It is our highest honor to serve children of all backgrounds. Unconditional love and acceptance of all is exemplified.
Equine Facilitated Therapy for At-Risk Youth
Need for Services
Founded in 2011, Raven Rock Ranch (RRR) has a mission to intercept and break the cycles of trauma, teen suicide, human trafficking, and domestic violence. Our program serves Western Washington, focused on King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties. Mental health support is provided for children and teens aged 7-18 who have experienced severe emotional, physical, or verbal trauma and/or abuse. 85% of our clients are adopted, or are in foster care. Many have ongoing issues with violent behavior at school or in the home, with alcohol and drug addiction, and with abuse or neglect. In many cases these youth have contemplated and planned suicide. The majority of the children supported by RRR have also been diagnosed with debilitating mental issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit disorder and all forms of attachment disorders.
COVID-19 has exasperated these issues, especially for youth already in crisis. Experts are pointing to a mental health catastrophe in the future, and this is already happening for the 70% of youth that used to get their mental health services at their schools before the buildings closed and their in-person support was cut off. According to an NBC News study of child welfare metrics released in December, one of the most concerning signs is that there has been a 24% increase in mental health-related visits to emergency rooms from children ages 5 to 11 compared to last year, with such visits by older children rising at an even worse 31%. Teen suicide is up, as are thoughts and plans of suicide (ideation). This is just the type of crisis that Raven Rock Ranch was created to alleviate – over our years of treating hundreds of kids, we have had 98% come to us with suicidal ideation. After 1 year of treatment, the suicidal ideation rate of youth in our care has decreased to 2%, and we have never lost one of our high-risk kids to suicide.
To support these exceptionally high-risk youth, RRR uses scientifically proven mental health therapies that are very individualized – one youth, one horse, and one therapist work together to develop skills such as cooperation, trust, building healthy boundaries, and responsibility. All of our professional therapists and facilitators are trained and certified in HEAL (Human Equine Alliances for Learning – www.humanequinealliance.com), which is internationally recognized as a premier model of Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy and Learning.
As part of our mission, many of our horses are rescued from abusive homes or abandonment. Once a horse is in our care, we carefully evaluate the animal for temperament, reliability, and behavior to ensure a good fit for our program and children. RRR works closely with schools, social service agencies, and churches to identify children and families in need of our unique service. Referrals come directly from these agencies and/or private counseling services, as well as from partner therapy programs. Families in need can also self-refer, and are screened into the program by our Admissions Director.
How it Works
Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy and Learning (EFPL), has been shown to successfully treat those suffering from the effects of trauma, depression, anxiety, and many other mental health stressors. Although many forms of animal therapy have been shown to be successful, equine therapy is unique in that it works directly with the feelings and body-sensations that hold the memories of trauma.
RRR has been one of the few mental health programs still providing in-person counseling and treatment during the pandemic. Owing to the outdoor nature of EFPL – provided in pastures, barns, and other wide-open settings – we can provide our program in a socially distant manner. An important aspect of EFPL is it provides physical touch in a positive manner. Unlike traditional therapies that cannot safely meet in person, kids can interact physically with their horse without fear of catching or spreading COVID-19.
When a child comes to RRR they are carefully matched with a horse and Facilitator, with whom they will work one-on-one throughout their therapy. The bond that is developed between the horse, youth, and Facilitator is the real beginning of mental and emotional healing. The horse is the bridge relationship that allows human-to-human relationships to form and flourish. The child can feel safe with a horse, because their past trauma is related to human relationships.
RRR exists to help youth in crisis like Irene (not her real name), who has been coming to the ranch for a few years. Her trauma was the result of being raped at a camp she attended when 9 years old. She confided in her mom about the abuse years after the incident, and it left Irene feeling damaged, dirty and unable to defend herself. Schoolwork suffered and she was suicidal. When she first came to RRR she was very, very quiet for at least a year, but she loved her horse and every week she could feel his strength and courage and borrow it for a little while. The progress felt slow at times. But she stuck with it, made some hard choices about what was really important to her in this life, and now that she is 17, she is on a good path to finish high school on time (a feat that no one believed she could accomplish). Her goal now is to go to college and pursue a career in performing arts.
Last year, RRR provided 2,000+ hours and 600+ sessions of free mental health services. During the pandemic, our work has stepped up – our kids are coming more frequently during the week since they cannot go to school and cannot socialize anywhere while staying in quarantine. We expect greater demand for EFPL in the coming months, as many more families experience trauma related to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, our ability to meet the needs of these families will be severely limited if we are unable to pay for the professional staffing required. RRR is the only no-cost Equine-Facilitated Therapy program in the entire Western Washington region. Although we continue to grow both in our programming and facilities, we have a huge number of children and families on our waiting list. Our goal is to continue our expansion with additional staff, therapists, and horses to serve all children and families in need.
- $8500 will support the annual cost of one child ($23 per day)
- $7000 will support the annual cost of a horse ($19 per day)
All of our services are provided free of charge, and totally supported by the generous support of our community.
Our program measures effectiveness one child at a time. Upon enrollment, children may take the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) quiz to help us gain an understanding of their background and trauma. Since many times the results of their past trauma shows up in academic problems, we work closely with families and schools to measure changes in each child’s GPA, school attendance, and the percentage of success in targeted behaviors. We have documented positive results in all evaluation metrics.
100% of the youth who dedicate their time to participate in our program show improvement. It varies for each individual, but success can come as short as 6 months, or as long as a few years, depending on the scope of the trauma, the resilience of the client and the home support. Based on their experience in our program, a child can move past their emotional barriers, and learn how to identify and develop healthy, positive relationships with others.
After 1 year of treatment, we typically see the following results:
- Suicidal ideation rate decrease from 98% to 2%
- Grade point average increase go from 1.7 to 3.2
- School attendance increase from 58% to 93%
- Home and school behaviors improve until the negative behaviors are extinguished
The attendance to our program is excellent as this is a program the clients feel safe and accepted while enjoying the interaction with horses. An average of 98% of all children that begin the program complete it. The retention rate is also high (96%) which depends largely on the parental participation.