Fight for Juvenile Home's future continues in Capitol
DES MOINES (KWWL) -
Advocates for the Iowa Juvenile Home (IJH) traveled to Des Moines Thursday to fight for the future of the now-closed facility.
The Toledo home provided residential care to troubled children. Gov. Terry Branstad ordered the closure following allegations of abuse by staff and controversy surrounding the alleged use of long-term isolation. At the time of the announcement, 21 girls were living at the facility, and 93 employees received layoff notices.
17-year-old Chelsea Reasoner spent a total of three years at the facility. She said she didn't want to be there, at least at first.
"But throughout my stay there I started to build really positive relationships with the staff members and started to trust them more,” Reasoner said.
She said the negative information concerning the facility has been taken out of context, including the argument surrounding the isolation of children.
"I was personally in — they’re called safety rooms, and that's exactly what it is,” she said. “It's to keep a youth safe for a period of time until they can de-escalate and process enough to work with staff."
About 100 people spent hours at the statehouse sharing experiences and lobbying legislators to fight for their cause.
"I came very angry at the whole world, and they changed my mind,” Amber Opdahl, another former IJH resident, said. “They taught me how to trust people. They taught me how how to understand that the whole world wasn't full of people that wanted to hurt me.”
Opdahl is now on track to become a registered nurse.
Todd Sprague is a former special educator at the home. He, along with other members of the group "Keep IJH Open," testified before the Senate Human Resources committee Wednesday.
“For so long we haven't had the chance to tell our story,” Sprague said. “People need to hear the good that happened at the Juvenile Home, and the good that we can continue to do.”
He said he felt their message was initially well received.
"Everything I've heard so far has been positive,” Sprague said. “I’ve had a chance to talk to one or two people. Positive things, wanting to know more of the truth and have an open forum for people to discuss and debate about the issue and see what's best for the kids and what's best for the state.”
Some have accused Branstad of closing the home for political reasons. When asked for comment, Branstad Communications Director Jimmy Centers released a statement.
“The public task force appointed by Gov. Branstad held every meeting, including the meeting in which they made their final recommendation, in public,” Centers said. “With these recommendations, Gov. Branstad met with community leaders from Toledo, child welfare advocates and the Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task Force members. The Department of Human Services implemented the recommendations of the public task force in the best interest of the children in an open and transparent manner.”
But still, some find the quick closure troubling. State Senator Liz Mathis, of Cedar Rapids, said she saw politics at play in the speed of the closure, specifically, that it was mandated before the 2014 legislative session began.
“I think of a lot of legislators wanted to be in on the discussion, not after IJH was closed, but the discussion of ‘do we close IJH,’” she said.
Several Democratic lawmakers have filed a lawsuit to re-open the facility. Wednesday, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller filed a motion that the case be dismissed, calling the suit “extraordinary and unprecedented.”