Montana’s child protection system is in dire straits. The number of kids entering foster care has skyrocketed and caseworkers are overwhelmed. Last year, 14 children died across the state despite reports of abuse being made to authorities.
A house bill set to be heard on Thursday morning aims to help.
In 2015, Governor Steve Bullock created The Protect Montana Kids Commission to address concerns about the state’s ailing child protection system. One of their recommendations was the passing of a bill of rights for children in foster care.
Frank Garner is a Republican state representative from Kalispell who is sponsoring the bill.
It says that kids in foster care should be treated humanely by both the state and their foster parents. For example, it says that they should receive adequate medical care, be free from physical or sexual abuse, and have regular contact with their family.
Garner’s bill also says that foster parents should be treated with dignity and respect by the state, be able to request a new social worker if they want, and be free from discrimination based on age, race, religion or creed.
“My interest is to make sure that those people involved in foster care understand the high level to which we hold the care and treatment of those individuals that are involved in foster care," Garner says.
Sarah Corbally was the administrator of The Child and Family Services Division from 2010 to 2016. She also served on the Protect Montana Kids Commission. She doesn’t think that Garner’s bill will really change anything.
“I don’t… no, I don’t think it’s going to help," Corbally says.
She says that it’s simply a policy statement. One more piece of paper, she says, for overburdened caseworkers to carry around:
“In a stack, fifty high. There are too many forms already, too many lists for everyone of everybody’s duties and obligations and rights to make me think that one more form is going to change the outcome of these cases or the system itself," she says.
Representative Garner says that the Foster Care Bill of Rights is an important first step in establishing the state’s mission regarding children in foster care. But he acknowledges that there will probably be some questions at the hearing about what happens if someone doesn’t follow the bill’s policies.
“I think there will be some concern about policy makers about what the repercussions, for instance, are," Garner says, "but I think, first things first. I think it’s important for us to state what we think our policy as a state should be in regard to children in foster care and that’s what this bill does."
The bill will be heard by the State Administration committee Thursday at 9:00 a.m