Guardian Angel moves to Morton

Pam Adams GateHouse Media Illinois

A residential treatment program for abused and neglected boys is moving from its longtime home at Guardian Angel in West Peoria to Morton.

The Center for Youth and Family Solutions is renovating a former church at 260 E. Queenwood in Morton to house the program. Construction work on the $800,000 project is scheduled to begin next week, according to Tony Riordan, chief operating officer of CYFS. Work should be completed by March.

The move marks the end of one era and the beginning of yet another for Guardian Angel, the huge brick structure at the end of Heading Avenue.

Opened in 1914 as an orphanage run by Franciscan sisters, Guardian Angel has been used for different purposes at different points. But through most of its existence it has been a refuge for troubled young people or young people in trouble.

A number of ministries have expressed interest in the West Peoria property but no final decision has been made, said Patricia Gibson, spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria. Gibson said the diocese could move several of its Catholic Charities programs to the Heading Avenue location.

CYFS had been looking for a new site since it opened in 2012. The agency spun off from the Catholic Diocese of Peoria — taking funding, staff and many programs formerly operated by Catholic Charities, including the residential program — after the Catholic church lost a legal and political battle to maintain state funding while remaining exempt from recognizing civil unions.

CYFS operates the residential program with a $18 million contract from Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Riordan said both the diocese and Morton officials have been supportive and collaborative.

He described the program as “essentially, a group foster-care facility.”

The 30-person staff provides 24-hour supervision and services for up to 16 boys between the ages of 6 and 18. Typically, the age range spans from 8 to 14, Riordan said. Youths come from throughout central Illinois and sometimes southern Illinois.

“These kids have higher needs than the typical child in foster care. They’ve had a level of trauma that’s more than the norm,” he said. “In a lot of ways what we do is re-parent them. But they’re just kids. They’re more like other kids than they are different.”

The average length of stay is about 14 months. For the past two years, all of the youth discharged from Guardian Angel have returned to a family setting, according to Riordan.

CYFS is working with Morton and Peoria public school districts to assure a smooth academic transition.

Though some of the boys leave the grounds to attend Peoria schools, Peoria School District 150 also has provided two teachers on-site “for years,” Riordan said.

For now, the plan is to continue to transport them to Peoria schools if the move occurs in March. They will enter Morton schools in the fall of 2016.

CYFS also plans to keep the Guardian Angel name.

“We thought about changing it,” Riordan said. “But the name is a metaphor that communicates care and support. We want to carry on the legacy and honor the work.”