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News & Views - Apr, 2001 Issue #80

Update on Alpine’s Boys Ranch: Who Said What
By Elaine Rising
March 27, 2001 

As a parent with a struggling teen, you often search for treatment and/or placement that suits your child’s needs. You rely heavily on any narrative, statistical, or anecdotal information that offers insight into a program’s effectiveness and safety. However, sometimes the reports are biased and/or incomplete. Such is the case regarding the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington’s coverage of events surrounding an accidental drowning that occurred at Alpine Boys Ranch, in Leavenworth, Washington, during the Summer of 2000. The following information is provided to contrast the discrepancies between the actual statements that were made regarding the incident, compared to the portions of those statements that were reported in the Spokesman-Review. 

On January 31, 2001, the Spokesman-Review carried an Associated Press (AP) story describing the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) reaction to the accidental drowning. Neither the Spokesman-Review nor the Associated Press carried the Feb 1st press release from Alpine Boy’s Ranch that denied the allegations. Nor were any of the official remarks from Alpine Boys Ranch published, which may have lead to a more complete review of the information. Had they been published, it would have at least provided a different perspective on the events that lead to the license review of the Alpine Boy’s Ranch by the Department of Social and Health Service.

According to the Spokesman-Review, “The body of Joseph D. Bolt, 17, of Spokane, was found in Cub Lake in September. He had been reported as a runaway after he got upset and left an August camping trip organized by the ranch, where he had been a resident since June 22nd.” DSHS spokeswoman Kathy Spears is quoted as saying that the boy’s death was a factor in [DSHS’s] action, but not the only problem: “It was a cumulative lack of supervision,” she said. “I think there was a lack of recognition of some of the behavioral problems that the kids had.” This quote does not appear in DSHS’s official press release. 

What did appear in official DSHS press release, as well as The Spokesman-Review article, were the remarks made by Director of DSHS Children’s Administration Division of Licensed Resources, Nancy Zahn. She stated: “Alpine operated for many years without any referrals to Child Protective Services or any licensing complaints. The group home has made progress toward meeting licensing requirements, and the department believes Alpine management is committed to improving their program and serving youth needing residential care.”

According to Lon Woodbury, “Alpine Boy’s Ranch was in the news last May due to incidents resulting from sexually aggressive boys being referred to the ranch by DSHS without informing the ranch of their background.” (Woodbury Report, Seen N’Heard, #70, June 2000). Could the comments made by DSHS spokeswoman, Kathy Spears, regarding Alpine Boys Ranch’s lack of supervision, have been based on DSHS’s allegedly incomplete communication concerning the children’s needs? According to the DSHS press release, Alpine Boys Ranch “has been under a series of corrective actions since 1999,” though the circumstances that led to this action are not specifically stated in the press release. According to Zahn, “The home has been out of compliance due to its inadequate supervision of residents for issues regarding treatment and use of time outs.”

In its press release DSHS “offered Alpine Boys Ranch a probationary license with stringent conditions that must be followed in order to continue operating.” Of the ten restrictions, the Spokesman-Review article highlighted only two. The entire list of restrictions is as follows: 

1. Alpine Boys Ranch must hire a consultant experienced in administering group care facilities to evaluate the physical facility as well as treatment programs at the ranch. The consultant will be selected from a list of three candidates provided to the ABR by DSHS. 
2. The consultant will provide ongoing assistance and consultation to the ranch as well as submit monthly reports to ABR and DSHS. 3. ABR must follow all recommendations made by consultant. 
4. It must have 24-hour staff, who are awake on all shifts. 
5. In addition to scheduled visits, DSHS will continue its unannounced visits to the group home. 
6. ABR must have written permission from DSHS and a resident’s parent or guardian in advance of camping, hiking or horse riding trips. 
7. The group home must be in compliance with Department of Health regulations, minimum licensing requirements and its DSHS contract regarding medication management within two weeks of today (01/30/01). 
8. It must remove from its policy manual sections that indicate that the ranch has had an excellent safety record or no serious injury to a resident. 
9. ABR must submit to DSHS a detailed supervision plan for camping trips, and swimming will not be allowed without a lifeguard. 10. ABR can not send children outside or use wood chopping as a form of discipline. 

The Spokesman-Review highlighted only #8 and #10 in its article. The Review also quoted comments made by spokeswoman Spears that were not included in the official DSHS press release. She stated: “such discipline [wood chopping] – in cold weather – had prompted some of the allegations. That’s definitely a discipline we did not authorize. We authorize timeouts, but not timeouts to do wood chopping.”

George B. Stokesberry, Executive Director of Alpine Boys Ranch, said, “We were never told by DSHS to not have the boys chop wood. We were told we could not make them dig stumps to work off aggression but could pay them to dig the same stump. The boys are active in the up-keep of the grounds and horse barn area. They help with mowing, raking, gardening, and cleaning horse stables, to mention just a few of their chores.”

The Spokesman-Review did not include any comments from the Alpine Boys Ranch. Perhaps DSHS viewed these outdoor activities as discipline rather than daily, assigned chores that foster personal responsibility? The Review did report that according to DSHS, disciplinary action followed allegations of physical neglect and emotional abuse by ABR, but that a Child Protective Services investigation was “inconclusive”.

Nor did the Spokesman Review update the original press release to include the DSHS report that “their findings regarding the allegations were inconclusive, meaning there wasn’t information to determine, more likely than not, that abuse or neglect had occurred.” Director of DSHS Children’s Administration, Zahn, also stated, “With the oversight of an independent consultant and intense monitoring by the department, we believe that ABR has the potential to care for and treat today’s children who have more serious behaviorial and emotional issues than in the past.”

Alpine Boys Ranch Director, George Stokesberry, commented, “Joe’s (Bolt) death was an accident, caused by drowning, according to the coroner’s report. We are deeply grieved by the loss of Joe. Stokesberry also reported that some changes have occurred as a result of a February 13th meeting with DSHS:

1. Our child placing agency license is no longer part of the probationary license package deal. 
2. Communication between ABR and DSHS seems much freer. 
3. As of February 23rd, all of our restrictions will have been lifted and we will operate as normal once again. 

Based on my analysis of the Spokesman-Review article, previous web site posting from Woodbury Reports, comments from ABR Executive Director Stokesberry, the DSHS press release and remarks by DSHS spokeswoman, Kathy Spears, I conclude that the coverage of this event by the Spokesman-Review was incomplete and biased. The Spokesman-Review only printed what the Associated Press reported, without doing further research into this local issue. The quotes from the DSHS spokeswoman, Spears, were not part of the official DSHS press release, though it did list her as a source for additional information. The reporter should have indicated the context in which Spear’s comments were made. Some of the information that was not included in the Review’s article could affect a reader’s perception of the allegations brought against Alpine Boys Ranch by DSHS. This type of incomplete coverage indicates why it is important, when reviewing information concerning a program, to obtain as many different opinions as possible provide a more complete picture of its services. 

This article copyright © 1999-2001, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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