The Russian government isn't alone in raising questions about a Montana ranch that cares for troubled children adopted from foreign countries.
Montana regulators are actively involved in a legal battle to shut down the Ranch For Kids near the Canadian border, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public information request.
Those records show the ranch in Eureka has been operating without a license since 2010. The state board that oversees private alternative adolescent residential and outdoor programs ordered it last year to stop operating until it obtains a proper license.
Ranch owner Joyce Sterkel is appealing that order in court, saying the ranch has become part of a church mission and is no longer under the board's authority. Sterkel did not immediately return a call on Wednesday.
Last month, Russian children rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov and human rights envoy Konstantin Dolgov showed up at the Ranch For Kids' gates, demanding entry to check on the adopted children from Russia in Sterkel's care. They questioned whether the children were receiving necessary care or treatment at the remote ranch.
Ten of the 25 children there are from Russia, with others from China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Haiti, Ethiopia and other countries. Their ages vary, and their troubles range from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to the aftereffects of spending their early lives in difficult conditions in orphanages.
The Russians were denied access that day. Sterkel previously denied any claims that the children are mistreated or lacking care. Parents with children at the ranch currently or in the past have risen to Sterkel's defense, saying her program provides a necessary service for adopted children struggling with medical and behavioral problems.
But neither Sterkel nor the Russians mentioned the Ranch For Kids' dispute with state regulators that now stretches back more than two years, after the Board of Private Alternative Adolescent Residential and Outdoor Programs declined to renew the ranch's provisional license in June 2010.
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