PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Gov. Kristi Noem said Wednesday that she has ordered a review of the state’s processes for licensing and inspecting privately run youth treatment facilities in South Dakota after a news organization uncovered abuses at a facility in Plankinton.
The alleged abuses at Aurora Plains Academy were first reported by South Dakota News Watch. A six-month investigation found a pattern of improper treatment of youth and young adult residents amid limited state government oversight. South Dakota News Watch reported some of the residents were subjected to physical, mental and sexual abuse by employees.
“As a mom, it deeply saddens me to read the stories of these kids,” Noem said in a statement. “Regardless of whether a situation happened 10 years ago, 10 months ago, or 10 days ago, abuse is never okay, and I hope we can learn and take corrective action where it is needed to protect our most vulnerable population.”
News Watch’s investigation found that employees regularly use harsh physical restraints on residents, resulting in rug burns, black eyes, bloody noses, bruising and other injuries. There were reports of some broken bones, and some residents reported being over-medicated. Some girls reported that they were touched sexually by employees.
Noem said she asked the Department of Social Services to complete an analysis of the processes for licensing and inspecting private facilities and to evaluate the department’s role in ensuring the residents are safe.
“My team and I remain committed to protecting kids in this facility and helping these private facilities administer the best care for youth,” Noem said.
Aurora Plains Academy is owned by Wisconsin-based Clinicare Corp. Officials at the corporate office did not immediately return messages left Wednesday by The Associated Press.
According to News Watch, Aurora Plains is a privately operated, government-funded institution that serves vulnerable males and females, ages 10 to 20, who have issues with anger, self-harm or sexual deviancy. The facility, which provides housing, treatment and education, is locked. Most of the residents have not been convicted of a crime but are sent to the facility involuntarily.
Noem’s press secretary, Kristin Wileman, said Noem has tasked the Department of Social Services with implementing more transparent reports on corrective action plans and conducting independent contract investigations on reports of child abuse and neglect. The governor is also asking state agencies to look into more unannounced site surveys.
Wileman said that from February 2012 to July 2014, Aurora Plains Academy was under a corrective action plan to address use of restraints, supervision of youth and other issues. Since that time, the numbers of reports and complaints filed have gone down, she said.