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Hillcrest Academy to temporarily shut down as current operator says they're stopping operations

The county pulled its children from the facility this spring following sexual abuse allegations against a former employee
Hillcrest Academy
Posted at 11:50 AM, Jul 25, 2023

SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio — The current operator of a Hamilton County residential youth treatment facility will shut down operations at Hillcrest Academy, according to a representative for the company.

In April, a Hamilton County Juvenile Court (HCJC) spokesperson said a judge removed a dozen teenage boys from Hillcrest Academy following accusations of sexual abuse against a former employee.

A representative for the current operator, Rite of Passage, said it didn't make sense to continue operations at the site after Hamilton County removed the children. Rite of Passage will move the remainder of the kids at the facility to other sites.

The representative confirms about 70 full or part-time employees will lose their jobs at Hillcrest Academy.

Shelia Davis is one of them. She's currently a supervisor at the facility.

"It really is sad," she said. "Most importantly is how is it going to affect these kids?"

The Hamilton County administrator said the county's contract with Rite of Passage expires this year. The county is preparing to release a request for proposals to find a new provider, though the current provider would also be eligible to submit a proposal.

On Tuesday, Hamilton County Juvenile Court held a listening session to gather input from the public on ideas for the future of Hillcrest Academy.

"If we turn a blind eye, or just don't ask what the community sees and wants, we are missing a huge opportunity to see our blind spots," said Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Kari Bloom.

Bloom said the courts have never done something like this before. She said she wants to send children back to Hillcrest, but wants it to be a safe and healthy environment for kids and their families.

"What is an absolute need is mental health counseling, mental health therapy, and mental health services that can be started immediately or very close to immediately that there's not a long wait list for and that can continue when they leave Hillcrest," she said.

Speakers on Tuesday voiced different ideas for its future. Some vocalized the need for more connection with community programs, while others urged more collaboration with services.

Some speakers, like Davis, voiced concern about the way things have been handled with the facility.

"We already have a program in place already," she said. "We could have came together, collaborating and talking about what can we do to make this work instead of shutting the whole program down."

Bloom said she is hopeful the next provider can begin operations by next spring.

Hillcrest Academy is a minimum-security facility that gives at-risk youth a high school experience, its website said.

A former Hillcrest Academy employee was indicted in May after Springfield Township police said they were investigating allegations of sexual abuse at the residential treatment program.

The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office said Francine Thomas worked at the facility. She is accused of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. According to court documents, the 50-year-old woman engaged in a sex act with a teenage boy.

Her next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 8.

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