Families with children who suffer from severe behavioral challenges can now utilize Annie Malone Children and Family Services Center’s expanded therapeutic academy for more preventive crisis care services.
The expansion of the HW KIA Academy comes months after the Greater Ville organization battled staffing concerns and coronavirus outbreaks.
In April, the Missouri Department of Social Services suspended intake at Annie Malone’s residential treatment facility at 5355 Page Blvd. DSS cited the center for not being in compliance with licensing guidelines during overnight shifts: It did not comply with the staff-to-student ratio requirements and failed to report critical incidents within the appropriate time.
In July, the organization voluntarily decided to permanently stop its 24-hour care services at the center. It will use the treatment center facility to house its academy this school year.
The revamping of the residential center and expansion of the academy allow Annie Malone to provide more services to help prevent children from entering the foster care system, said Sara Lahman, CEO of Annie Malone Children and Family Services Center.
“It's been definitely a challenging year, just like everyone else has had with the pandemic,” Lahman said. “And we're just shifting our ways to meet the community's needs the best that we can."
Lahman said the closure of the residential treatment center was voluntary because the organization could not keep workers fully employed during the pandemic. The quarantine requirements from coronavirus outbreaks limited the center’s pool of staff.
The DSS also placed the center on a corrective action plan in March for not having the proper number of staff per student, lacking supervision of staff to student populations and not providing enough safe crisis management training for direct-care staff.
“I met with the board; the staffing concerns were continuing. … It just gave us the time to really pause and evaluate what makes the most sense,” Lahman said. “And we decided it would make the most sense to transition our school into that space.”
The therapeutic academy serves children ages 5 to 21 years old and who are in kindergarten to 12th grade. Children who attend the academy are referred by school districts and placed on individualized education plans. Children are often referred to the academy because their home school cannot meet the therapeutic and behavioral needs of the students.
Lahman said it was challenging to serve children with severe behavioral issues during the pandemic. She kept the school open last school year to allow the students to have a safe space to learn because many of them suffer from neglect.
The expansion of the school allows them to comply with COVID-19 guidelines while educating students. The school will require masks. Staff will perform temperature checks at the door, the school will require social distancing in common areas, and each classroom will have up to five children and one teacher.
The school has increased its staff. It also updated the curriculum to include recovering school credits via courses on a computer, as well as learning job and life skills.
“We started this year just really targeting the skills we missed last year or didn't get enough instruction in, so we're going to stay with that for a while and then move on with the curriculum,” Angela O’Brien, HW Kia Academy superintendent, said.
She said the expanded campus will also allow Annie Malone to bring in more children who are excluded from other classrooms.
“We are there for these kids because we believe in them, and they deserve a second chance,” O’Brien said. “And without our school, they would be sitting at home, they'd be on the streets.”