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Posted January 21, 2003 

Colorado Boys Ranch
La Junta, Colorado
Martin Masar, Dir. of Admissions & Clinical Affairs

Lon WoodburyVisit October 15, 2002
By Lon Woodbury, CEP, IECA
Publisher of Woodbury Reports

Upon entering its driveway, after a long drive through remote rural countryside, Colorado Boys Ranch (CBR) looks somewhat similar to most of the western boys ranches that were established in the 1950s and 1960s throughout the west. For example, just like the Idaho Boys Ranch and Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch in Montana, there are solid red brick buildings connected by winding roads, with well kept grass areas. Each of these ranches creates quite a contrast to the working farms that surround them on the plains, with the closest mountains in the far distance.

Colorado Boys Ranch conveys the sense of calm and control, important when working with damaged boys, which could be sensed when driving towards the main administrative building. This licensed residential psychiatric treatment center works with adolescent males ages 10 to 21 who have behavioral, psychiatric and/or educational problems. At the time of my visit, 65 boys were enrolled in 5 units. CBR often considers themselves as the placement of last resort, with their average boy having experienced from eight to ten out-of-home placements before admission into CBR. They can work with very damaged boys; for example, they would consider a boy for placement who has reached a level of violence that would cause most other treatment programs to reject him. Thus they might be a good resource for a hard to place boy. When they took over the old airbase in 1960, their initial mission was to work with what they referred to as the accepted casualties of society. Although the profile of the students has changed over the years, CBR feels they are still following their mission and admit youth who others consider unchangeable.

The program is very individualized, with more than a one to one staff-student ratio. They start work with a boy by first determining where he is emotionally, educationally, and socially. They then focus on his treatment so that he can progress at his own pace on his individual program.

Each boy is assigned to a somewhat self-contained unit, and his placement is matched to the environment of the unit. One of the units, referred to as Intensive Care, is for boys who simply cannot control their actions and emotions and need to be under supervision and observation every minute. That unit is a stand-alone building, heavily staffed, with a very tight structure. A boy will stay there until he can show he has regained enough self-control over his impulses to rejoin the community by moving to a regular unit.

In addition to sophisticated individualized treatment services that include individual, group and family therapies as well as brain mapping, animals are also a very important part of the program. The staff believes animals of all types are very healing and animals are considered a very important part of the program, providing excellent ways for students to learn control, responsibility, and caring for another being. Horses play an important role, with horsemanship and equine therapy combined in this ranch setting.

CBR also has a unique dog-training program that has been written up in national magazines. Using typical dog-training techniques, CBR has found that assigning a dog to a boy helps foster a caring relationship through the interaction needed to train the dog. They also have a small animal building that contains all kind of animals, birds, reptiles, fish, etc. One of the most famous was a shark that got moved to Denver when it got too big for the tank. The kids of course named it, calling it “fluffy!” All the interaction with animals has therapeutic benefit for the students, helping them heal.

Academics are taken seriously. They have full time, well-trained teachers who have experience working with a wide variety of educational and learning problems. Each boy spends a significant amount of time in class. The newest addition they were just starting to move into while I was there was a comfortable, well-stocked library. Taking up all of a second floor, it had overstuffed chairs, tables and a librarian to make the boys’ exposure to books and learning as comfortable and safe as possible. They work from the perspective that to be effective, learning must have meaning for each student.

Meals and nutrition are important at CBR. There are always two entries from which the boys can choose for their meals, and the menu is developed with a focus on dietary needs as well as taste and pleasing appearance. On the basis of the lunch I ate there, the boys fare very well.

CBR emphasizes extensive follow-up work whenever possible, when a boy graduates. They try to have a well thought out wrap-around plan in place before the boy returns home. Based on their previous experience while working a student, they attempt to have all their bases covered in advance. Of course, they continue to work with the follow-up team as long as appropriate.

The staff impressed me as a caring, sincere and professional minded group, and they seemed to enjoy working with each other very much. During all my interactions on my tour, my impressions of the staff were positive, and it felt like a nice place to work.

CBR has worked with both state placed and private pay children for a number of years. They have generally have had enough children, so they didn’t feel the need for doing much marketing. However, they are getting more interested in the private parent-choice market, and are working at learning how to market specifically to parents. They already have a track record of working very closely with parents, so the thought of parents as clients (as opposed to state agencies) sounds to them like it is just a continuation of what they already do.

They can work with a wide range of problems, but where they stood out, in my opinion, was in their ability to work with the toughest kids. In the past they have considered some of these children just another type of problem to address as a normal part of what they do, but it seems they have the competitive advantage of being able to work successfully with the type of child who would be turned down by most other treatment centers. Actually, they have accepted and worked successfully with the type of students who have failed in some of the toughest programs in the Emotional Growth/Therapeutic Schools and Programs.

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