Advocating for Survivors of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch

Advocating for Survivors of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch

 

“A sense of safety is vital to a child’s ability to reach his or her full potential.”

— Website of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch

 

 

If you are a member of the media and would like to interview CFFP founder Janet Heimlich or a Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch survivor, call 512-825-2835 or email us.

The Child-Friendly Faith Project has been advocating for men who grew up at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch from the 1960s through the 1990s. The privately funded, residential facility is located outside of Amarillo and houses boys whose parents or guardians can’t, or won’t, take care of them.

The men, as child residents at Cal Farley’s, suffered ongoing physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. After leaving the ranch, many men struggled to find work. They have struggled with addiction. Some have gotten into trouble with the law. Others have committed suicide.

Click here to read our “Healing Through Truth” proposal delivered to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch on April 21, 2017.

Early this year, we reached out to Cal Farley’s CEO Dan Adams and asked that the institution fulfill requests made by the survivors, such as issuing a public apology, making restitution, and being truthful in its marketing. Ultimately, most of the requests were denied. On December 20, a feature story exposed the abusive past of this nearly 80-year-old institution—a past that had been kept secret, until now.

“For a child, living with chaos and unpredictability often creates a feeling of powerlessness or a ‘learned helplessness.’” (Website of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch)

How we got involved

If you grew up in Texas, particularly in North Texas, chances are good you know about Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. For decades, there had been murmurings that the place was very strict. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for children to be told, “If you don’t behave, you’ll be sent to Cal Farley’s.” But it wasn’t until I wrote a favorable blog post about the institution that I learned the harsh truth about its history.

Read the blog post here and comments that followed, written by abuse survivor Steve Smith.

The facility was started in 1939 by Cal Farley, a man who was a wrestler with no training in child development or care. Since then, the facility that bears his name has glorified its founder and the institution in its marketing material that seeks donations from the community.

What was really going on was systemic and severe physical and emotional abuse. While the ranch often promoted itself as a caring place, we now know that that was a smokescreen.

“A child who lives in an emotional state of self-preservation and fear feels insignificant, even irrelevant.” (Website of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch)

Abuses come to light

On December 20, The Guardian published a story that detailed the abuses suffered by boys who lived at the ranch from the 1960s and into the 1990s. It talked about the role of the Child-Friendly Faith Project to advocate for survivors and how the institution refused to acknowledge that abuses occurred or apologize to survivors. They also didn’t agree to make some kind of restitution or fulfill other requests by survivors.

Click here to read The Guardian feature story, “The Texas boys were beaten, abused, raped. Now all they want is an apology.”

The Guardian story was the second-most viewed article on its site. Both survivor Steve Smith and I have conducted numerous media interviews. Then we got the news that, on the day it came out, Cal Farley’s had apologized. We were pleasantly surprised until we read the so-called “apology.”

Click here to see the Dec. 20 statement issued by Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch.

Regretfully, it was more than anything, a press release, one that made a weak personal apology by Adams and promoted the ranch as one that provides “unassailable care for young people.” In response, we issued a press release that criticized the organization for hastily drafting a document that was disrespectful to survivors.

Click here to view the Dec. 20 press release sent by the Child-Friendly Faith Project.

On December 21, the story made the Associated Press and was picked up by the New York Times and many other outlets. On December 24, the Amarillo Globe-News published a scathing editorial demanding that Boys Ranch be transparent about its abuse prevention policies. “For example,” wrote the editors, “is there a way for children at Boys Ranch to report claims of abuse without facing repercussions?”

Click here to read the Dec. 23 editorial by the Amarillo Globe-News.

A prominent ex-rancher tells his story

That same day, the paper published an article that featured the story of a prominent individual. Bill Sarpalius, a former US Congressman who had also served in the Texas State House of Representatives, described a harrowing childhood at Cal Farley’s as a victim of sexual and physical abuse.

I was quoted in the article, stating that when well-known individuals acknowledge that they have been victims of abuse, it empowers survivors. I noted that many Cal Farley survivors, as children, tried to speak out and tell adults they were being abused or had witnessed abuse, only to be rejected, and sometimes punished. “We are grateful to Mr. Sarpalius for his courage and compassion.”

What the Amarillo community needs is to know that Boys Ranch is taking these allegations seriously, which means being transparent and open in what it did, what it does now and what it will do in the future. (Amarillo Globe-News editorial, Dec. 23, 2017)

Our goal in advocating for survivors of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch is to help survivors receive what they need to heal. We also want Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch to ensure the community that it properly addresses abuse allegations that may arise today.

5 Comments on "Advocating for Survivors of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch"

  • Wendy S. says

    The experiences I read about that these men went through just a short time ago in our history should be heard! With stories of abuse coming to light, these men surely deserve to be recognized. I imagine the current CEO will regret the path he took. Owning it would make for a stronger institution, I think.

    Thank you Child-Friendly Faith Project for advocating for these men and giving me a place to follow this story.

    May you all find peace.

  • Brett says

    It is a breath of fresh air to see the light shined on this subject. Thank you for writing this article and keep up the good work.

  • Your proposals for the Ranch to address the issue, including not naming a building for one of the prime abusers, were very reasonable. For Dan Adams to refuse those requests showed a concern more with PR than acting responsibly for damage done to children by the institution. The insistence on naming a building for a prime abuser because he didn’t abuse all of the boys at the ranch displays a shocking lack of empathy and tone-deafness. In the era of governments taking down confederate battle flags and statues of leaders who fought to withdraw from the United States, it is disconcerting to see an institution newly erecting a monument to a vicious abuser. Kudos to CFFP for making all of this public after your private entreaties to Dan Adams were brushed off.

    As a Certified Child Welfare Law Specialist who has worked in the field for over 40 years, I am well aware of the damage done children in institutions that were supposed to help them and the life-long effects of such mistreatment. We need to do better, not only for how we treat the children currently being sent to such institutions, but also for being a part of the healing for those mistreated in the past. It is good that the Ranch is doing the former but deeply disappointing that it refuses to do the latter. Perhaps with the bright light of publicity it will decide to do the right thing.

  • Jill Taylor says

    Dan Adams, if you’re reading this, you blew it. You really screwed up here. Your concern is clearly with the donors and people who make your job possible, not the survivors of abuse nor the current students who deserve a better explanation.

    You were asked repeatedly to do the right thing and it was like pulling teeth to get you to MOVE, which is deeply insulting and reveals something about you **I** sure don’t like. Naming the building after an abuser – and REFUSING TO CHANGE YOUR MIND – is heinous. It’s dastardly.

    Grow a pair, and a heart, and beg forgiveness from the people you’re hurting. Do the right thing. Then resign. You have no business in the business of being an administrator.

  • Donald Acrey says

    Thank you for your advocacy. Not only will it make a huge difference for history; but, it will ensure that boy ranchers will be safe for the foreseeable future. In this day and age in America, advocates make an wonderful difference. Thanks, again for your service!

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