State pulling all students in its care from Northern Illinois Academy following reports of abuse

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AURORA, Ill. (WCIA) — The State of Illinois announced Friday plans to transfer all students in its care out of Northern Illinois Academy, following a report that found abuse and neglect of minors.

NIA is an 87-bed private youth residential treatment facility and therapeutic day school located in Aurora, managed by Sequel Youth and Family Services. Equip for Equality — an Illinois organization that advances the rights of people with disabilities — was commissioned in January by the state to review the academy’s practices.

A press release from the state says the report found ‘serious concerns’ at NIA. Those concerns include staffing, incident reporting, elopements, treatment planning, the use of seclusion and isolated time-outs, and improper restraints.

Youths at NIA told investigations that staff members don’t listen to them and “they just blame your feelings or actions on something else.”

The minors also told Equip for Equality that the “nurses never believe us” and staff frequently shoved and slammed them onto the ground and on their beds.

Other observations noted in the report showed that minors were frequently not supervised, which resulted in youths engaging in undetected inappropriate activities. Additionally, staff would take away personal items from minors as punishment for not listening, including pictures of family members.

The full report can be viewed at this link.

Based on those findings, the state says it will designate NIA as ‘non-approved’ for education services, effective Aug. 6, 2021.

The press release says several state agencies who are responsible for students at NIA — including the Department of Human Services, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the State Board of Education, and the Department of Children and Family Services — will immediately start transiting students to alternate placement on a phased and orderly basis.

“The problems documented by Equip for Equality are deeply troubling. As a consequence and as a result of ISBE’s regulatory review, we are revoking approval of the facility and helping school districts to transition their students to better learning environments ahead of the next school year,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “All children deserve to be educated by qualified, trained, and compassionate adults with the individualized supports they require. Removing approval from this facility holds NIA accountable and ensures a better future for the children who have been in their care.”

The state says it had previously give the academy ‘ample opportunity’ to improve services. It says the ISBE changed NIA’s status to Pending Further Review in December last year, which stopped additional placements at NIU.

ISBE also came up with a corrective action plan for NIA, the release says, along with extensive on-site monitoring.

The state says it called on Equip for Equality to complete the review after complaints continued to come in, “despite the ongoing corrective action.”

“Changing a facility’s status to non-approved means that school districts cannot receive state reimbursement for student placements there,” says the release.

School districts have placed 17 students at NIA and will need to relocate them to another facility in order to keep getting state reimbursement for those placements, according to the release.

“The top priority of the Department of Children and Family Services is protecting vulnerable children by ensuring they receive the best available support and services. It is unacceptable when any facility is not meeting the strict standards established by DCFS, and our team is taking steps to thoughtfully and carefully transition our youth in care to other facilities that can provide the nurturing, supportive environment our kids deserve,” said Marc Smith, Acting Director, Department of Children and Family Services.

DCFS has 15 minors placed at NIA, and the department says it’s starting the process to get them to a different facility.

That process will include finding appropriate facilities, providing background and medical information to these new facilities, and scheduling interviews between facility staff and youth in care.

“DCFS is working to have all youth in care in safe and appropriate settings within 120 days,” says the release.

“Above all else, the well-being of these children is the top priority. HFS has engaged every family with a child at Northern Illinois Academy under the Family Support Program to reduce the number of children placed there and is actively seeking solutions for those whose families haven’t yet found alternative placements,” said Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Theresa Eagleson. “HFS has been working to relocate children for more than a year and will continue to work with its sister agencies to ensure the best possible transition for these children.”

“We are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of every child served by organizations that IDHS funds. We continue to work closely with families, advocates, and our provider system to ensure NIA youth can transition in an orderly and caring way to places where they can learn, grow, and thrive,” said IDHS Secretary Grace B. Hou.

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