Editor’s Note: KXAN has removed identifying information from this story to protect the family’s privacy.
AUSTIN (KXAN) – As heavy consequences come down for a Texas long-term care facility at the center of a state investigation into alleged child abuse, the father of one of the young girls is watching in shock.
One father, David, said his 17-year-old daughter was among the nine girls removed from The Refuge Ranch in Bastrop on Wednesday, after a months-long Texas Department of Family and Protective Services investigation. We have removed the last name of this man for the safety of his daughter.
“It’s frustrating knowing that she is making so much progress, and for this to happen and be a major setback — it is really disappointing,” said David.
David said his daughter had repeatedly run away from home since she was 13 years old following his split from her mother and had several short stints in behavioral health facilities. She spent the longest amount of time at The Refuge Ranch. The Bastrop County ranch is a nonprofit residential community outside Austin developed to serve sexually-exploited girls.
“It took, after several attempts to get her in there, and a man being charged with human trafficking before I was able to get the right kind of support from DFPS to be able to get her there,” said David.
Today, leaders of The Refuge spoke about two specific investigations since late January. One into alleged nude photos taken of two young residents in exchange for drugs. The other into staff who allegedly helped hide a young girl in anticipation of testifying at an upcoming trial.
In a letter to the facility Friday, the Texas Health and Human Services executive commissioner issued an emergency suspension and closure order for The Refuge Ranch. The commissioner said in the letter DFPS initiated three investigations alleging abuse, neglect or exploitation between Jan. 26 and Feb. 25.
The commissioner added DFPS determined people who worked at the facility were “alleged perpetrators in investigations alleging abuse, neglect, and exploitation of children.”
DFPS issued a hold on the facility on March 8 and started looking for new places to relocate the youth residing at the ranch. The residents were removed the following day. Court records indicate the children were not removed until over a month after reports of abuse first started coming into DFPS.
The Refuge said in its statement the youth in their care were removed “out of an abundance of caution,” saying the organization understands and respects the decision made by DFPS to do so.
More arrests and charges could be coming. The DFPS investigation of the ranch has been extended, and Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday night also ordered an additional, immediate investigation by Texas Rangers.
In a press conference Friday, the founder and CEO of The Refuge Ranch and The Refuge for DSMT, told reporters they were hoping to reopen and bring the residents back to the facility.
“We remain committed to first taking all the necessary steps to comply, to help them find out what they need to know, to work with law enforcement, and to make sure that we have the internal controls necessary to where this never happens again,” said Crowder.
David said he worries about his daughter’s new placement and wonders if they will be able to give her the specialized care she needs.
“I hope they get to the bottom of what happened. I hope they fix the problem and continue to help these girls. That’s really what I want,” said David.