Governor Branstad signed an executive order, Tuesday restricting the use of isolation rooms at the Iowa Juvenile Home.
Branstad assigned a task force to recommend changes to the way state facilities care for children and teenagers.
Some of them are victims of abuse, some are criminals and some suffer from mental illness but they all have one thing in common: they don’t have the option of living at home.
There can be a big discrepancy in what it costs the state to look after those juveniles with similar backgrounds.
At a private facility in Des Moines the state spends $97 to care for one child for one day. At the state juvenile home in Toledo the state spends $482 to care for one child for one day.
Both house around 50 youths.
Kellie Markey, who volunteers at Youth Emergency Services and Shelter (YESS), ponders the reason.
“For it to be so expensive is, I have to believe, mismanagement and a poor allocation of resources and overspending and all the wrong things because really the focus is just the kids.”
We caught up Kellie during a YESS talent show. She came to watch the teenage girls she mentors.
“They`re just so happy to see you and to hang out with you and to do their nails or to do a puzzle. It`s so simple to make such a big difference, even for an hour.”
Some of these children didn`t realize they had talent until YESS` music therapist opened their ears.
Students placed here by the Department of Human Services are nurtured through art therapy and play therapy.
You won`t find isolation rooms at YESS. You will see lots of bright colors, art work on the walls and a shaded patio.
“Where we provide therapy and some counseling experiences, we also provide yoga around that big beautiful tree,” Steve Quirk says.
Quirk is the executive director. His task is to care for children ages birth through 18 on the state`s $97-dollars. If he can`t makes those numbers work, the shelter shuts down.
“I have private donors expecting me to run this place like a business. We have corporate donors expecting us to provide very high outcomes in very efficient manners,” Quirk explains.
To feed and house the children, Quirk has to spend more than the state allows. YESS gets $47-per-day from each child`s county of origin. That equals $144 of taxpayer dollars. Less than one third the cost to taxpayers at Toledo.
“I think our model is supported by the private sector. We provide comparable wages with the private sector and I wonder if some wages and some of the costs at other institutions just get a little bit out of control,” Quirk says.
All of YESS`s extra`s come from generous people in the community. Employees from Aviva insurance built the deck. Meredith corporate volunteers build gingerbread houses and make the kids blankets at Christmastime. And then, there are people like Kellie.
“It has been so fulfilling to me that I have actually started my own foster care education so that in five more weeks I will finish the course work to become a foster parent, myself,” Kellie says.
YESS was never intended to be a long-term solution but more and more, Quirk says, children are living here for months. In rare cases a year.
Need for state facilities
Colin Witt is a Polk County juvenile court judge. He stops by to check on the ones he has ordered into DHS custody. He says some children`s needs are so great that YESS cannot accommodate them. Those children need a place like the juvenile home in Toledo.
“You know, a young person at Toledo is going to be an 18-year-old walking our streets before we know it and we have to provide them with the very best we can,” Judge Witt says.
Witt says, not all, but most of the kids at Toledo could live and thrive for less than half the cost at a place like YESS.
“In my experience, YESS has been able to do that and is doing that on a daily basis with many children,” Judge Witt says.
YESS is trying to raise the money to build a thirty-thousand-square foot expansion.
Judge Witt says there needs to be more beds here locally, and elsewhere.
Union workers blamed
Governor Branstad has blamed part of the higher cost of state facilities on compensation for union workers.
Here’s how it breaks down:
A youth counselor at Toledo earns a range of $40,000 to $59,000-dollars per year plus benefits. That’s with a union.
A similar position at YESS earns a range of $20,000 to 29,000 per year plus benefits.
Governor Branstad’s response, “I would love to do more and partner with the non-profit sector in providing these kinds of services as an alternative to expensive state institutions.”
Non-profit sector underpays
Senator Hatch says those private workers are underpaid because the state isn’t giving them enough funding.
“It`s a management problem. We have qualified people in state government that are doing the same thing as in the non-profit. The difference is, collective bargaining knows and pays for what the worker is worth,” Sen. Hatch told Channel 13.
Few suggest moving all children into private care. Most say, even the governor agrees, there’s always a need for state facilities.