Missoulian education reporter Lucy Tompkins began examining Montana's residential programs for troubled children a year ago. When she left the paper for a fellowship in the summer, Missoulian reporters Seaborn Larson and Cameron Evans joined the reporting effort, following Tompkins' lead.
The three interviewed 19 former students at therapeutic schools, as well as program directors, employees, state officials, legislators, child psychologists and psychiatrists and parents. They reviewed inspection reports obtained through public records requests, legislative and congressional records, law enforcement reports and court records, and other investigative files. Some students and family members requested anonymity; because of the sensitive nature of the information, those requests were granted.
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Because two of the 16 state-licensed programs differ significantly from the rest, the Missoulian did not include them in its examination. Selkirk Outdoor Leadership and Education is based in Idaho and only takes students on hiking trips in Montana; Sparrows Nest of Northwest Montana in Kalispell is a program for homeless children.
The stories were written by Tompkins, Larson, Evans and City Editor Gwen Florio. They were edited by Missoulian Editor Kathy Best and Florio. Photojournalist Tommy Martino shot the pictures; photo editor Kurt Wilson edited the visuals for the series. Digital producer Anne Cruikshank designed the online presentation and Lee special presentation team leader Matt Arroyo oversaw the print presentation, including production of graphics.