Missouri child welfare agency head charged with endangerment

The head of a suburban St. Louis child welfare agency and alternative school for children with severe behavioral problems has been charged with child endangerment and assault.

Vincent Damian Hillyer, of Eureka, was arrested Tuesday after police executed a search warrant at Great Circle Academy, an alternative school that offers boarding in Webster Groves, Missouri.

Hillyer was charged with six felony counts of first-degree child endangerment and misdemeanor counts of attempted child endangerment and fourth-degree assault. His bail is set at $205,000. No attorney is listed for him in online court records.

Great Circle is an organization that provides behavioral health services to thousands of children in state custody and students with mental illness and learning disabilities. It operates six schools throughout the state as well as counseling centers, and provides home services.

The Webster Groves school has about 250 students in kindergarten through high school. It was visited in September by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and other federal health officials who were traveling the country learning about efforts to battle opioid addiction.

Specific details about the allegations were not immediately available. The office of St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell was closed Wednesday for a state holiday honoring the birth of President Harry Truman, a native Missourian.

"Working with young clients who have acute behavioral health needs can often be difficult," Great Circle spokeswoman Bev Pfeifer-Harms said in a statement, noting that the investigation by Webster Groves police centered on "care provided in a small number of circumstances."

"While we remain confident in the therapeutic approach used in our facilities, as an organization, we will fully cooperate with all of those who are investigating this matter," Pfeifer-Harms said.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com