The father of a girl housed at the Refuge speaks out after the investigation into the abuse of the establishment

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As dire consequences descend on a Texas long-term care facility at the center of a state investigation into allegations of child abuse, the father of one of the young girls looks in shock.

David Cohen said his 17-year-old daughter was among nine girls removed from Refuge Ranch in Bastrop on Wednesday, after a months-long investigation by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

“It’s frustrating to know that she’s making so much progress, and for this to happen and be a major setback — it’s really disappointing,” Cohen said.

Cohen said her daughter has run away from home several times since she was 13 after her separation from her mother and had several short stays in behavioral health facilities. She spent the most time at Refuge Ranch. The Bastrop County Ranch is a non-profit residential community outside of Austin developed to serve sexually exploited girls.

“It took, after several attempts to get him in there, and a man charged with human trafficking before I could get the right kind of support from DFPS to be able to get him there,” Cohen said.

Today, executives at The Refuge spoke about two specific investigations since late January. One of them concerns nude photos allegedly taken of two young residents in exchange for drugs. The other on staff who allegedly helped hide a young girl in preparation for her testimony at an upcoming trial.

In a letter to the facility Friday, the Texas Executive Commissioner of Health and Human Services issued an emergency suspension and closure order for The Refuge Ranch. The commissioner said in the letter that the DFPS opened three investigations alleging abuse, neglect or exploitation between January 26 and February 25.

The commissioner added that the DFPS determined that the people who worked at the facility were “alleged perpetrators in investigations alleging child abuse, neglect and exploitation.”

The DFPS suspended the facility on March 8 and began looking for new places to relocate the young people residing at the ranch. Residents were evacuated the following day. Court records say the children were not removed until more than a month after reports of abuse began coming to DFPS.

The Refuge said in its statement that the young people in their care were removed “out of an abundance of caution”, saying the organization understood and respected the decision made by the DFPS to do so.

More arrests and charges may be forthcoming. The DFPS investigation into the ranch was extended and Governor Greg Abbott also ordered an immediate additional investigation by the Texas Rangers on Thursday evening.

At a press conference on Friday, the founder and CEO of The Refuge Ranch and The Refuge for DSMT, told reporters they hoped to reopen and bring residents back to the facility.

“We remain committed to taking all necessary steps to comply first, to helping them find out what they need to know, to working with law enforcement, and to ensuring that we have the necessary internal controls in place to may it never happen again,” Crowder said.

Cohen said he was worried about his daughter’s new placement and wondered if they would be able to provide the specialist care she needed.

“I hope they get to the bottom of what happened. I hope they fix it and keep helping these girls. That’s really what I want,” Cohen said.

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