Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Investigation found that the Albuquerque Youth at Risk facility had long-standing allegations of abuse

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – An Albuquerque facility treating some of New Mexico’s most vulnerable children is closing after a CYFD investigation found multiple cases of worker-child abuse. In November, KRQE News 13 reported on the announcement of the sudden closure of the Bernalillo Academy as some parents were given reasons like COVID and resources. However, new documents we received through CYFD tell a much darker story behind the doors of the facility’s closure.

The Bernalillo Academy was one of the last full-time facilities in New Mexico for children with behavioral and developmental disorders. However, the reason for the closure has now turned on the state’s highest public prosecutor’s office.

“New Mexico repeats the same mistakes over and over again when it comes to protecting children,” said Hector Balderas, New Mexico attorney general. “We hope that after our investigation we can come up with a real roadmap to improve safety and supervision, especially for the most vulnerable children in need of support and services.”

Last month, Allen Brown, a parent of a nonverbal autistic child cared for at the Bernalillo Academy, gave us a notice of the closure and said they were told they would leave their children by December 22 with no real reason for it the closure should transfer. But with no other facilities of its kind in New Mexico, parents and carers were left with few options.

“We’re going to have autistic kids, we’re going to have kids who have other mental health problems or the like, it’s going to be kids from broken families who need a little help,” Brown said last month. “What are we going to do in the future?”

After Brown got in touch, KRQE began investigating the reason for the closure. Documents received from CYFD reveal a darker side of the facility, with year-long abuse allegations that resulted in state officials finally ordering the closure of the Bernalillo Academy. “This is a very ugly case,” said Balderas. “That’s a black eye for New Mexico.”

Investigators found that the Bernalillo Academy did not conduct adequate background checks or employment reviews for many of its employees, with some employees not even meeting the requirements of the role dealing with serious developmental and behavioral cases in children and adolescents . However, other allegations go much deeper – from reports of staff whipping children with branches and bark, leaving them with severe bruises and injuries, to countless reports of physical aggression between children without staff intervention.

At length 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 cases of sexual aggression between those in the care of the facility, one of whom said they feared being harassed after another “customer” in the care of the facility asked to have oral sex with them.

“I am very concerned that these allegations go back many years. I fear that there was a lack of timely reporting required by law, ”said Balderas. “It’s scary.”

The research also found that some children were severely 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 such as chairs to sit on, and children were now allowed to use their personal items such as toys until they were “earned”. Balderas says his office is now embarking on a full investigation into the Bernalillo Academy and its parent company Sequel Youth and Family Services, not excluding criminal and civil charges against the employees involved.

“I expect that in such situations there will always be prevention, intervention and then of course accountability and strict control,” said Balderas. “But we only have one chance to protect one child, so this is a terrible, terrible situation.”

According to CYFD, the facility voluntarily relinquished its license on December 1, just weeks before tomorrow’s scheduled closure on December 22. All children involved in CYFD were moved elsewhere.

KRQE News 13 reached out to Sequel Youth and Family Services in May, which have recently seen similar closings and allegations at their other statewide facilities. They did not answer our calls and emails.

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