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Eldora, IA: Boys State Training School sees "major increase" in assaults

Aug 13, 2021, Iowa Capital Dispatch: Citing a surge in violence, DHS wants court’s OK to lift restrictions at Eldora school

Faced with a major increase in assaults and violent behavior at the state-run Boys State Training School in Eldora, state officials are now asking a federal judge to let the agency keep students overnight in a unit once used to isolate youth as a form of punishment. During the first quarter of 2021, there were 25 to 50 assaults at the school each month — roughly one or two assaults per day, every day, for three months, according to court records. The average rate of youth-on-youth assaults at the facility during the first quarter was more than five times the rate experienced in 2018 and 2019, and the rate of assaults on staff followed a similar trajectory…. Rose ordered the state to implement a detailed remedial plan to improve the school’s practices, staffing, training and internal oversight. She also appointed Dr. Kelly Dedel, a juvenile justice consultant, to oversee the state’s compliance with that remedial plan. In a June report to Judge Rose that was made public in a court filing last month, Dedel warned that efforts to improve mental health programming at the school were “severely undercut by the facility’s unsafe conditions.” Dedel wrote that that the school “is marked by frequent youth violence and other types of disorder that may not cause injury, but are nonetheless destabilizing, stressful and counterproductive.” The issues include sexual assault, with at least one such case resulting in criminal charges; verbal threats of physical harm; spraying others with unidentified liquids; throwing objects; kicking and punching others in the body, head and face; and choking incidents….. In recent court filings, said it wants to again use Corbett Miller Hall as an overnight residential space “for certain violent and aggressive students.” The agency says “separation, not seclusion, is a key strategy in serving challenging, aggressive students,” and housing violent youth at Corbett Miller Hall, away from the other youth in nearby cottages, will help. Several students joined together to verbally and physically assault both staff and students and I recall numerous times looking into the eyes of those staff and seeing what I can only describe as profound fear. Dedel also noted that the problem of increased violence “appears to be caused by good-faith efforts to eliminate harmful practices” used by the staff in the past without first implementing a new strategy for managing youth with recurring aggressive behavior. “This ushered in a vicious cycle, where violence and disorder impede the development and delivery of the very practices that were designed to improve” conditions at the home, she wrote….. In court filings, DHS has acknowledged a “statistically significant increase in restraints and assaults” that are occurring at the facility Thursday through Sunday of each week. The agency says the between January 2020 and July 2020, there was an average of nine student-on-staff assaults each month. Between August 2020 and February 2021, there was an average of 15 such assaults each month, an increase of 65%. The agency says it is hiring two activity specialists, with one specifically tasked to safety and security. Also, since June, all youth counselor supervisors and counselors are required to work one evening shift each month on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The lawsuit that led to the remedial plan was filed by the national child welfare advocacy organization Children’s Rights, Disability Rights Iowa, and the law firm of Ropes & Gray….

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