Iowa probing abuse allegations at home for troubled youths

CLARINDA (AP) — Two Iowa departments are investigating complaints of restraints, assault and abuse at a foster home and treatment facility for troubled youths from Iowa and other states, officials said.
Iowa’s Human Services and Inspections and Appeals departments are looking into the allegations against Clarinda Academy in the southwest Iowa community of Clarinda and into any problems at Woodward Academy in the central Iowa community of Woodward. Both are owned by Alabama-based Sequel Youth and Family Services.
A federally mandated protection and advocacy organization in the state of Washington alleged earlier this year that foster children were being held against their will at the Clarinda facility, were subjected to excessive restraint and were verbally abused.
Disability Rights Washington said it partnered with Disability Rights Iowa to expose “a very restrictive and segregated institution where policies, training and oversight do not adequately protect against the risk of abusive restraints.”
Sequel Executive Vice President Steve Gilbert told the newspaper that Clarinda was subject to 28 different on-site assessments by state authorities.
“In September the state of Iowa completed their on-site audit at Clarinda, which noted no deficiencies and renewed our full licensure status,” Gilbert told the Register. He didn’t immediately return messages left Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The disability rights workers said students they interviewed privately reported they were often yelled and cursed at, spit upon or threatened by staff. Washington state announced after the Disability Rights report that it would stop sending foster youths to Clarinda and would move those already there by January.
The federal government has tried to move facilities such as Clarinda away from the use of restraints on youths, saying the practice can re-traumatize them. But Iowa’s standards allow physical restraints to keep children from hurting themselves, others or property.
Clarinda and Woodward could be asked to begin improvement plans after the Iowa investigation is complete, said Mikki Stier, deputy director of Iowa Department of Human Services. A department spokesman, Matt Highland, said he couldn’t immediately characterize the number or nature of any allegations made against staffers or others at the Woodward Academy.
Iowa’s Department of Inspections and Appeals, which licenses such facilities, told state lawmakers earlier this fall they were unaware of alleged abuse until the Disability Rights Washington report.
More than 30 police reports were made involving students and staff at the Clarinda facility over the past five years. But it’s unclear how many led to prosecutions.