reality woefully understaffed, underfunded, and undervalued.

This report comes after months of controversy surrounding seclusion techniques used at the home, which prompted Gov. Terry Branstad to convene an Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task Force to recommend improvements to the facility and scale back the home’s use of seclusion as punishment.

According to the Department of Education report, the ratio of students to teachers was at points almost three times higher than state regulations demand. Students are often removed from class for issues related to their behavior problems.

The Iowa Juvenile Home staff members are to “act as a positive change agent, providing therapeutic programming, to assist youth in successfully moving to a less-structured environment.” In reality, parts of the treatment plan for youths are done incorrectly or not at all.

The report cites staff behavioral assessments of youth that are often incomplete, poorly written, and full of superfluous details while important distinctions such as a youth’s “functional behavior,” referring to how the needs of each child and her or his treatment at the home are defined, were absent entirely.

These failings, which facility staff say came about as a result of funding shortages, highlight apathy toward rehabilitation, both from staff and the ones holding the purse strings. If the state is serious about providing education for all teenagers, legislators need to put their money where their mouths are.

Unfortunately, financial assistance won’t come anytime soon for the facility. The Iowa Department of Human Services’ proposed budgets for fiscal 2014 and 2015 offer no additional funding for the Iowa Juvenile Home.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these revelations is that Human Services originally tried to halt an investigation into the facility before it began. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, on behalf of Human Services, asked the Department of Education to dismiss a complaint that was brought against the Juvenile Home on the grounds that an investigation would use up the facilities’ resources.

But as more and more shadowy details about the Juvenile Home emerge, the attorney general’s efforts look less like concern for its solvency and more like an attempt to cover up an embarrassing blemish on the state’s rehabilitation programs. 

It is too easy to sweep a problem such as community reintegration for inmates under the rug. They often don’t have the resources to make their concerns heard. 

In order to ensure that the state’s most troubled youth receive the help they need and don’t get lost in the criminal world they’ve found their way into, more funding and reforms are needed for the Iowa Juvenile Home.

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