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Home for Wayward Youth in Trouble

September 21, 2003|From Associated Press

CHICAGO — A celebrated church-run home for troubled youth that was once the state's biggest facility for treating abused juveniles is losing about 130 wards amid scrutiny of its handling of a suicide and two alleged sexual assaults.

The children at Maryville Academy's City of Youth residential center in suburban Des Plaines will be moved to other Illinois facilities within 90 days, state officials said.

"Maryville has had chance after chance to solve its problems," Bryan Samuels, director of the state Department of Children and Family Services, said at a news conference Friday. "This is not a safe environment for our kids, particularly the most vulnerable of these kids."

The campus, more than a century old, has attracted celebrity benefactors including the late Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray and Who guitarist Pete Townshend.

As Samuels spoke, several dozen Maryville supporters gathered outside.

"I think it's a tragedy, and I feel that it's a shame they made Maryville to look like a dangerous place," said Ron Brooks, 46, a resident of the campus as a youth who now works there as a family educator.

James Guidi, Maryville's program and clinical manager, said he and other Maryville officials had started to fix the facility's problems and would have worked with state authorities to move children who were not receiving appropriate care.

"I think it's a very tragic decision," said Guidi, who began the day-to-day supervision of Maryville in July. "It's going to disrupt 130 children's lives."

The state will resume sending children to the Des Plaines campus if the institution can correct its problems, officials said.

The 120-year-old facility is run by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. Its leader, Cardinal Francis George, issued a statement saying he regretted the state's decision but would help make the necessary changes.

The facility has been under scrutiny for more than a year. Various monitors and critics have said its staff is not properly trained to deal with children with severe behavioral, mental and emotional problems.

Among the problems state-appointed monitors found were youths having sex, problematic reporting of incidents and poor oversight. Maryville and child welfare department officials confirmed that FBI agents are also looking into the suicide of a 14-year-old girl last year and possible Medicaid fraud.

Maryville Academy's 20 other facilities in Illinois will remain open, department officials said. Guidi said five or six children sent to the facility by their parents will remain at the Des Plaines campus.

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