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Some Children Removed From 'Ranch For Kids' Remain In State Custody

Ranch For Kids' main facility in Rexford, MT.
Aaron Bolton
Montana Public Radio
Ranch For Kids' main facility in the small, remote town of Rexford, MT.

The state is still caring for an unknown number of children removed from the Ranch for Kids in Rexford last month due to allegations of chronic abuse. Health officials removed 27 children from the private facility that said it provided therapy to children with severe emotional and behavioral issues.

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) says it received allegations of abuse at the Ranch for Kids about a month before it gained regulatory oversight of the ranch and 13 similar facilities July 1. HHS says its subsequent investigation substantiated allegations that staff hit, kicked and body slammed children and forced them to go on 16-mile walks on remote roads in bad conditions.

Department spokesperson Jon Ebelt told MTPR in a recent interview that a portion of children taken into state custody are still waiting to be placed in other programs.

"And a majority of the 27 children have been reunited with their parents," Ebelt said. "The ones that have not, we’re working with their parents and the court to place these children in the most suitable facility. It’ll be a case-by-case basis."

In an emailed statement Friday, the DPHHS said the unspecified number of children were taking longer to place because they are "complex welfare cases."

The state also suspended Ranch for Kids' license to operate, something the Ranch is appealing. The appeal hearing itself and its date are confidential, but Ebelt says DPHHS will post the outcome on its website.

Ranch for Kids Executive Director Bill Sutley has denied allegations of physical abuse. MTPR reached out to Sutley for comment, but did not hear back in time for this story.

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