7 p.m.: This story has been updated with quotes from a DPHHS official.
The Montana State Health Department has removed 27 children from a youth treatment facility in northwest Montana called the Ranch for Kids, citing, “serious allegations of egregious, chronic, and persistent child abuse and neglect."
The Lincoln County District Court ordered the removal of the children from the ranch Tuesday, pending a full investigation.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation helped the state health department remove the children from the private ranch located just east of Eureka Tuesday. The children are now in the custody of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Health Department Deputy Director Laura Smith says the children are between the ages of 11 and 17 years old. She says that in June the agency received a tip on their 24-hour child abuse and neglect hotline, which led to an investigation.
"The investigation into the ranch involved information from multiple witnesses, including law enforcement, previous students, previous staff, forest service, and a variety of other individuals including neighbors in the area."
DPHHS officials say their report of allegations includes staff using excessive discipline, including 15-20 mile walks on remote forest service roads in harsh conditions; withholding food; shooting a nail gun at a student; and prolonged isolation.
The report also includes children not receiving medical attention when needed and runaways not being reported in a consistent or timely manner to law enforcement.
DPHHS gained regulatory oversight of 14 private adolescent treatment programs, including Ranch for Kids, less than a month ago, after a law state legislators passed earlier this year took effect.
Again, Laura Smith.
“The Ranch for Kids, their operating licence as a facility is suspended right now."
The Ranch for Kids did not answer a phone call from Montana Public Radio seeking comment before this story aired.
On its website, the Ranch for Kids describes itself as a, “compassionate treatment program for children of all ages challenged by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Reactive Attachment Disorder.”
The state health department says it made the decision to remove the children from the ranch and suspend the Ranch’s licence to prevent future abuse. A department spokesperson said the agency won't release information about the childrens’ current whereabouts but, "They are in a safe place, and that is what is most important."