Bart Pfankuch / S.D. News Watch
When Lauren Schroeder sought justice for her son who she said was physically abused by employees of Aurora Plains Academy, she grew frustrated that no one would listen. Schroeder said after an independent investigator with Child's Voice at Sanford Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls and an officer with the Aberdeen Police Department both confirmed her son's injuries, she tried to get local authorities involved to hold academy employees accountable.
Gov. Kristi Noem has ordered the state Department of Social Services to enact a series of wide-ranging reforms intended to improve the safety of youths sent to privately run treatment facilities across South Dakota. The governor's announcement came in response to an investigative report published June 5 by South Dakota News Watch that uncovered a decade-long pattern of physical, sexual and psychological abuse of youths at Aurora Plains Academy, a privately run, government-funded intensive residential treatment facility in Plankinton.
The stories of abuse and anguish told by former employees, former residents and parents of residents paint a frightening picture of what has taken place over the past decade at the Aurora Plains Academy intensive youth treatment facility in Plankinton.
Youths and young adults housed at the Aurora Plains Academy in Plankinton, S.D. have endured physical, mental and sexual abuse by employees amid an internal culture of secrecy and limited state government oversight, according to public documents and testimony from former residents and employees of the facility.
The intensely partisan and politicized national debate over immigration policies has cast a cloud of uncertainty over guest worker programs that for years have helped provide employees to seasonal South Dakota businesses that cannot find enough American workers. The viability of some businesses in the tourism, agricultural and construction industries are at stake if federal programs that bring foreign workers to South Dakota each summer are not stabilized soon.
South Dakota infants are dying in their sleep at a rate far higher than the national average and among neighboring states, but new efforts are underway to save babies from a cause of death that health experts say is mostly preventable. From 2013 to 2017, more than 70 percent of infant deaths that occurred after hospital discharge in South Dakota were due to sleep-related causes, according to the state Department of Health.
More than 40,000 South Dakota children, from infants to teenagers, live in families with incomes low enough to qualify for the federal food stamp program, creating challenges to obtaining a fruitful childhood and a prosperous life in adulthood. The number of children in South Dakota families receiving aid in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program rose by 47 percent from 2007 to 2017.
Every year, about 30 percent of South Dakota high school graduates who enroll in a state university must take remedial courses in math or English because they don't test high enough in those topics. Those courses cost the students about $1,000 per class and provide them with no college credit. The classes are designed to help college-bound students catch up and be ready to take algebra, English composition or other basic classes needed to graduate.
Jobs are plentiful in South Dakota, but most positions pay well below the national average and far lower than neighboring states. In fact, South Dakota has the third-lowest average wage for employed people in the country behind only Arkansas and Mississippi. An analysis shows that the lowest-paying jobs—in office support, food service and sales—dominate the state workforce.
The pending closure of Shopko department stores may have devastating effects on six South Dakota small towns that will suffer job losses, decreased access to basic necessities and sales-tax reductions that could limit municipal services.