BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
The Idaho Youth Ranch, which first started working with troubled kids at a ranch near Rupert in 1953, is now deep into construction of a new psychiatric residential treatment facility for up to 100 kids a year in Canyon County, after successfully raising more than $27 million in private funds for the project.
The longtime Idaho nonprofit decided to close its Rupert ranch seven years ago – located on a dirt road 12 miles out of Rupert, as it was no longer a cost-effective place to deliver services or maintain staffing – and purchased the Canyon County property. It then spent three years working with a task force and conducting feasibility studies before settling on developing a PRTF, exactly the type of long-term behavioral health facility for youth that’s currently lacking in the state.
“We had a task force that looked at what should the program be, what is the greatest need in the state that we believe we can operate well and sustainably,” said Scott Curtis, Idaho Youth Ranch CEO. “We looked at a lot of different possibilities. … We settled on a PRTF.”
That type of long-term psychiatric treatment facility for youth is covered by Medicaid, but Idaho currently doesn’t have any of those facilities. As a result, roughly 100 Idaho children have been placed out of state at any time to receive treatment, causing hardship for their families and difficulty transitioning back after treatment.
Two years ago, the Idaho Youth Ranch launched its fundraising campaign, with the slogan, “Bring Idaho Kids Home.”
“A group of volunteer leaders statewide … has really worked their tails off over the last couple of years to help raise the funds privately through individuals, businesses and foundations,” Curtis said. “We have one donor … at the $150,000 level that is from outside of Idaho, but other than that, this is Idaho really stepping up.”
“It’s remarkable, and it’s so critical for Idaho’s youth and families,” he said. “This is a huge need.”
Construction has been underway for a year, and the facility will start accepting kids in the summer of 2023.
The site, a 253-acre parcel between Caldwell and Middleton north of the Purple Sage Golf Course, is “this hilly property in the middle of ranch country,” Curtis said. “It’s got a vast pine forest, open space, streams and ponds, and it’s got active ag land being used for farming.” It’s also already the site of an equine center, including a large indoor horse arena, where the Youth Ranch conducts equine therapy for kids.
“It’s quite moving to walk around that property and realize that kids will be there,” Curtis said.
Ruth York, executive director of FY Idaho, or Families and Youth in Idaho, an advocacy organization for families and youth dealing with behavioral health issues, said, “I really like that they weren’t just saying, ‘Oh, we have this great idea’ or ‘we have this great plot of land.’ They were really looking at what’s actually needed here.”
The Idaho Behavioral Health Council, which brings together all three branches of state government in Idaho, has identified the lack of PRTF facilities in Idaho as a top need, and the Legislature this year approved $66 million over the next three years for major behavioral health initiatives for adults and youth, including $15 million to establish PRTFs in all three regions of the state, eastern Idaho, southwestern Idaho, and North Idaho.
Curtis said the Youth Ranch became a Medicaid agency four years ago and has been communicating with the state. “They’ve been incredibly helpful in us understanding the need,” he said. “But that does not mean we’ve had any direct communication about these funds and our eligibility for them. We’re in that process right now along with everyone else.”
There are clear synergies between the Youth Ranch project and the state’s behavioral health plan, which includes a plan to address Idaho’s current behavioral health workforce shortage; all 44 of the state’s counties have been designated as shortage areas for those workers.
“That’s another piece we’re delighted to see as part of the funding plan, is looking at the workforce challenge,” Curtis said, “because that’s a piece we know we’re going to be facing and are already facing.”
When it opens, the new Youth Ranch treatment center in Canyon County will have the equivalent of 115 full-time employees.
The Idaho Youth Ranch currently operates at about 30 locations in Idaho. Those include an outpatient headquarters in Boise where they offer outpatient counseling and their YouthWorks job development program for youth; Anchor House in Coeur d’Alene, which offers out-patient therapy and the Youth Ranch’s adoption program; tele-mental health services that can operate in any Idaho county; the Hays Shelter, an 18-bed crisis shelter for youth in Boise; and 24 thrift shop locations. “Those thrift stores, and more importantly all the Idahoans that donate and shop there, support our programs by doing so,” Curtis said.
In 2021, the Idaho Youth Ranch served more than 1,100 Idaho kids and their families.
The Hays Shelter alone provided 2,598 shelter days to 91 Idaho kids in 2021, the Youth Ranch reported in its annual report, providing short-term residential care that kept the youth in school and connected to their families. It has 18 beds.
“There are a lot of kids that come to Hays that are relatively healthy,” with issues including homelessness or runaways, Curtis said. “There is a real crisis going on in their life. They’re not necessarily eligible for a PRTF.”
That level of care is for youth with a psychiatric diagnosis, he said, whose family has been working to resolve the issues, and have gone through a process that determines they need longer-term residential care.
The new Canyon County campus will include 64 beds, serving more than 100 youth per year; a year-round school; individual and group therapy spaces; a dining hall; indoor and outdoor recreation spaces; a health center; and aftercare for kids and families.
Youth at the center will be provided with 24-hour nursing, psychiatric care and therapeutic treatment. They’ll have access to services including medication reduction, nutrition and physical fitness in a secure environment with 24-hour supervision.
“What I’ve seen in conversations with them is they are really serious about the healing, and they really hold hope for all children,” York said. “They’re just taking this from a really meaningful place.”
That includes bringing troubled youth into an environment where they can experience nature and interact with animals, she said.
“I’ve seen kids go to many places,” she said, “and I’ve had my own child go to places over time that just don’t have that environment. There’s definitely something special and healing about the physical setting that can help a kid make more progress with their therapeutic goals.”
“I think this stands to be one of Idaho’s best resources,” York said. “It’s in an area that is accessible by a fair amount of parents. … I think given what Idaho is trying to fund right now, that this fits really, really well.”
The Idaho Youth Ranch was founded by the Rev. James Crowe and Ruby Carey Crowe. On July 11, 1952, President Harry Truman signed a bill passed by Congress to grant the Crowes the right to buy 2,560 acres near Rupert for $1 per acre per year for 25 years with no interest to establish the ranch. After several years of cutting roads, digging wells and clearing sagebrush, the first boy arrived to live at the ranch in 1957.
“Everything grew out of there,” Curtis said.
The Idaho Youth Ranch began offering adoptions in the early 1980s. Thrift stores started in the 1980s to support the programs, and that’s also when the organization started serving girls as well as boys. The old ranch served about 50 kids at a time.
In 2015, the year the Youth Ranch board decided to close the old ranch, it purchased the Canyon County campus. “We kept taking care of kids,” Curtis said. “We even transitioned some of our residential program to a house that was on the new property in Canyon County, but we stopped taking new kids into long-term residential.”
In 2019, the Youth Ranch opened its Equestrian Center on the Canyon County property, including a large indoor riding arena for equine therapy as well as space for more traditional therapy offices.
York said, “It’s kind of amazing. They are a well-known and well-liked and trusted organization in Idaho, and that’s another positive, because this is not a new player coming in. This is a group that knows Idaho and has done their homework, and has been in Idaho and has done this sort of thing in the past.”
She recalled dropping her own child off at a residential center years ago that was just “concrete cinderblock.” The living quarters were dorms, “and very stark,” she said. “It’s not nurturing, it’s not healing. So they’ve really taken the whole healing part as a theme throughout every piece of what they do.”
This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.
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