OUR VIEW: Demand accountability for Aurora Plains
That was the only logical takeaway from an in-depth investigation on Plankinton's Aurora Plains Academy that was published last week by South Dakota News Watch, a nonprofit news organization. The story was carried in The Daily Republic on Saturday.
The report on Plankinton's Aurora Plains Academy was damming, showing poor treatment of residents in the youth treatment facility in the past decade, causing physical injuries and emotional trauma. Residents were described as overmedicated and zombie-like. Young girls described employees being touched sexually. Employees who spoke out about inappropriate and violent conditions were punished or fired.
We're thankful for the former students, children and parents who were willing to speak up about their experiences at Aurora Plains. The same is the case for former employees. It's a story Clinicare clearly didn't want told, and one can question whether the South Dakota Department of Social Services wanted it told either, considering their weak response to questioning in the investigation.
DSS is supposed to be organization in charge of oversight, and it is required to make one, pre-announced inspection of the facility each year. If the state's leaders are being honest with themselves, they know one scheduled visit is not good enough.
We're not naive about how difficult it is to find adequate methods to treat troubled young people. Every person at Aurora Plains has their own unique challenges, so there's not likely to be a clear blanket solution on how to handle every student.
But nobody can claim that what we've read and the photos we've seen regarding Aurora Plains are acceptable. Our young people, especially the children in trouble, deserve better.
South Dakota did not manage its State Training School well enough in the late 1990s, and it closed the facility after a 14-year-old girl died. That resulted in looking for another firm to manage the Plankinton location. Now Aurora Plains' private ownership group appears to have problems of its own with taking care of troubled young people. And while South Dakota doesn't own the facility anymore, the state should not have abdicated its responsibility to take care of young people.
This needs to lead to corrective action. It would be easy to say that Clinicare should be providing better care of students, but it seems hard to trust that is going to happen only on Clinicare's own accord. A start should come with making it easier for parents and employees to report mistreatment. And people in power need to start believing the children rugburns, the scars, and the scrapes. Oversight from state officials needs more muscle, as well, and reports of progress and accountability need to be made to the public.
Proper treatment of students at Aurora Plains Academy is not something our state can afford to be behind on once again.