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Head of child welfare agency in Missouri charged with child endangerment, assault

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U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show that more than 700,000 children are referred to child protective agencies as a result of abuse or neglect in the U.S. each year. According to Purva Grover, M.D., a pediatric eme
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U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show that more than 700,000 children are referred to child protective agencies as a result of abuse or neglect in the U.S. each year. According to Purva Grover, M.D., a pediatric eme

The head of a child welfare agency in Missouri that has offices and a school in Independence has been arrested and charged with child endangerment and assault, according to court documents.

Vincent D. Hillyer, president and CEO of Great Circle, has been charged in St. Louis County Circuit Court with six felony counts of first-degree child endangerment.

Hillyer, 58, of Eureka, Missouri, has also been charged in a second case with one felony count of attempted second-degree child endangerment and a misdemeanor fourth-degree assault.

Hillyer was arrested Tuesday after police executed a search warrant at Great Circle Academy, an alternative school of about 250 students that offers boarding in Webster Groves, Missouri, near St. Louis.

According to court documents in one of the cases, the Missouri Department of Social Services Children’s Division received a hotline telephone call about a child being choked at that school.

Video allegedly shows Hillyer restraining and choking a child seated on a couch on April 17, according to court documents.

Other details about some of the allegations against Hillyer were not available Wednesday as courts were closed for the state holiday honoring the birth of President Harry Truman.

Great Circle is one of the largest behavior health providers in Missouri, providing services to thousands of children in state custody and students with mental illnesses and learning disabilities. It operates six schools, including one in Independence, and provides counseling centers and home services statewide.

Hillyer has asked to be placed on administrative leave effective immediately to ensure continuity of operations and commitment to those Great Circle serves, according to a statement Wednesday from the agency’s board of directors. Paula Flemming, chief operating officer, and John Money, chief of staff, have assumed his role.

“During this difficult time and always, Great Circle’s focus every day is on serving the behavioral health needs of children and families in the organization’s community,” the board said in the statement. “As a Board, we have full faith in the Great Circle team and its commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of the nearly 45,000 children and families we serve. We remain confident in the therapeutic approach used in Great Circle facilities.”

The board said Great Circle will cooperate fully with any and all reviews of the care provided at its facilities.

The Associated Press provided some information for this story.

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Robert A. Cronkleton gets up very early in the morning to bring readers breaking news about crime, transportation and weather at the crack of dawn. He’s been at The Star since 1987 and now contributes data reporting and video editing.
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