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Professor Jerry Foxhoven leads efforts for juveniles in Iowa

March 14, 2016

Jerry Foxhoven has been busy.

In addition to his duties as executive director of the Neal and Bea Smith Legal Clinic and professor at Drake Law School, Foxhoven has spent a lot of time involved in various efforts supporting juveniles in Iowa.

On March 9, Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill to make Iowa juvenile records confidential unless a judge orders otherwise. The bill, which passed the Iowa Senate unanimously and the Iowa House 97-1, was an initiative in which Foxhoven played a large part.

“I’ve been working really hard on this,” he says. “Iowa has been in the minority of states in terms of juvenile record confidentiality. So right now these kids are at a disadvantage to kids from other states.”

Foxhoven, along with representatives from state and local government as well as advocacy groups including the NAACP, was present for the bill signing at the Capitol. The law will take effect July 1.

Jerry Foxhoven with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (center) at the March 9 signing of a bill to make most juvenile records confidential in Iowa.

“This is a big deal. It’s really good for kids,” Foxhoven says. “Now they won’t have records. They can later get jobs and it doesn’t hold them back.”

Even though the bill was just signed, Foxhoven is already working on his other goals.

He was recently appointed co-chair of the Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being Workgroup by the director of the Department of Human Services. The group is charged with developing the first-ever children’s mental health system in Iowa.

The Iowa Legislature has agreed to fund the first part of the initiative, which is to implement a children’s mental health crisis system.

“Kids who are a danger to themselves, they’re a danger to somebody else, they have no place to go – they are literally in crisis and somebody needs to intervene,” Foxhoven explains.

The children’s mental health crisis system will be more than just a hotline to call. It will identify the resources available in the area and connect mental health professionals with kids in crisis to get them the help they need, whether it’s counseling, medication, or even a temporary stay in a psychiatric hospital.

The initiative will begin in a few locations in Iowa before expanding into a state-wide system. The next step will be to develop a full children’s mental health and well-being system.

“If you think of the mental health crisis system, it’s kind of like the emergency room,” Foxhoven says. “We know it won’t cure kids of their mental health issues. So when they’re not in crisis anymore, they have to continue to the rest of the system to get the support they need.”

In addition to his work on the Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being Workgroup, Foxhoven also serves as chair of the Iowa Child Protection Council, member of the Iowa Child Policy Coalition, and member of the national advisory board for Fostering Families Today magazine. He is also on the board of directors for the Iowa Child Abuse Prevention Council and was appointed by Chief Justice Mark Cady to the steering committee for the Guardianship and Conservatorship Reform Task Force.

All this while overseeing the Drake Legal Clinic, teaching a course on law office management, and organizing the biggest event of the semester for 1Ls: the First-Year Trial Practicum.

“This is my 10th year doing this,” Foxhoven says of his position at the Drake Legal Clinic. “And we’re always looking for new opportunities.”

Foxhoven plans to keep fighting for juvenile rights in the legislature, speaking at seminars, and even providing expertise in juvenile law in the media.

“I’ve been very active in juvenile issues for decades,” Foxhoven says. “It’s going to be a long-term project. But we’re doing a lot of great things here.”