Illinois to remove children from troubled church-run home

CHICAGO (September 19, 10:03 a.m. ADT) – Illinois will remove all children from a church-run home for troubled youth that has been under scrutiny for its handling of a suicide and two alleged sexual assaults, state officials said Friday.

About 130 children at Maryville Academy’s City of Youth residential center in suburban Des Plaines will be moved to other Illinois facilities within 90 days, officials said.

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

The campus, more than a century old, was once the state’s largest facility for treating abandoned and abused youths and 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. “You’re going to have problems. You can’t make sure everything is perfect.”

Maryville officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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, run by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, 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.

State-appointed monitors found problems with runaways, sex among youths, poor oversight and problematic reporting of incidents. Officials at Maryville and the child-welfare department confirmed this week that FBI agents are also looking into the suicide of a 14-year-old girl last year as well as possible Medicaid fraud.

The Des Plaines campus can care for more than 270 youngsters at a time, although its population has been cut in half since the state stopped sending wards there in December.

Maryville Academy’s 20 other facilities in Illinois will remain open, department officials said. The state paid Maryville $62 million in fiscal year 2003, with about $21 million of that going to the Des Plaines facility.

The 50 or so Maryville supporters and employees who gathered Friday said the problems at Des Plaines could be fixed without uprooting the children who live there. They carried signs reading, “Don’t Make Our Kids Orphans. Maryville is Our Home,” and, “We’ve been here for 120 years. Where have you been?”

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