State takes custody of teens in wilderness therapy program found with limited food, shelter
By JOHN MacDONALD, Associated Press Writer
Associated Press, August 9, 2002

HELENA, Montana - Eleven teenagers in a wilderness therapy program were placed in state custody after social workers found them camping in cold, rainy weather with limited food and shelter, officials said Friday.

The state notified the parents of the teens, who were "cold and dirty" but otherwise unhurt, said Shirley Tiernan, chief of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services' child and family services division.

"We're waiting for them to come pick up their children," she said Friday.

The youths were enrolled in the High Peaks Wilderness Program based in Roosevelt, Utah. That state closed the program there last week over alleged violations of licensing and safety requirements.

The teens and two High Peaks counselors were camping near the small town of Ramsay, west of Butte. A neighboring landowner called authorities after noticing the group had been there for a number of days with only makeshift shelters from the cold and rain.

Social workers sent there Wednesday found very limited food, some of which had spoiled, Tiernan said. Most of the teens did not have proper clothing for the weather, she added.

Utah officials had obtained an order from a judge Aug. 2, and teens enrolled there were sent home or to other programs. The teens who were taken into custody this week had been in Utah, but it was not clear when they were moved to Montana, she said.

Repeated telephone calls to High Peaks Wilderness went unanswered Friday.

The organization's Web site advertises High Peaks as a therapeutic program that uses the wilderness setting as a "clinically focused intervention" to teach youths respect and responsibility.

Such programs are subject to strict licensing requirements in Utah, but not in Montana. Tiernan said High Peaks was apparently in the process of opening a Butte office and had three employees there.

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