Youth academy in Starke makes changes to protect cadets following allegations of inappropriate behavior

Authorities investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior at Florida youth academy

STARKE, Fla. – Despite recent allegations involving employees having inappropriate relationships with cadets, the Florida Youth Challenge Academy (FLYCA) at Camp Blanding in Starke is speaking out about its programming, success rates and the changes management made to better protect teen cadets.

The investigation into inappropriate behavior involving an employee and a cadet started in April after a parent spoke out about the alleged abuse her daughter experienced.

Although the investigation is still in progress, management said the program has improved the lives of over 6,000 teens, helping them get their lives back on track.

The teen cadets are in military-style school for five and a half months, working on their chance to improve their grades or working towards earning their GED. The students are 16-to-18-years-old and some can barely read or are several years behind in their education.

Abigail Vazquez, director at FLYCA, said many of the teens are improving and excelling to a least one grade level higher than before they entered the academy.

“I had a few kids tell me they were grateful for a bed, food, shower and simple things. I’ve never had that before,” Vazquez said.

RELATED: Authorities investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior at Florida youth academy

Staff said they were disturbed when they learned about the investigation into two former leaders -- also known as cadres.

“We are deeply troubled by these allegations. We are committed to cooperating with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office as they’re investigating, and we are conducting our own internal investigation: looking to find any gaps in our process, correct them and make this a safe trusted environment,” Lt. Col. Jason Hunt said.

After staff learned about the allegations, the two adults were immediately removed from their positions and banned from the property.

The academy has surveillance cameras throughout the property except in the bathrooms. It’s also providing multiple ways for teens to speak up if they believe abuse is happening.

Hunt told News4JAX that the cadre-student ratio was increased and one of the directors hosts “sensing sessions, where she gets the cadets together and talks to them.”

As FLYCA moves forward, they want the public to know that its focus is to help teens become successful adults.

“We want them to see that when you do good, people are going to acknowledge that,” Vazquez said.

Many teens have proven their success with over 40 classes of graduates in the last 20 years through the program. The next class will graduate in December.

The camp nor the Clay County Sheriff’s Office did not release any new information about the sexual abuse investigation.

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