The mission of Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch is "to help at-risk children and their families succeed in the name of Christ." Yet, one question I get asked a lot is, "Aren't all these kids better off without their screwed up families?" Sometimes it is worded much more compassionately. Sometimes it is even more judgmental. Sometimes it is hard to answer with a quick "Yes" or "No."
First, it is so sad to say, but many of the kids have not been part of a healthy family. They have been in foster homes and other out-of-home placements for a long time. That's why, for every child that comes into the Ranch, we begin working on a permanent placement plan the day they are referred to us. We work within all the systems to find a place where the child can lay their head and call home, when their work at the Ranch is done. The Ranch does not decide post-treatment placement for any child, but we are always at the table making sure the child's needs are respected and addressed.
For some kids, the answer to "being better off without their family" is a definite "Yes." In some families, where the adults in the household are perpetrators, or addicts with no interest or capacity for recovery, or are simply cruel, of course the kids should not be in those situations. In these cases, Social Services has, or will, see a termination of parental rights. But even in these cases, I believe in the possibility that someday a parent will find Christ or recovery, or both, and want to reconnect with the child in a healthy way. That is what I pray for.
In other families, where traumas happened outside the family "bubble," the family is the best place for the child forever. Once the child has received care for the sexual abuse by a neighbor, or the addiction that started at a friend's prompting to experiment, or the damage done by horrific bullying, the child can return to a loving home that understands and cares. Again, the answer is quick and is, "No, they aren't better without family. They need their family."
The last group is the most difficult to answer. These are the kids who come from families where they are loved and cherished. The parents want desperately to be good parents, and are willing to work at it. The adults in these families have their own daily struggles that make it hard for them to be what they intend to be. They would never raise a hand to hurt their child, but sometimes they are so tired from trying to keep it all together they may scream at the world, and their child. Perhaps they have mental health issues and no medical care to address it. Perhaps they are domestic violence survivors trying to address their own trauma.
Perhaps they are like Janie's* mom. When Janie called her mom from our campus the other day, her mom was having her own suicidal thoughts. Janie's mom said, "Perhaps you'd all be better off without me around." Janie's mom has a long history of severe depression and other mental health concerns.
So is this "screwed up family" a "Yes" or a "No?" It is easy to see that mom is struggling.
But, Janie wouldn't be better off. She loves her mom deeply. She knows when her mom can afford her medications and can find transportation to work, she is the best mom ever. Mom loves Janie with all her heart. Mom prays that Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch will help Janie overcome her traumas. Mom is so excited for Janie to come home. Janie can't wait until they can cook some of their favorite foods together again.
So, we will work with Mom, too. We will do family therapy work with her and Janie. We will make sure that mom gets the medical care she needs. We will try to help her be the best strong Mom she can be, for herself, and Janie.
We will do it in His name, and we will pray.
In His love,
Joy Ryan, President/CEO
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
Hope is a very powerful thing. For kids at Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, hope can mean the difference between successful treatment and giving up on life. You can provide hope for our kids. Your message will let a boy or girl know that someone cares and wants them to succeed. It's easy to do and takes just a few minutes! Send a message of hope to a child at the Ranch by clicking on the link above.
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