Utah-based parenting influencer Ruby Franke has been at the center of a harrowing story of alleged neglect and abuse of her children. For years, social media users were wary of the YouTuber’s strict parenting style, and it seems they had reason to be concerned. Now, both she and her business partner, Jodi Hildebrant, have been arrested on felony child abuse charges, and have apparently received medical treatment while incarcerated. Here’s what you need to know.
Content warning: this article contains descriptions of child abuse.
Who is Ruby Franke?
Ruby Franke is a parenting influencer whose YouTube channel, 8 Passengers, posted new content up to six times a week between 2015 and 2022. At its zenith, the channel, which centered around day-to-day family life and Frankes, especially Ruby’s extremely strict parenting choices, would post up to six times a week for 2.3 million subscribers. Over time, however, followers and posts dwindled and the channel petered out in 2022. It has since been deleted.
After the decline of 8 Passengers, Franke joined ConneXions Classroom, a self-improvement and “mental fitness” program that purports to promote healing and personal growth “through impeccable honesty, rigorous personal responsibility and vulnerable humility.” Franke joined as a “certified mental fitness trainer” (which is not a recognized accreditation for mental health workers) to provide content on ConneXions’ social media platforms and podcasts with a focus on parents and children.
On the organization’s Instagram account, Franke would regularly appear alongside ConneXions’ founder Jodi Hildebrant. Both individually and together, the two would discuss topics ranging from “What does it mean to worship my child?” to “wokeness.”
Many expressed concern over Franke’s treatment of her children over the years.
Franke’s six children — Chad, Shari, Abby, Julie, Russell, and Eve — whom she shares with husband Kevin Franke, would frequently appear in content posted to 8 Passengers, even in cases when they asked not to be filmed or to take a discussion off-camera. Franke routinely disciplined, or recounted instances of discipline, on camera. The extreme nature of her parenting style shocked many and included (but is not limited to)...
- Denying her children food (“the privilege to eat dinner”) as punishment.
- Refusing to bring her then-kindergarten aged daughter Eve the lunchbox she’d forgotten at home with the intention of teaching her a lesson through hunger.
- Threatening to decapitate her small daughter’s stuffed animal.
- Denying one daughter time at preschool because the toddler didn’t know it was time to wake up.
- Taking away “room privileges” and making Chad sleep on the living room floor for seven months because he’d pranked his younger brother.
Her teenage son was also, for reasons the family did not disclose, sent to Anasazi Foundation Wilderness Therapy, a controversial religious “outdoor behavioral healthcare program” that purports to help adolescents address a range of behavioral and mental health issues from depression to “entitlement issues.”
As time went on, the family’s questionable discipline methods and potentially abusive behavior became more and more conspicuous. In May of 2020, a Change.org petition which garnered almost 18,000 signatures, urged child protective services to investigate the family. Franke lost droves of followers and, likely as a result, posted less and less content until the channel became effectively dormant.
Jodi Hildebrant had also been embroiled in controversy prior to ConneXions.
Hildebrant is a professional counselor, but had previously been on probation after revealing confidential details of a patient to Bringham Young University and the Church of the Latter Day Saints, resulting in the patient’s expulsion from the school and a loss of privileges within his church community. The unnamed man claims that Hildebrant’s accusations of pornography addiction were fabricated. “She would only threaten me that if I didn't take more sessions and have my wife take more sessions, the alleged addiction would destroy my life,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2012. “She just lied wherever she went to [further] an agenda to destroy my life.”
Ruby Franke has been charged with six counts of felony child abuse.
Last month, Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department issued a release that on Aug. 30, a juvenile “emaciated and malnourished with open wounds and duct tape around the extremities” was reported to the department by a neighbor. The child had approached them asking for food and water. It was later revealed that this child was Franke’s 12-year-old son, who had climbed out a window to seek help. The “deep lacerations” were a result of having been tied up with rope.
The boy was taken a local hospital for treatment and talked to investigators. A search by the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) found the boy’s 10-year-old sister “in similar physical condition” in the home of Franke’s business partner Jodi Hildebrant, from which the boy had escaped. All told, the four children still living with Franke were taken into the care of DCFS and both Franke and Hildebrant were arrested in connection with the findings. The two are being held without bail by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and have been formally charged with six counts of felony child abuse, three charges for each child.
Neither Franke, Hildebrant have yet issued statements, either personally or through their legal representatives, including to Romper’s request for comment. Randy Kester, a lawyer for Kevin Franke — who appeared in a number of his wife’s social media posts and videos — told ABC News that his client and Ruby Franke had been living separately for the past 13 months and that he is “distraught” by these allegations. “No one’s ever made any allegations that he’s ever physically abused those kids or anyone else,” Kester said in the interview before continuing, “He just wants to do what’s best for his kids, get them back, get them under his tutelage and his fathership and protect them.”
Since their arrest, both women have received medical treatment in jail.
Local news outlet KUTV reports that Franke and Hildebrant have been held at the Purgatory Correctional Facility, a county jail in Hurricane, Utah since their Aug. 30 arrest. While incarcerated, it seems that both women have required (and received) medical care. Franke, KUTV reports, was moved from a holding cell into a medical block at the jail following a remote hearing with a judge on Friday, Sept. 8. Hildebrandt’s attorney filed a motion to expedite her next hearing (currently set for Sept. 21) by a week, citing a “life-threatening medical issue resulting in her hospitalization for several days.” The nature of the women’s health issues were not disclosed.
Ruby Franke’s sisters and daughter have spoken out against her.
Franke’s sisters, Ellie Mecham and Julie Deru, who are themselves parenting influencers, have taken to Instagram to express their relief over this turn of events in a joint post.
“For the last 3 years we have kept quiet on the subject of our sister Ruby Franke for the sake for her children. Behind the public scene we have done everything we could to try and make sure the kids were safe,” they begin before concluding, “Ruby was arrested which needed to happen. Jodi was arrested which needed to happen. The kids are now safe, which is the number one priority.”
NBC News reports that Shari, the Frankes’ oldest (and estranged) daughter, posted a (now vanished) Instagram Story of her childhood home along with the word “Finally.” In a later Story, she wrote, “Me and my family are so glad justice is being served. We’ve been trying to tell the police and CPS for years about this, and so glad they finally decided to step up. Kids are safe, but there's a long road ahead. Please keep them in your prayers and also respect their privacy.”
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