A residential school operated by Sequel Youth and Family Services is set to permanently shutdown its operations. Northern Illinois Academy (NIA), located in Aurora, Illinois, is an 87-bed facility that receives funding from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS), and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). Children suffering from mental illness, autism, mood disorders, and/or developmental delays were sent to the facility for treatment. According to a recent report based on an investigation conducted by Equip for Equality’s Abuse Investigation Unit, NIA and its parent company, Sequel Youth and Family Services, are unwilling to provide sufficient resources to resolve the existing treatment and safety concerns. These identified problems include a lack of meaningful programing, unsafe restraint practices, problems with de-briefing, failure to identify/report incidents of restraints and seclusion, inaccurate reporting of incidents, complaints regarding time youth spend in their rooms, restricting residents from communication devices, and significant program failures in the Blackhawk unit.
To complete its investigation, Equip for Equality reviewed staff hours, conducted five on-site inspections, and interviewed youth, guardians, stakeholders, and staff. Interviews with the former three revealed incidents of staff slamming children to the floor, inadequate supervision leading to youth engaging in sexual activity with each other, and undisclosed use of restraints. One mother revealed that her child sustained injuries at the facility, and although the child complained of pain, the child did not see an orthopedist until the family repeatedly pushed for it. The orthopedist determined the child likely had a broken collar bone, but NIA did not comply with diagnostic recommendations. A guardian expressed concerns of a staff member assaulting an 18-year old resident after that resident had raped a 13-year old during a field trip. Another mother reported that her child had escaped NIA a couple times, once leading to the child being sex trafficked. When the mother raised concerns with NIA, a staff member told her they only follow children to the end of the property. Several parents reported that their children suffered physical abuse from staff and other residents that resulted in bruising and scarring. Some children would refuse to tell their parents about anything that happened at NIA. Other third parties and law enforcement were interviewed, stating that children from NIA would say they would rather go to the hospital or jail than return to NIA. An Illinois Screening Assessment and Support Services worker (SASS) reported that NIA had once been a reputable facility, it timely submitted paperwork, and was responsive to concerns. However, upon the departure of a director 12 to 18 months ago, there was significant decline in the institutions ability to carry out its functions.
In a May 13, 2021 letter from IDHS, parents and guardians with youth in the facility were informed that the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has decided to place the facility on an “unapproved” status effective August 6, 2021, the conclusion of the summer school session. In response to Equip for Equality’s report and ISBE’s determination, IDHS, HFS, and DCFS are coordinating to ensure a phased and orderly transition of all youth currently residing at NIA to other placements. There are currently 51 students at NIA, 15 placed by DCFS, 17 placed by public school districts, 11 placed by HFS, and 8 placed by DHS. Read more here.
For questions about Illinois child protection issues or Chicago child abuse, contact Justice for Kids at 844-4KIDLAW.