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Surprise inspections part of oversight reforms for S.D. youth homes

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For the first time in South Dakota, unannounced surprise inspections would be conducted at private youth treatment centers as part of a sweeping oversight reform package being pushed by Gov. Kristi Noem.

Noem has proposed a major overhaul to how South Dakota oversees, inspects and updates the public about conditions in privately run youth homes across the state.

Under the proposal, youth treatment facilities in South Dakota would be subjected to far greater state scrutiny and oversight, and public access to inspection and complaint information would be heightened.

Among the proposals: more independent, non-agency inspectors would be hired; regular inspections would double in frequency and some additional inspections would be unannounced; and a full-time, independent monitor would be hired solely to hear and review complaints of abuse from facility residents.

At present, administrators of private youth homes are told in advance when inspections will be held and public access to records is limited.

“The health and safety of the next generation is our top priority. We cannot let kids fall through the cracks,” Noem said in a December news release announcing the proposed reforms.

In June 2019, Noem ordered the state Department of Social Services to undergo a full review of licensing and inspection practices of all privately run youth facilities in the state.

The review was ordered shortly after the publication in early June of an investigation by South Dakota News Watch that uncovered a pattern of abuse of children, questionable abuse reporting practices and lax state oversight at the private Aurora Plains Academy intensive residential treatment facility in Plankinton, S.D.

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