ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque facility treating some of New Mexico’s most vulnerable children is closing after a CYFD investigation found multiple cases of abuse between workers and kids. In November, KRQE News 13 reported on the sudden closure announcement for Bernalillo Academy, as some parents were given reasons like COVID and resources. However, new documents we’ve obtained through CYFD tell a much darker story behind the doors of the facility closing.
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Bernalillo Academy was one of New Mexico’s last full-time facilities for children with behavioral and developmental disorders. However, the reasoning behind the closure now has the state’s top prosecutor getting involved.
“New Mexico keeps repeating the same mistakes when it comes to safeguarding children,” said Hector Balderas, Attorney General for New Mexico. “We are hoping that upon our investigation, we will be able to deliver a real road map on how to improve safety and oversight, especially for the most vulnerable children who need support and services.”
Last month, Allen Brown, a parent of a non-verbal autistic child receiving care at the Bernalillo Academy, tipped us off to the closing, saying they were told to transfer their children by Dec. 22 with no real cause for the closure given. But with no other facilities of this kind left in New Mexico, parents and caretakers were left scrambling with few options.
“We’re going to have autistic kids, we’re going to have kids that have other mental problems or things like that, you’re going to have kids come from broken homes that needs a little bit of help,” Brown told us last month. “In the future, what are we going to do?”
After Brown reached out, KRQE started digging into the cause of the closure. Documents obtained from CYFD show a darker side of the facility with years of abuse allegations, leading state officials to finally order Bernalillo Academy to close. “This is a very ugly case,” said Balderas. “This is a black eye for New Mexico.”
Investigators found Bernalillo Academy didn’t perform adequate background checks or verify employment for many of its staff, with some staff not even meeting the requirements of the job, where they were dealing with severe developmental and behavioral cases in children and teenagers. But other allegations go much deeper — from reports of staff whipping children with tree branches and bark, leaving them with severe bruising and injuries, to countless reports of physical aggression between kids without staff intervention.
Detailed in the report, one child said, “I guess they are just waiting for me to die,” while another said he “doesn’t really feel safe here.” CYFD also found instances of sexual aggression between those in the facility’s care, one stating they were afraid they would be molested after another “client” in the care of the facility asked to have oral sex with them.
“I’m very concerned that these allegations go back many years. I’m concerned there was a lack of timely reporting which is required by law,’ said Balderas. “It’s horrifying.”
The investigation also found some children were heavily sedated and many did not have access to private phone calls to communicate with their parents or guardians. The facility also reportedly lacked basic necessities like chairs to sit on, and children were now allowed their personal belongings like toys until they were “earned.” Balderas says his office is now launching a full investigation into Bernalillo Academy and its parent company, Sequel Youth and Family Services, not ruling out criminal and civil charges to the staff members involved.
“It’s my expectation that in these types of situations that there’s always prevention, intervention, and then of course, then comes accountability and strict scrutiny,” said Balderas. “But we only get one shot to protect a child so this is an awful, awful situation.”
According to CYFD, the facility voluntarily relinquished its license as of Dec. 1, just weeks before tomorrow’s planned closure on Dec. 22. All children who were involved with CYFD have been moved elsewhere.
KRQE News 13 reached out may times to Sequel Youth and Family Services, which has seen similar closures and allegations in its other nationwide facilities recently. They did not return our calls and emails.