Long-term therapy expected for Ruby Franke, Jodi Hildebrandt’s young victims

Feb 21, 2024, 8:05 PM | Updated: Feb 22, 2024, 7:49 am

LAYTON — After YouTuber mom Ruby Franke learned her fate in a St. George courtroom Wednesday, experts said it’s now time for her children to heal.

Franke and her son’s counselor-turned-mentor Jodi Hildebrandt were both sentenced to serve one to 15 years for each of the four counts of aggravated child abuse for which they pleaded guilty.

“They were held, they were denied food to the point that that is painfully obvious in looking at them, they were left out in the heat without water as a form of punishment, and they were forced to do work in the St. George heat in June, July and August. Not without gloves, but without shoes,” Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke said.

Documents also state the children were told they were evil and possessed, and were forced to do wall sits. They were also bound with handcuffs that left them with physical wounds. Clarke said the then 11-year-old boy’s wounds were particularly severe.

“He was bound hand and foot with handcuffs around him, and at times, he was laid on his stomach and the handcuffs from his ankles to his wrists were tied, so he was hog-tied in a position that kept his legs and his arms off the ground for hours at a time,” he said. “There’s clear evidence of the handcuffs cutting into him and doing harm.”

Child psychiatrist Rene Valles said each child is different, but he expects it will take the Franke children a long time to process their trauma.

“A 9-year-old has a younger brain and the brain develops till about 23, 24 years old, so any form of abuse or any insult to the development can have long-term consequences, not only emotionally but also brain chemistry-wise,” Valles said.

He said they may deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression.

“Sometimes, those of us that have been chronically abused, the amygdala is very, very sensitive to where it doesn’t know when to sense safety,” Valles said. “It doesn’t know when to sense danger. It’s always on alert.”

Valles said while physical wounds can be hard to heal, it’s often the emotional impact that’s hardest on children.

“A lot of kids at this age trust their parents, they trust adults,” he said. “This may affect their emotional attachment to their caregivers and could cause more depression, more anxiety, and sometimes even behavioral outbursts.”

He said children these ages typically believe authority figures and do what they’re asked, so they can please their caregivers.

“Usually in in these situations, trauma-based cognitive, behavioral therapy is something that that would be really important for treatment,” Valles said. “This therapy focuses on relationships and trust; re-forming trust and helping with stress management.”

Fortunately, Valles said children are resilient. He said if they’re able to talk to someone who reinforces that they believe them and helps them feel safe, the healing process can begin.

“It’d be my thoughts that they would need long-term therapy, and from somebody who’s really specialized in treating trauma,” Valles said. “But it may take a few years and may take even more than that. But again, as long as they’re being treated early, that should be really helpful for the long-term prognosis.”

Clarke said he expects Franke and Hildebrandt will help pay for their victims’ therapy. Kevin Franke, the victims’ father, is fighting to get restitution money from Hildebrandt, who is selling her Ivins home. The court ordered she must put aside some of the money from the sale that may be used as restitution payment later on.

Court orders said the children are in therapy and will require it long-term.

“We anticipate a restitution claim coming that will cover ongoing therapy and physical recovery,” Clarke said. “The state hasn’t submitted a claim for restitution yet, and we want to make sure there’s plenty of time for all of that to be analyzed and brought in before we’ve closed our restitution.”

The judge said the restitution matter will remain open for eight months.

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Long-term therapy expected for Ruby Franke, Jodi Hildebrandt’s young victims