Kirksville -- Mike Waddle, chief juvenile officer at the Second Judicial Circuit Juvenile Office in Kirksville, has provided an explanation for the decision to remove 115 students from Heartland Christian Academy in Newark on Tuesday.
He said usually juvenile cases are not publicly explained, but because of the public interest in Heartland Christian Academy juvenile cases, "and the misinformation and misrepresentations which have been publicly disseminated," a statement was warranted.
Following is his statement: "Every effort was made to avoid removing any children from Heartland. After several substantial reports of child abuse, some of which resulted in criminal child abuse charges against Heartland employees, a cooperative agreement was reached with Heartland to correct the problems which led to the allegations of abuse and to monitor conditions at Heartland to insure the safety of children residing there. Despite that agreement, appropriate corrective actions were not implemented and further requests by the juvenile officer for cooperation were rejected.
"Additional allegations of child abuse have been made. These allegations include that a young male resident was struck in the ear by the elbow of an academy employee, which resulted in the child suffering a ruptured eardrum. Also, it is alleged that verbal commands were made by a staff member directing a male resident to repeatedly punch a mirror with his bare fist, which caused injuries requiring emergency medical treatment.
"A senior administrator is accused of hitting a female child approximately 35 times with a wooden paddle, causing serious bruises and contusions. It was also discovered that one of the injured children was initially examined and assessed by a Heartland employee who is a convicted felon on parole with no license to render any medical care. This employee diagnosed the injury as not serious, which resulted in an unreasonable delay in obtaining necessary medical treatment for the injuries. This employee is also subject to parole directives that he not have contact with women or children at Heartland except at church and that he not administer any medical services."
Waddle said juvenile officers, Division of Family Services and law enforcement personnel attempted to investigate the allegations of abuse, but "Heartland officials refused to cooperate, refused to permit interviews of the alleged abusers or witnesses, and refused to remove staff members responsible for the alleged abuse from further direct care of other children.
"Under these circumstances it was determined the physical and emotional well being of children at Heartland was at risk and their removal was necessary to insure their safety. They were taken into protective custody as smoothly as possible, considering 115 children were taken into custody simultaneously. While some children were clearly upset, they were extremely well treated and adjusted to their changing environment as well as could be expected under the circumstances. Most importantly, they were placed in safe surroundings.
"When they arrived in Kirksville, comprehensive medical and psychological services were provided to each child. Through the cooperative efforts of Family Services, Missouri Division of Youth Services, Missouri Department of Mental Health and local youth serving agencies, children had access to and received services from licensed psychologists and counselors, a physician and several nurses. These services will reman available to each child for as long as necessary to ensure their well being.
"Parents or legal guardians of the children were immediately contacted. They were informed their children would be unconditionally released to their physical custody. The parents or guardians were cautioned that returning their children to Heartland under the current conditions might be construed as a failure to properly protect them and might result in further action by the juvenile officer. There has been no threat to any parent or guardian that returning their child to Heartland would result in their permanent loss of custody of their child. Some parents are understandably upset by the disruption in the placement of their children. We believe they would most probably be even more upset if no action was taken to protect their children from this apparent risk of harm.
"These cases do not involve the issue of appropriate or reasonable discipline, as some have suggested. There are serious allegations and supporting evidence of child abuse. Under the circumstances, it is the responsibility of the juvenile officer to take necessary steps to protect the welfare of children in Lewis, Knox and Adair counties. While the necessity for this action is regrettable, until these issues are properly resolved through the judicial process, we are required to protect these children from a significant risk of harm by removing them from the environment which creates that risk."
Waddle said the information is provided in accordance with Section 211.321.2(1)(b), and providing more specific information would not be appropriate since these are pending legal matters involving juveniles and their families.