An administrative law judge ruled this week that the Montana Department of Health and Human Services acted properly when it removed 27 children from Ranch for Kids, a Private Alternative Adolescent Residential or Outdoor Program located near Rexford, Montana in 2019.

Nick Dimitrovich, Deputy Chief Legal Officer at Montana DPHHS, provided some background information that eventually led to the permanent license suspension of Ranch for Kids.

“We had reports come in from a health care provider up there in the Flathead that had come in to the State Child Protective Services investigation,” said Dimitrovich. “A few weeks later, the department's regulatory authority over these parks kicked in and that investigation related to their licensure had to hit the ground running because Child Protective Services was already investigating.”

We were seeing some common threads, such as disciplinary walks that were happening where kids were being dumped in the middle of the Kootenai National Forest in the middle of the night with inappropriate clothing and footwear; withholding a food, physical abuse, emotional abuse, a lot of retaliatory physical and verbal abuse, and not allowing participants to contact their parents.

Dimitrovich provided some examples of the egregious actions taken by the Ranch for Kids personnel.

“When Child and Family Services was doing their investigation in June of 2019, they were already hearing from some former participants about that sort of thing. We were seeing some common threads, such as disciplinary walks that were happening where kids were being dumped in the middle of the Kootenai National Forest in the middle of the night with inappropriate clothing and footwear; withholding a food, physical abuse, emotional abuse, a lot of retaliatory physical and verbal abuse, and not allowing participants to contact their parents.”

Dimitrovich said at that point, action was necessary to protect the children at the facility.

“The things that we were hearing were of sufficient concern that on July 22nd, we removed 27 participants and summarily suspended their license,” he said. “That's something that the Montana Administrative Procedure Act provides for. “It's a rarely exercised legal remedy because it essentially means that you're saying what we're hearing is so concerning that you can no longer operate even though you haven't had your day in court, yet.”

Dimitrovich said there may be criminal complaints filed in the future.

“I do know that a criminal investigation was conducted parallel to our licensing and Child Protective Services investigation, and that the Division of Criminal Investigation at the Department of Justice has referred that case and the evidence they gathered over to the local county attorney's office.”

As a result of the decision by the administrative law judge, DPHHS has permanently revoked Ranch fir Kids’ license.

 

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