AMARILLO, Texas (AP) — The head of a ranch that houses at-risk children in the Texas Panhandle issued an apology after several former residents said they were abused by staffers there from the 1950s until at least the 1990s.
Former residents told The Guardian , a British newspaper, about abuse they suffered at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. Steve Smith, a 68-year-old from Amarillo, told the newspaper for the Wednesday story that after his mother left him there as a boy, he was beaten many times and had to watch helplessly as his younger brother, Rick, was beaten.
A statement from the organization Wednesday said it was aware of the claims regarding “harmful encounters they experienced at Boys Ranch years ago.”
“For those who left Boys Ranch having experienced abuse of any form, I am truly sorry, both as the leader of this organization and as a man,” Dan Adams, president and CEO of Cal Farley’s, said in the statement. “It is for these reasons that regulatory oversight and strength-based models of care in this field evolved, and Cal Farley’s strives to be a leader in observing both.
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Adams told The Guardian that since he took over in 1996, corporal punishment has been phased out.
The privately funded, faith-based residential community is open to children ages 5 to 18 and currently supports about 250 boys and girls. The ranch said at-risk boys and girls can be placed there by their parents, a managing conservator or guardian.
Rick and Steve Smith and others told The Guardian that the abuse was systemic and affected hundreds. Ed Cargill of New Mexico, whose time at Cal Farley’s overlapped with Rick Smith’s, said he made repeated escape attempts from the place he called “a paradise for adult abusers.” He said that after one escape attempt he was made to run back in front of horses.
“Anytime I floundered, they’d hit me with coiled-up rope or run over me with the damn horse,” said Cargill, who said his dorm parent would also encourage other boys to administer physical punishment.
Bill Varnado, who was there at the same time as Steve Smith, said “you really didn’t have to ‘get in trouble’ for them to beat the hell out of you.” Normally, he said, “they used a belt, but as you got older they used their fists on boys.”
Rick Smith said he was raped by another boy at the ranch. Cargill said that the wife of a staff member was having sex with him and three other boys.
Smith told the Amarillo Globe-News they want more than an apology. Smith leads a Facebook group of other survivors that presented Adams in April with a proposal of how to deal with the past abuses.
The proposal included Boys Ranch issuing a public statement acknowledging wrongdoing, the creation of a fund for survivor care, utilization of best practices for abuse prevention and a review of marketing material to make sure information about the past is not misleading.
Smith also wanted the organization to stop honoring past staff accused of abuse. Cal Farley’s dedicated a new dormitory to a former superintendent at the ranch alleged to be one of the worst abusers.
The Child-Friendly Faith Project, a nonprofit that works to expose religious groups that abuse children, took the allegations to The Guardian after it became apparent Cal Farley’s was not going to act on the proposal, said Janet Heimlich, the nonprofit’s founder and a former journalist.
Heimlich first came into contact with Smith and the Facebook group after writing a blog post in 2015 praising Boy’s Ranch for an advanced therapeutic model. Smith commented on the post and they got in touch.
Adams told the Globe-News he didn’t want to initially make a public apology because it would give children, families and donors undue concern.
Heimlich agreed that Boys Ranch, which opened in 1939, had cleaned up since the 1990s and emphasized that it still maintains a “flagship model” for child therapy.
The ranch currently has a license with the state as a general residential operation providing child care and transitional living. Texas Health & Human Services Commission spokeswoman Christine Mann tells The Associated Press that they have no recent history of corrective or adverse actions. She said it was initially licensed by the state in 1979.
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins said the ranch does have a contract in good standing to take in children in foster care. Over the last five years 19 foster children have been placed there, including 11 who are currently there.