For years, Idaho families have been forced to send their children out of state – sometimes all the way across the country – to get them residential mental health care.
The Idaho Youth Ranch plans to change that with a $28 million project in Canyon County.
The nonprofit has been serving Idaho children and families since the 1950s. It has a range of programs, from the Hays House youth shelter in Boise to outpatient therapy and equine therapy.
But it first started with the eponymous ranch in the Magic Valley, which began as a working ranch for boys.
Opening a residential program now “gets us back to our heart and soul,” CEO Scott Curtis said.
The Idaho Youth Ranch Residential Center for Healing & Resilience is slated to open in fall or winter 2022. It will be a 64-bed long-term psychiatric residential treatment facility – with the potential to add another 32-bed building to the sprawling campus.
It will be the only facility in the state to take boys and girls, and the only nonprofit facility. Officials expect to serve more than 100 children and adolescents per year.
The facility will provide 24-hour nursing and psychiatric care, a year-round school and therapy. At least initially, it will serve ages 11 to 17.
“The biggest lift will be hiring the quality of staff we want and need,” Curtis said. “It’s a year-round school with two educators. It’s 24-hour nursing. It’s therapists. It’s youth services staff, recreational therapists, groundskeeping, maintenance. … Their relationships they have all throughout the day (are important). Meeting with the youth services staff, the people that go to the dining hall with them, and take them to and from their classes. Those are as important for their recovery as any other aspect of the program. Because the most powerful thing for kids’ recovery is relationships. So, we’ll be working really hard to get the culture in place before we open.”
The nonprofit plans to offer competitive wages, but good pay isn’t enough on its own, he said.
“Not only do we need to be an employer of choice to attract the right people,” he said. “We need to have the work-life balance, the wellness approach, with our staff that will keep them healthy in the midst of really difficult work.”
Unlike many other facilities that treat children and teens, each resident will have their own room.
The Youth Ranch has undergone a revamp in the past few years, led by Curtis. One major piece of that transformation was to start taking Idaho Medicaid.
Many of Idaho’s children who have significant behavioral health issues are insured by Medicaid, and for years, Idaho parents have complained of difficulty navigating the hurdle of getting Idaho Medicaid to pay for care in another state.
There is only one other similar facility in Idaho – a 12-bed facility for girls in East Idaho.
Curtis said Idaho currently has about 120 children on Medicaid who are receiving that kind of care out of state. Other Idaho children and teens are in out-of-state facilities with private health insurance or with their parents paying cash for their care.
Curtis believes that about half of the residents will be from low-income families, and many will be on Medicaid. The nonprofit will offer scholarships and sliding-scale fees to make care accessible to uninsured children.
Keeping Idaho kids in state isn’t just easier for families, it’s better for the kids
Many of the youth who need residential care have lived through trauma, abuse, loss and separation, food insecurity and other adverse experiences.
“When you get to know these young people, you realize you probably already know them,” Curtis said. “They are kids on your street, your (kids’) classmates and your children.”
Providing them care in their home state “isn’t just, ‘Oh, that’s nice. That’s a sweet thing to do,’” Curtis said. “There are therapeutic benefits to that.”
When they are separated from their families, it complicates a child’s treatment and recovery, he said.
The separation can add trauma. It keeps families from being closely involved in the treatment. When the child is ready to go home, they are separated from the therapy team that treated them. There’s no one close to home to help them adjust to returning to their community and their school.
“This is an Idaho problem, and our kids deserve an Idaho solution,” Mark Miller, CEO of Miller Family Holdings, who co-chaired the Youth Ranch’s initial fundraising campaign. “Too many of Idaho’s kids are growing up in a world where hopelessness and trauma are a way of life, and it is in our power to change it. When our kids struggle, our state struggles.”
The Idaho nonprofit has broken ground on a facility, after raising $18 million of the funds it needs to complete the project.
The organization raised the first, large chunk of money in less than a year and is now working to raise another $4 million toward its goal. The Tomlinson Family Foundation, JR Simplot Co. Foundation and Duane and Lori Stueckle have committed to matching each dollar, so the Youth Ranch needs community contributions of $2 million for this phase of fundraising.
Visit BringIdahosKidsHome.org to donate.
The remaining $6 million would help the Youth Ranch open the facility debt-free. It may be able to use federal new-market tax credits – essentially a forgivable loan – to help bridge that gap, Curtis said.