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DPHHS removes 27 children from controversial MT youth ranch

Posted at 10:23 AM, Jul 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-30 11:20:58-04

REXFORD – The State of Montana has removed more than two dozen children from a controversial Lincoln County youth ranch claiming they are victims of “egregious physical and psychological abuse” after an investigation.

The “Ranch for Kids” has been a lightning rod for disputes over procedures and licensing for several years. Critics of the program in Rexford have made several attempts to enforce licensing requirements on the ranch as part of a broader debate over the state’s ability to dictate conditions at programs with religious affiliation.

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That changed this year with the Montana Legislature approving a bill extending control over the programs, which took effect on July 1.

A Lincoln County District Court judge signed an order giving the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services authorization for a “summary license suspension order,” with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and the Montana Department of Justice removing 27 children and placing them in state custody “without incident.”

The state said the children are receiving medical care, but their conditions are “confidential.”

The Montana Department of Justice released the following statement on behalf of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office:

“On July 23, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation assisted the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) in carrying out a summary license suspension order at the Ranch for Kids in Rexford, Montana.

Due to allegations of egregious physical and psychological child abuse and neglect, the Lincoln County District Court ordered the that children be removed from the Ranch for Kinds pending a full investigation. Twenty seven children were safely removed without incident and are now in DPHHS custody.”

Among the allegations, DPHHS officials stated the children were being “physically hit, kicked, body slammed and spit on by staff.”

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They were subject to physical abuse, forced into “excessive discipline” including long hikes on Forest Service roads with shoes in harsh conditions and having food withheld. Investigators said one student was shot at with a nail gun.

The state also said the children didn’t receive proper medical attention.

On its website, the program states, “The Ranch for Kids serves as a bridge of hope and healing for hurting families”, which offers “effective, compassionate, treatment program” for “children of all ages”, helping them to “build new habitats and healthier behaviors.”

The Department of Public Health and Human Services released the following statement on Tuesday:

““Today, the State of Montana removed 27 children due to serious allegations of egregious, chronic, and persistent child abuse and neglect of youth who reside at Ranch for Kids in Rexford, Montana, including physical and psychological abuse and assaults of children by staff. Simultaneously, the facility’s license was suspended effective immediately.  DPHHS is working to contact parents and develop plans to reunify families or help find suitable placement for these youth. The health, safety, and welfare of all children who live in Montana is paramount, and no child should have to experience what multiple sources have alleged has happened at the Ranch for Kids. We are grateful to the many agencies, including law enforcement, who ensured the safety of the kids and caseworkers during today’s removals.”

Parents or guardians of children who are residents at the Ranch for Kids are asked to call 1-888-200-8002 with any questions. People with information regarding the children at the Ranch for Kids are also asked to call the number.

-Reported by Dennis Bragg/MTN News