By Hope McPherson | Photos by Eric Schmidt
Since 1957, the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch has been a refuge for troubled youth. Founded as an alternative to sending delinquent boys to jail, the 410-acre farm outside Billings, Montana, now accommodates up to 120 boys (ages 8–18) and girls (ages 12–18) each year in its psychiatric residential treatment program.
No longer serving kids sent by the courts, the ranch is now a licensed and accredited mental health center that treats youth who have alcohol or drug dependencies, or diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or other serious emotional disorders. “Kids come here for the campus residential treatment when they’re personally not safe, or the community is not safe,” says Glenn McFarlane ’72.
The ranch’s chief executive officer, McFarlane is perhaps the “resident” with the longest stay. His father, Bob McFarlane ’50, was the organization’s first superintendent, moving his family to the Montana ranch in 1957 when McFarlane was 7 years old.
“Originally there were just six boys, and then there were 12,” he remembers, adding that his mother and aunt cooked the shared meals and did the boys’ laundry. “It was very much like a big group home or foster home in a lot of ways, except that these boys certainly had some special needs.”
The fledgling ranch kept the boys busy with school and chores, including working in the garden, milking cows, haying, and cleaning the outbuildings. “It was pretty much a farm-working environment originally,” says McFarlane.
Today, in addition to the residential treatment program, the ranch includes an accredited elementary school and high school, a vocational school, extensive community-based programs that serve 800 kids a day, outpatient treatment, mentoring, and school-based programs. It also includes a horticulture center, an equestrian center, and a bike shop.
The ranch, McFarlane will tell you, also offers a hope that transforms.
“Our spiritual component is something we’re not bashful about,” says McFarlane. A pastoral care program includes optional chapel services and youth groups, and staff work with local religious groups so that teens seeking spiritual guidance have a place to turn, whatever their faith.
“There isn’t a human being on the face of the earth who isn’t in some way going to respond when they really understand God’s love,” he adds. “They may still be angry, and they may not be ready to embrace it, but they’re going to understand it.”
Web exclusive: Ways to Help a Troubled Teen
When founded in 1957, the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch was an alternative to sending young boys to jails with adult offenders. At first judges were skeptical, says CEO Glenn McFarlane ’72. “Once they started seeing results and outcomes, they began to believe in it, and the ranch started to grow.”
Glenn McFarlane moved to the ranch with his family when he was 7 years old and his father, Bob McFarlane ’50, became its first superintendent.
The youth have a wide variety of opportunities to help around the ranch when not in school or working with the ranch’s psychiatric team.
Youth ages 8 to 18 are served through the ranch’s residential treatment program.
The ranch has a registered herd of black angus cattle, as well as a program called Homes for Heifers with local ranchers.
“We focus on the environment as a healing place,” says Yellowstone’s chief medical officer and child and adolescent psychiatrist Stephen Mandler. “We have nature and horses, and opportunities for the children to do things that they wouldn’t normally have done, in a structured, safe environment.”