Capital Clicks

Iowa youth in group homes face high risk of infection, advocates say

By: - April 1, 2020 9:13 am

An illustration of a coronavirus, created for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Image by Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM)

The state of Iowa isn’t doing enough to protect children in the juvenile-justice and child-welfare systems from COVID-19, advocacy groups say.

Disability Rights Iowa and Drake University’s Center for Children’s Rights have written to Gov. Kim Reynolds and other state officials to share their 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 that incarcerated and congregate populations are most at risk during a public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus is known to have spread quickly on cruise ships and in nursing homes, they say, and “it will spread just as quickly in detention centers, congregate group homes, and the state training school.”

In those facilities, they said, youth are not able to protect themselves through social distancing, frequent hand washing, and remaining in sanitized locations.

They warn that these facilities for youth will not be equipped to meet the medical needs of their residents if a COVID-19 outbreak should occur since they often rely on contracted, part-time medical staff.

They are urging the governor to adopt specific measures aimed at reducing the population of juvenile detention facilities, group care facilities and the state training school, and to halt all new admissions.

They point out that the Iowa Department of Corrections has already implemented similar measures for prisons and argue that the changes they propose “are not far from the path Iowa has already chosen for its adults.”

The March 26 letter to Reynolds was also sent to Susan Christensen, chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court: Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Humans Services; and Chad Jensen, director of Juvenile Court Services for Iowa.

The state has yet to respond.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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