Here’s what you need to know:
1. Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch Is Supposed to Help Troubled Girls
“Circle of Hope” was a ranch run for troubled girls owned by 71-year-old Boyd Householder and 55-year-old Stephanie Householder, Nexstar Media reported.
An archived version of the ranch’s old website notes that the ranch was opened in 2006. The blurb claims that the girls at the ranch were brought there because they made “poor choices” and “uncontrollable girls who won’t let their parents help them.” Here is the full blurb:
The girls come from all walks of life, some have been in gangs, drugs, alcohol, boys, etc. Some have been physically violent with their families and some have been abused. Most of them have been adopted, or come from broken homes and do not know how to deal with the past.
Circle of Hope’s goal is to help young ladies who were destroying their lives through poor choices and behaviors, change their future. They have been described as “uncontrollable girls who won’t let their parents help them.” We use the BIBLE to teach them that they are to obey their Parents and the authority over them.
We understand the The LORD JESUS CHRIST is the ONLY answer and the ONLY HOPE that these girls have to change their life and have a different future. That is why we have them read their Bible EVERY morning, we have devotions and prayer time with them every evening and attend Berean Baptist Church in Springfield, MO every time the doors are open.
According to a website featuring the school, the Circle of Hope enrolled 20-30 students and was part of an effort “to help each child to become a god-honoring and parent honoring young person; to be an honest, hard-working asset to the community in which they will live with god’s help.”
2. The Ranch Was Unregulated by the State
Circle of Hope is not a regulated school and according to what a spokeswoman from Missouri’s Department of Social Services told The Kansas City Star, it is exempt from state licensure.
Keri Ingle, a former licensed master social worker and current Missouri state representative said, “When I hear that there were four preponderance-of-evidence findings … and yet the facility still stayed open, I have tremendous concerns about that. As well as the loophole that allowed them to continue to operate despite these preponderance-of-evidence findings.”
Lorri Ross, a Missouran child advocate, told The City Star that in her experience, faith-based exemptions for licensure have been particularly dangerous in instances where they are caring for the vulnerable.
State licensure can assure that minimal safety standards are created and adhered to. Things like the number of vulnerable people a child care provider can care for, or the types of discipline a treatment center can impose. I believe these standards are necessary to prevent situations like Circle of Hope from happening and continuing unaddressed for years.
Calls have come for the law to be changed since accusations against the school were made.
3. Several Girls at the Ranch Accused the Ranch Owners of Abuse
The couple’s 29-year-old daughter, Amanda Householder, said that even she suffered during the ranch’s operation. “They threw me in an orange shirt, which is the lowest ranking shirt – they have a shirt system. Threw me on the wall. Standing on the wall, the only thing you can do is look at the wall or read your bible. You cannot go to the bathroom when you have to. I ended up with a severe UTI,” she told Nexstar Media. She told the media station that girls were made to “walk around quacking like a duck,” another chopped off the hair of girls and yet another was forced to massage her father’s head.
Here are some of the other allegations from various sources:
Gray Media Group reported that there were accusations of sexual abuse from two women who are part of an ongoing investigation. One woman who lived at Circle of Hope in 2014 and 2015, said she was 16 when Boyd threw her on the ground, had his German Shepard dog attack her, made her work outside in a slip when it was freezing and was sexually abused and raped by the couple’s son. A different woman who said that she was at the ranch in 2015 accused Boyd of making her his “secretary.” She said that he repeatedly sexually assaulted and raped her for six months.
The Associated Press reported that there was “a secret recording made in March by a friend of the Householders appeared to capture Boyd Householder endorsing the use of violence among the girls.”
One of the girls, Kelsey Maddox-Dunn said she was given only two changes of clothes per week, a few squares of toilet paper for every bathroom trip, ten pushups for going beyond three minutes in the shower and talking, according to The Kansas City Star. She said that in order to see her mother, she had to fake being saved. During her mother’s visit, she showed her that she didn’t have a bed and that she had a dirty uniform — she took her daughter out that day.
One of Boyd’s friends and mentees, Joseph Askins told NBC News that at a visit, he watched Boyd committing and encouraging acts of violence.
At the ranch, Askins later told NBC News, he saw Boyd smack a child in the mouth and force a girl to chug water and then drink her own vomit. Askins said he heard Boyd order teenage girls to assault one another. “Knock her out, I mean it,” the voice of a man — whom Amanda, Askins and others identified as Boyd — is heard saying in a video Askins captured.
NBC News reported other accusations of physical abuse:
Parents and former residents said they reported that Boyd used physical restraints as punishments, placing girls face down for as long as an hour, while he pressed a knee into their necks and other residents were forced to squeeze the target’s pressure points. Boyd, 71, and his wife, Stephanie, 55, withheld food as punishment or if they thought a girl was overweight, and forced children to stand and stare at a wall for hours at a time for days in a row if they didn’t follow the ever-changing rules, the parents and former residents said.
Stephanie Householder said that the girls were bitter, according to what the Associated Press reported. “They’re angry and they’re bitter, and they want to blame somebody,” she said. “They feel like they’re victims, and they just want to take their anger out on somebody.”
Nexstar Media reported that Jay Kirksey, the attorney representing the owners, has said, “The source of those allegations are young women who have troubled pasts, who have biases (and) prejudices, who have no credibility.”
4. The Abuse Remained Unresolved Until Girls Started Coming Forward at TikTok
According to various news reports, allegations were made by parents to authorities, yet the school was not shut down. In fact, the ranch remained open until the owner’s daughter, Amanda, started posting stories her story on a #exposecoh TikTok and the videos went viral with 33.5 million views.
According to NBC News, one woman named Teresa Tucker told social services that her minor daughter was restrained and only fed soup, but the social service department again said it had no power over a private, religious school.
NBC News also reported that the Cedar County Sheriff James McCrary had received several complaints over the years and investigated them; however, none of them resulted in action. According to NBC News, “A sheriff’s deputy told Amanda in a Facebook message this year that they had not had enough evidence.”
One highway patrolman emailed Amanda to tell her that a federal prosecutor declined a case. Other state agencies have told parents that the state had no jurisdiction because it was a private and not public school.
5. The School Has Closed Since Allegations Came Out
In August, the Associated Press reported that all 25 of the girls who were still at the facility were removed by Cedar County authorities. Cedar County Prosecutor Ty Gaither said, “Children were removed from the Circle of Hope as part of an investigation involving several state agencies including Cedar County Sheriff’s Department,” according to Nexstar Media.
The website featuring the boarding school, Great Non-Profits, has received several negative reviews.
“This place is getting exposed for its abuse towards young girls,” one person wrote. “They have been exposed for sexual, physical, and mental abuse towards girls of all ages. Just look at @exposingcircleofhope on tiktok. Do NOT support them in any way, they need to be closed down. The police won’t do anything.”
Someone named Jay Steven wrote, “Wish I could give this zero stars. Sexual and physical abuse is rampant here. This place should be shut down.”
Someone with the name V_Lona wrote a scathing review:
Parents, don’t send your children here. The treatment is horrible and inhumane, and certainly non-Christian. This is not a safe space for them. No matter what they try to tell you, the ‘business’ they run here is not there to benefit your child, or ‘turn them around’. It’s there to ruin them, like it’s ruined countless over children for over a decade. The practices they implement are sick, their whole business is a fraud. Don’t give them money. Don’t line the pockets of mental child abusers and pedophiles. I hope something gets done about this soon. I am so sorry for the victims out there. I hope the laws get changed, and the Circle of Hell gets the punishment it deserves.
Someone named Grace Anne also wrote a review, “This place is so abusive and sinister. This is not a school. It is a cult. I was beaten, malnourished, choked, and sexually assaulted while here. Brother House is evil and abusive.”
The Associated Press reported that Amanda Householder wants someone to force her parents to take responsibility for what happened. “I’m not done. They can deny it all they want, but they still need to be held accountable.”
The building is now for sale, according to The Kansas City Star.