REXFORD – The State of Montana has removed more than two dozen children from a controversial Lincoln County youth ranch, following an investigation claiming they are victims of “egregious physical and psychological abuse.”
The “Ranch for Kids” has been a lightning rod for disputes over procedures and licensing for several years. Critics of the program in Rexford had made several attempts to enforce licensing requirements on the ranch as part of the broader debate over the state’s ability to dictate conditions at programs with religious affiliation.
That changed this year, with the Legislature finally approving a bill extending control over the programs, which took effect on July 1.
A Lincoln County District Court judge signed an order authorizing the Montana Department of Health and Public Services “summary license suspension order”, with the Lincoln County Sheriff and the Montana Department of Justice removing 27-children and placing them in state custody “without incident.” The state says 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 says the children were being “physically hit, kicked, body slammed and spit on by staff.”
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 say one student was shot at with a nail gun.
The state also says the children didn’t receive proper medical attention.
On its website, the program says “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.”
If any parent or guardian of children who are residents at the Ranch for Kids has questions or anyone can provide information about the children at the Ranch for Kids is asked to call 1-888-200-8002.
DPHHS released the following statement:
“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.”
DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News