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License for Lincoln County’s Ranch for Kids permanently suspended

Posted at 10:04 AM, Dec 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-09 22:01:33-05

HELENA — The Ranch for Kids in Lincoln County, where state officials removed more than two dozen kids in July of 2019, has had its license permanently suspended.

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPPHS) announced Wednesday that an administrative law judge has ruled in favor of actions taken by state officials against the Rexford youth ranch.

The children ranging in age from 11 to 17 were removed from the ranch due to serious allegations of child abuse and neglect.

DPHHS Chief Legal Counsel Nick Domitrovich told MTN News that state health officials interviewed more than 100 witnesses during the investigation, presenting 40 witnesses at trial.

Domitrovich says the owners of Ranch for Kids will not be allowed to apply for another license in the State of Montana.

He says the decision to permanently suspend their license is a win for the State of Montana and victims of child abuse and neglect.

“A lot of the significance is that we worked with a lot of these former participants who were kids at the time and are now young adults, they have a very strong interest in making sure that the things that they experienced didn’t happen again,” Domitrovich said.

DPPHS notes the decision lists numerous activities that occurred at Ranch for Kids that violated state law, including:

  • The use of abusive disciplinary walks, including having participants walk extreme distances, often at night and in the wilderness without weather-appropriate clothing or footwear
  • Physical, and verbal abuse of participants. And, failure to report sexual abuse between participants and individuals who had direct access to participants
  • The use of restricting food for participants, and withholding medical attention for participants—including for those who were expressing suicidal thoughts.

In July 2019, a new state law transferred authority of these types of programs to DPPHS. Prior to July 1, 2019 DPHHS did not have licensing authority over the programs.


(first report: 10:04 a.m. - Dec. 9, 2020)

The Ranch for Kids in Lincoln County – where state officials removed over two dozen kids in July of 2019 -- has had its license permanently suspended.

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPPHS) announced Wednesday that an administrative law judge has ruled in favor of actions taken by state officials against the Rexford youth ranch.

The children were removed from the Ranch for Kids due “to serious allegations of egregious, chronic, and persistent child abuse and neglect,” according to a news release. The age of the children ranged from 11 to 17.

Following the judge's decision, DPHHS has permanently revoked the Ranch for Kids Private Alternative Adolescent Residential or Outdoor Program license.

“We are pleased with the fair hearing decision,” said DPHHS acting Director Erica Johnston in a statement. “But even more important, we continue to keep the children who lived this nightmare in our thoughts as they continue to heal, and work to move on with their lives.”

DPPHS notes the decision lists numerous activities that occurred at RFK that all violated state law, including:

  • The use of abusive disciplinary walks, including having participants walk extreme distances, often at night and in the wilderness without weather-appropriate clothing or footwear.
  • The use of restricting food for participants, withholding phone calls to parents, and withholding medical attention for participants—including for those who were expressing suicidal ideations.
  • The withholding of medical attention for participants while sick or after injury.
  • Physical, and verbal abuse of participants. And, failure to report sexual abuse between participants and individuals who had direct access to participants.
  • Failure to adequately inform or train staff regarding the minimum training requirements, including mandatory child abuse reporting laws.
  • Forcing participants to complete labor projects of an unreasonable nature, duration, and sometimes risk, including digging trenches and construction projects at RFK staff members’ properties.

The decision states that “By preponderance of the evidence, it is clear that DPHHS made a sufficient evidentiary showing that abuse and neglect of these vulnerable children was occurring to warrant immediate suspension of RFK’s operations. The vivid, and often difficult, testimony of the former participants, employee, and medical providers regarding RFK treatment of the participants was extremely disturbing…. It is even more concerning given the vulnerable population that RFP supposedly served.”

The ruling further states that “Given the horrors that these children likely faced as infants and their resulting mental and physical medical conditions, they needed a program that would help them create and form lasting relationships. Instead, they were retraumatized on a daily basis through isolation from adults and their peers.”

A June 2019 a call to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline led to an investigation revealing chronic abuse and neglect which DPPHS states led to an investigation revealing chronic abuse and neglect reported by multiple witnesses, included previous staff, students, law enforcement, forest service workers, and neighbors in the area.

A new state law passed in July 2019 transferred authority of the PAARP programs to DPHHS. Prior to July 1, 2019 DPHHS did not have licensing authority over these programs.