The Montana health department is behind schedule in modernizing the state's foster care system. Officials previously said that work would be complete in October. But that didn’t happen. Now, there’s no updated timeline for when the state may upgrade its system for organizing the casework of Montana’s foster kids.
Among the issues plaguing Montana’s foster care system, struggling to keep up with rising caseloads and high turnover in staff, is an outdated case management system.
A group charged with studying foster care in the state ahead of the 2017 legislative session concluded that of the lack of modern technology, "is contributing to the crisis situation faced by Montana's child welfare system."
Department of Health and Human Services officials said earlier this year that an updated system would come out this October. But now there's a delay in that new system's rollout, and at this point, not many details explaining why.
In response to Montana Public Radio requests to the Department of Public Health and Human Services to give a reason for the delay and in updated timeline, the agency issued an emailed statement.
It said the project is a critical piece in supporting the state’s child protection system and, "it’s important to understand that much progress has been made in producing this highly complex system, but at this time it is not ready to launch."
The health department statement also said the agency is working to develop a realistic timeline going forward, but did not specify what that timeline might be.
In January, Sheila Hogan, then recently appointed Director of Montana’s Department of Health and Human Services, told lawmakers that development of a new system was underway and it would help child welfare caseworkers improve their work.
"It will be a tool for these folks that are in the field. So there will be less of a paperwork chase and more of a one-on-one relationship communication," Hogan says.
The health department will update lawmakers on the progress of their work during a legislative oversight committee in mid-November.
As of this week, there are 3,882 kids in foster care in Montana. That’s an increase of more than 400 kids in the system since the beginning of this year.