DHS says it’s protecting youth in detention and group homes

An image of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.(Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rocky Mountain Lab)

The Iowa Department of Human Services says it has put in place “robust mitigation strategies” to reduce the risk posed by COVID-19 at a state-run home for juveniles, but has not tested any of the youth there.

Last month, Disability Rights Iowa and Drake University’s Center for Children’s Rights wrote to Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen to share concerns about the safety of Iowa youth now living in detention facilities, group care and the state-run training school for boys located in Eldora.

They say the state has yet to provide children in state care the same sort of protective measures now used by the Iowa Department of Corrections to protect adult criminal offenders housed in prisons.

Iowa Department of Public Health officials have repeatedly warned that COVID-19 can spread quickly in nursing homes and the two advocacy groups warned “it will spread just as quickly in detention centers, congregate group homes, and the state training school.”

The advocacy groups argue that youth in congregate living are not able to protect themselves through social distancing, frequent hand washing, or remaining in sanitized locations. They have asked Reynolds and Christensen to limit new admissions to the facilities and immediately discharge those on the verge of being released.

Asked what steps the state has taken to address those concerns, the Iowa Department of Human Services, which runs the facility, issued a statement Wednesday that said: “We’ve put robust mitigation strategies in place at the Eldora Boys State Training School (BSTS). We screen all staff, which includes a temperature check, prior to the start of all shifts. Four staff members at BSTS have been tested. All results were negative.

“Testing is mandatory for all students at Eldora with a fever (100.4 or greater) or an emerging cough. To date, no students have been tested as no students have presented symptoms.”

Disability Rights Iowa and the Center for Children’s Rights are calling for the immediate adoption of measures aimed at reducing the population of juvenile detention facilities, group care facilities and the Eldora home.

Among the advocates’ specific proposals:

  • Prioritize for immediate discharge any medically vulnerable youth, including those with asthma or diabetes or other serious illness that places them in higher risk categories.
  • Release all youth held in detention on non-violent charges that have yet to be adjudicated.
  • Discharge the youth at Eldora and group care facilities who have discharge dates scheduled within the next 90 days.
  • Halt or dramatically curtail new admissions to detention facilities, group care facilities, and the Eldora home.
  • Provide emergency funding to community-based organizations to safely divert more young people from out-of-home placement.
  • Ensure that all staff and youth have proper access to cleaning and sanitation supplies, and instructions to sanitize all surfaces throughout the day.
  • Provide increased, free-of-charge video and telephonic visiting for family, attorneys, social workers and juvenile court officers.