Over the past four decades, reform schools have found homes in Missouri, one of only two states that don't require licensing or regulation of faith-based boarding schools.
The other state is South Carolina.
In recent years, reports of abuses and mistreatment have spurred other states to pass legislation regulating the schools, which oftentimes have chosen to find new opportunities for abuses, in places like Missouri.
Early in March, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced his office was bringing 102 charges against Boyd and Stephanie Householder, owners of the now-defunct Circle of Hope Girls Ranch and Boarding School. Both have been arrested in Cedar County and remained in custody, according to a news release from AG's office.
Boyd Householder faces 79 felony charges and a misdemeanor, including six counts of second-degree statutory rape, seven counts of second-degree statutory sodomy, six counts of sexual contact with a student, a count of second-degree child molestation, 56 counts of abuse or neglect of a child, and more.
Stephanie Householder was charged with 22 felony charges, including 12 counts of abuse or neglect of a child and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
Reports have documented abuses in other parts of the state, said Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville.
Three reform schools face legal action right now, he said.
A special committee this summer heard testimony about children being raped, going without medical care and having medications withheld, Veit said.
And before this Legislative session began, officials approached Veit about sponsoring legislation to make it easier for law enforcement to identify abuses and stop them.
"We've heard stories about kids being required to stand against the wall for hours or spend time in locked boxes for days," Veit said. "Missouri is one of only two states that allows this to happen. The other is South Carolina. Other states have passed laws to have those oversights."
Operators of the homes have left states to come to Missouri, Veit said.
Veit sponsored House Bill 557, which would require "child residential homes" to notify the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) of their existence and compliance with regulations intended to protect the safety of children in the residence.
These regulations include compliance with fire and safety inspections, local health department inspections, maintenance of medical records for residents, and provision of information about schools serving children, according to the bill summary.
The Child Residential Home Notification Act would also require homes to conduct background checks of all employees and volunteers at the home and details the background check findings that exclude people from working or volunteering in the homes, the summary said. The bill outlines how DSS can petition the court for an order for a home to present a child when there are allegations of abuse or neglect in the home.
"It allows us — with a court order — to go in if we believe somebody is being abused," Veit said.
The bill also specifies that whenever a case is referred to a juvenile officer for removal of a child, the attorney general also receives a referral.
Failure to comply with provisions may result in fines, misdemeanor charges and potential removal of children.
DSS may promulgate necessary rules that include a fee to cover the cost of the notification process, but it is not permitted to regulate any religious program, curriculum or ministry.
"The bill protects their religious freedoms but protects us from a few bad apples," Veit said. "Catholic and Baptist churches have given their endorsement."
The bill was third-read and passed unanimously with 148 "yes" votes Monday evening.
The bill includes an emergency clause — for immediate implementation to protect children.
"It's important that we start this now so we can get them identified — all the homes," Veit said Monday evening as members of the chamber voted in favor of the emergency clause.