It was disappointing to learn the governor’s office made the decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home at Toledo before consulting with the Legislature or receiving the report of the Ombudsman’s Office. The decision is another blow to the well-being of these vulnerable children.
The children placed at the Iowa Juvenile Home, both the girls who are adjudicated delinquent and the boys and girls who are victims of abuse and neglect, will face further placements and repeated failures in their young lives. The state removed these children from their parents’ homes because their parents were unable to provide a safe and stable environment for them. Since removal, most of the children have experienced repeated failures, moving from placement to placement and from school to school without finding safety or stability anywhere. The Iowa Juvenile Home has provided that much-needed stability for hundreds of children, and the caring, professional staff has done its best to give them a chance to succeed at last.
The Iowa Juvenile Home Foundation exists to support the programming at IJH. Since the foundation was formed in 1996, we have provided full support for the school library, arts programming for all students, a traveling art show that highlights student art and other activities such as holiday gifts and treats not covered in the state budget. We have sought private funding to improve the physical facility, most recently a grant from the Roy J. Carver Foundation to build new tennis/basketball courts for the students. We have invested more than $600,000 in these activities thanks to the dedication of our board members and the generosity of people from all over the state who care about Iowa’s children.
Most of us on the foundation board are educators or child welfare professionals who have had occasion to observe the excellent work done at the IJH. We have chosen to participate on the board because we have direct knowledge of the fine work that can be done for these troubled children once they realize they are in a placement where they will not be thrown out. We support the library because we know from past experience that, in the stable environment at IJH, students have a chance to blossom at school. We support arts education because we believe troubled adolescents need exposure to arts and other enriching activities, and the state has not included these things in its budget.
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Since 2004, we have seen almost $25 million dollars of state money spent on the IJH infrastructure, including construction of a new vocational building with security and health facilities on the lower level. There has been a complete geothermal installation covering every building on campus. The school building has been completely remodeled. This year, one of the cottages was renovated. Only the remaining cottages need to be replaced for this campus to be a state-of-the-art treatment facility for more than 100 troubled youths.
Meanwhile, the operating budget has dwindled until only a handful of kids are able to be admitted, and this year admissions were closed altogether.
Children wait for months in shelters or detention facilities because community-based services are not available. It is sad, when we are so close to providing excellent treatment for these kids who have experienced so much failure in their lives, to have it all thrown away.