Records: Program where teen died has a history of violations

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Records show the residential treatment program where a teenager died Wednesday has a history of violations with the state. 

The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety is investigating what led to the death of the 16-year-old boy.

Police reported Lakeside Academy staff had been restraining the boy when he became unresponsive. Emergency crews responding to the home on Oakland Drive north of West Kilgore found the teen in cardiac arrest.

Lakeside Academy, a home and school for children with behavioral challenges, is licensed by the state of Michigan. According to the state’s online database, regulators published results from five special investigations at Lakeside in 2020 alone.

The state documented violations in all five cases.

Most recently, an investigator cited the home in early March for failing to supervise residents, resulting in sexual contact between two of them.

 “A resident was touched inappropriately by another resident while transported by a staff for nighttime meds,” wrote an investigator in the report.

The employee was driving residents from one on-campus building to another and was unable to adequately supervise two back-seat passengers.

“During the brief car ride, Resident A put his hands inside Resident C’s pants and the underwear and touched Resident C’s penis,” reported the regulator.

At the time, an administrator told the state that Lakeside Academy did not have a policy prohibiting employees from transporting residents by staff vehicle on campus.

“Staff was lazy by driving her car rather than walking,” the investigator quoted the administrator as saying.

The employee acknowledged it was a “poor choice” to drive the residents instead of walking with them.

“I made a mistake and a kid suffered. It will not happen again,” the investigator quoted the worker in question as saying.

Both of the backseat residents lived in a dorm designated to serve “sexually reactive youth.”

“Two residents and staff all agree that supervision was not appropriate, resulting in sexual contact between two residents with known sexual histories given their placement in the Sexually Reactive Youth program,” wrote the regulator.

The state required that the facility submit a Corrective Action Plan.

In another special investigation, regulators cited the facility for using “inappropriate behavior management techniques when addressing” a resident.

In a separate investigation in late 2019, a state reviewer determined a staff member improperly restrained a resident.

“Evidence… support the allegations of staff not using pre-approved restraint techniques during the restraint of” a resident, the investigation said.

Also in 2019, a regulator cited Lakeside after a worker physically pushed a resident, causing him to fall.

“(The employee’s) use of verbal cursing is also inappropriate and would only trigger the trauma cycle” for the resident,” wrote the investigator in a report.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which regulates Lakeside Academy, the facility currently houses 125 young people.

Forty-seven of the residents are state wards, which means they are either in foster care or juvenile justice programs.

The other young people are placed in the private facility by counties or other states.

MDHHS spokesperson Bob Wheaton provided the following statement to News 8:

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Services Agency is deeply saddened by the death of one of our youth and we extend our condolences to the youth’s family and friends.

MDHHS is committed to keeping Michigan’s children safe from abuse and neglect. When a child comes into our care and custody, the child has likely experienced serious maltreatment, and we must do all that we can to ensure that children are safe while in our care. The department and its staff have as its highest priority the safety and well-being of children in our care and custody. 

Although he was a ward of the state, this child was still a brother, nephew and grandchild to family who loved him. No institution or agency can replace the love of family. His unfortunate death reminds us that no child should grow up in foster care, and that we all must do more to ensure that every child has a loving family they can call their own. MDHHS is investigating and will take whatever action is necessary to protect other youth the department has placed at this facility and any other child caring institution. Given the ongoing police investigation, MDHHS has no additional comment to this particular case.

MDHHS spokesperson Bob Wheaton

In a Friday statement, the school said it was cooperating with KDPS’ investigation, would “use every tool at our disposal to investigate this incident, support those affected, and take appropriate disciplinary action,” and would make changes to prevent a similar incident in the future.

It offered condolences to the teen’s friends and family.

Full statement from Lakeside Academy:

“We are deeply saddened to learn about the passing of a student at Lakeside Academy after being restrained by staff during an incident on campus. We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of this young man and are focused on supporting them and our school community. While we are not providing additional details at this time out of respect for the privacy of the family and the ongoing law enforcement investigation, we are cooperating fully with the Kalamazoo Police Department and will use every tool at our disposal to investigate this incident, support those affected, and take appropriate disciplinary action. The health and well-being of our students is our top priority and all personnel at our facilities are trained to provide the highest quality of care. This incident does not reflect our mission to serve and care for our clients with excellence and we are committed to making the necessary changes to ensure something like this does not happen again.”

Lakeside Academy