DES MOINES — Neither a district judge ordering him to re-open the Iowa Juvenile Home nor Democratic-sponsored legislation properly addresses the state’s responsibility for the troubled youth who were served at a Toledo facility that his administration closed last month, Gov. Terry Branstad said Thursday.
Both the Polk County District Court decision and Senate File 2084 focus too much on the home and not enough on the children who were sent there, Branstad said Thursday afternoon.
“We ought to be looking out for the interest of the children, not the institution,” Branstad said. “I want the focus to be on the children ... the best placement possible for their health, their well-being and their education.”
“He’s covering his backdoor,” Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, a member of the Senate Human Resources Committee, said. “If you don’t have the right infrastructure and staffing, you won’t get the best outcomes for the children.”
Branstad and the Department of Human Services closed the Iowa Juvenile Home and Girls State Training School in January after allegations that youth spent days, weeks or even months in isolation cells and were receiving substandard educational services.
“The actions we have taken were to protect these children,” Branstad said. “These are very vulnerable children. They have been abused. They’ve been held in solitary confinement or in isolation for sometimes days and weeks at a time and denied education. This is not a good environment for them.”
Democrats have charged, however, that transferring the students was not in their best interests and that at least two have run away from those placements. That’s one reason Dotzler is supporting SF 2084 to “rewrite the system.”
Democratic leaders called for bipartisan support for the legislation to resolve the situation.
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“It is our hope that people of good faith will come together and find a solution to this very important issue to help Iowa’s troubled female youth,” Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said.
Branstad is consulting with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office on whether to appeal the district court ruling.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, indicated it might be better to use the legislative process to resolve the issue.
“We always operate better when we sit around table and try to work towards some sort of a solution,” he said. “Our concern … continues to be making sure that those girls are taken care of correctly.”